Survey of London: Volume 16, St Martin-in-The-Fields I: Charing Cross. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1935.
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CHAPTER 38: XIX—THE STATUE OF CHARLES I AND SITE OF THE CHARING CROSS
Eleanor, the beloved Queen of Edward I, died on 28th November, 1290, at Harby, about six miles from Lincoln, just within the Nottinghamshire border. Her body was embalmed, and the funeral cortege left Lincoln on 4th December, proceeding by a devious route to Westminster Abbey, where her body was laid to rest on the 17th. The route was afterwards marked by a series of twelve crosses, erected by the King, indicating the stages of the journey, at Lincoln (the starting-point), Grantham, Stamford, Geddington, Northampton, Stony Stratford, Woburn, Dunstable, St. Albans, Waltham, Cheapside and Charing. (fn. n1) Only three survive: at Geddington, Northampton and Waltham. That at Charing was by far the most costly of the twelve. The work of construction seems to have been put in hand at once, for it is shown in progress in the account of the Queen's executors for 1291. The series of accounts (fn. n2) closes in 1294, and there is reason to think that the work was not then complete. The craftsman in charge of the work, and probably also of the design, was Richard of Crundale, the King's mason at Westminster. (fn. n3) He died about 1293, (fn. n4) and the work was continued by Roger of Crundale, who had also a share in the construction of the cross at Waltham. The statues on the cross at Charing, as also those still existing on the cross at Waltham, were the work of Alexander of Abingdon. The stone used was brought from Caen and the marble from Corfe.
Unlike the sister cross at Cheapside, Charing Cross had never been rebuilt, but in the course of its existence it had suffered considerable damage. Norden (circa 1590) described it (fn. n7) as "an olde and auncient wetherbeaton monument … now defaced throwgh antiquitie." The only authentic representations of it which remain are in the view of Wyngaerde and the map of "Agas." Both of these, which are on a very small scale, are here reproduced. In the Crowle-Pennant collection at the British Museum is a drawing purporting to show the cross (Plate 112). This, which has formed the basis of later engravings, is of somewhat doubtful authority. A rather conventional view was also preserved on an old silver salver. Impressions of this are preserved in the British Museum and the Westminster Public Library, and the latter also contains a sketch made from it by John Carter.
In the Pepys Library, Magdalene College, Cambridge, is a drawing (reproduced in Plate 112) in ink and wash, purporting to represent the cross. (fn. n8) It is apparently by the same hand as that responsible for the views of Cheapside Cross and Paul's Cross in the same volume. (fn. n9) It is difficult to say exactly how much authority is to be ascribed to the drawing. The view of Paul's Cross at any rate is not original, being taken from an earlier illustration (fn. n10) which shows more of the surroundings, and the view of the Charing Cross may likewise not be contemporary. It certainly presents some difficulties to the historian. The clear-cut character of the steps (as even as on the day when they were made) is a feature which this drawing shares with the other two, and precludes its acceptance as a perfectly accurate representation. The number of the steps, although nine as against four in the Crowle-Pennant view and five in "Agas," may be correct. (fn. n11) The chief difficulty, however, concerns the structure on the steps, which it is not easy to identify with the cross as shown in "Agas," or even with the remains of the latter, assuming (which is just possible) that a portion of the shaft and the steps were left standing in 1647. The view suggests a broken wooden structure, clamped with iron (though this perhaps is not quite certain (fn. n12) ), and it is difficult to imagine any connection between a shaft of wood and the Eleanor Cross.
It may be mentioned that in 1863 what was intended as a replica (in Portland and Mansfield stone and Aberdeen granite) of the ancient cross was erected in the courtyard of Charing Cross station, about 200 yards from the original site. It was designed by E. M. Barry, the sculptor being Thomas Earp.
After the demolition of the old cross in 1647 the question arose: "What was to be done with the site?"
The first information we have of this is the instruction (fn. n13) on 14th June, 1653, to the churchwardens of St. Martin's to "lett as much ground as they shall think fitt to a fishmonger, for him to build a shedd In ye wast place where Chareing Crosse stood, and to sell fish there." The rent was to be applied to the needs of the poor, and the letting to be for only one year. On 26th November, 1656, the vestry discussed (fn. n14) at length the question whether "ye Wast ground commonly called Charing Crosse doe belong to ye parish." This was decided in the affirmative, and order was given "that Care bee taken for ye speedy Fencing in ye sayd ground wth posts and rayles for ye use & benefitt of ye parish." The vestry's rights, however, were challenged by the trustees for the sale of the Abbey lands, who had entertained a proposal by Mr. Charles Rich for building on the site. The vestry appealed to the Protector and managed to get the contract held up. (fn. n15) The ensuing negotiations with Mr. Rich dragged on until 10th December, 1658, when the vestry decided (fn. n16) to satisfy his demand for £18 15s. 4d., his preliminary expenses in connection with the contract, provided that he would "make a good tytyle in the law of ye sayd ground to ye parish." (fn. n17) Meanwhile the vestry had proceeded with "the fencing in ye ground called Charing Cross with posts & Rayles & … paving thereof & laying of it hansom." (fn. n18) Details are given in the "Accompt concerning the digging of the stones, being the foundation of Charing cross, and for Levelling and Rayling in of ye Ground In the yeare 1657." (fn. n19)
Among the items are "digging of 47 loads of stone for the parishes use for paving" (fn. n20) (27th June, 1658), "filling up the hole at Charing Cross" (fn. n21) (8th May, 1658), "Payd to Capt' Richard Ryder for Postes Rayles & Ballosadoes & other Carpenters worke don about the inclosing the ground where Charing Cross stood Eighty and one pounds and fifteene shillings." An amount of £77 1s. 5d. was received for "stones dug up and sould."
The amount of stone suggests that some at least of the steps were still remaining. In any case it is certain that the year 1658 witnessed the destruction of the last remnants of the Eleanor Cross at Charing.
On the occasion of Charles II's triumphant entry into Whitehall on 29th May, 1660, the site of the cross was utilised. (fn. n22) A few months later (from 13th to 17th October) saw the execution of Harrison and seven other of the regicides "att Charring Cross wthin the rayles." (fn. n23) The site was also used for purposes of a lighter character. The overseers' accounts for 1660 mention receipts from "Mr Towden for the Mountebanckes Standing at Chering Cross" and from "a dutchman that made a shew at Charing Cross, for his Standing." Punchinello was one of the chief attractions. In the Churchwardens' Accounts for 1673 is an item: "Octobr 4. Expended wth severall witnesses to bee called to show cause why the parish should not pave the waist ground by Punchinellos booth," and in 1667 and 1668 are several entries of rent received "of Punchinello ye Itallian popet player for his Booth at Charing Cross." In 1668–9 occur four entries of payments made by "Mons. Devone for his Playhouse." The person referred to is no doubt the Anthony Devolto who in 1672 petitioned against proceedings being taken against him in the matter of "keeping his sport of polichinello at Charing Cross." (fn. n24)
The statue of Charles I which now occupies the site of the Cross was made in 1633 by Hubert Le Sueur (fn. n25) for the lord treasurer, Lord Weston (afterwards 1st Earl of Portland). The following memorandum, (fn. n26) giving instructions for the preparation of a draft agreement in the matter is of interest:
"For the Scrivener
"To prepare a drauft for the right Honnorable Lord Wesson Lord Hey Tresorier of England, of an agreement made with one Hubert le Sueur for the casting of a Horsse in Brasse bigger then a greate Horsse by a foot, and the figure of his Maj King Charles proportionable full six foot, Which the afore saide Hubert le sueur is to performe with all the skill and Workmanship as leith in his powoer, and not onley shall be obliged to inploy at the saide Worcke such worckmen onder his direction as shall be skilfull able and caerfull for all the parts of the Worke but also to cast the saide Worke of the best Yealowie and red copper, and caerfully prouide for the strengtning and fearme uphouldinge of the same one the Pedestall were itt is to stand one, at Rohamton in the righ honor the Lord hey Tresorier his Garden.
"The saide Sueur is also to make a perfect Modell of the saide worke, of the same bignes as the Copper shall be, in the making werof he shall take the aduice of his Maj. Ridders of greate Horsses, as well for the shaep of the Horsse and action as for the graesfull shaepe and action of his Maj. figure one the same, Which beeinge Performed, with the aprobation of his Maj. and content of his Lordship the aforesaide le Sueur is to have for the intyer worcke and full finishing of the same in Copper and setting in the place where itt is to stand, The somme of six hundred pounds, to be paied to him in manner followinge.
"Fifty pounds att the insealing of the Contractt. Three Moneths after (by which tyme the Modell is to be finished and approved by his Maj. and his Lordship) hundred pound more. When the Worcke shall be readdy to be cast in copper, is to receave two hundred pound more.
"When itt appeered to be perfectly cast, then is to receave hundred and fifty pound more. And when the worcke is fully and perfectly finisshed and sett at Rohampton, the last remaining hundred pound.
"Which Worcke the saide Sueur ondertaketh to performe in acktien moneth, the tyme beginning the day the couenant shall be dated."
The memorandum is undated, but has been assigned to the year 1630. (fn. n27) The statue was duly made, and the metal plate under the left forefoot of the horse (see p. 268) gives the date of the work as 1633. (fn. n28) It was apparently not delivered to Roehampton, (fn. n29) and according to Walpole (fn. n30) was sold by parliament to John Rivet, a brazier, with instructions to break it up. Rivet, however, preserved the statue, producing some fragments of old brass to show that he had carried out his commission. At the Restoration the second Earl of Portland discovered the existence of the statue and claimed it, but Rivet refused to comply with the demand. Portland complained to the House of Lords (fn. n31) and on 19th July, 1660, it was ordered (fn. n32) "That the said John Rivett shall permit and suffer the Sheriff of London to serve a Replevin upon the said Statue and Horse of Brass, that are now in his Custody."
The statue was purchased by the King, (fn. n33) and on 19th April, 1675, an order was given (fn. n34) for "the effigies of the old King to be brought to Charing Cross and a place made for it." In the following month is a record (fn. n35) of a payment to "Robert Streeter, Serjant Painter … for makeing 2 designes on paper for the King in order to ye setting up of ye Statue of King Charles the first upon a Stone pedestall by Mastr Surveyors Direction ijli xs." In July of the same year is a reference to "naileing up bourds in ye Fence att Cheering Cross made to Encompass ye place where the brass figure is to be set." (fn. n36) The Works Accounts show expenditure for the month of July, 1675, in connection with the carriage of "stones and brickbatts from Whitehall and Westminster to Chareing cross for the foundation of the Pedistall on which ye brass figure is sett," and for the carriage of earth "digged out of ye said foundation"; and there is a further item (August to October, 1675) of payment to Peter Brent, sergeant plumber, for 6 cwt. 2 qrs. 4 lb. of old lead "used by the masons aboute setting up the brasse figure at Chareing cross." (fn. n37) In 1676 a "book" was made of the expenditure, amounting to £668 6s. 1¼d. (fn. n38) Among the items may be mentioned:
The total amount allowed in the warrant of the lord treasurer in respect of "the pedestal for the brass figure at Charing Cross, with several other works done about the same" was £681 9s. 1½d. (fn. n39)
Hollar's well-known engraving of the statue must have been made before its erection at Charing Cross, for the pedestal therein shown bears no resemblance to the one actually employed. The drawing of the statue, moreover, is incorrect in many details. The horse is shown with the left foreleg raised, instead of the right. The right hindleg is also off the ground, and the King's dress and hair are wrongly drawn. Two other early views of the statue are given in Morden and Lea's map of 1682 and A Book of the Prospects of remarkable places in and about the City of London, by the same authors. In these only the upper half of the pedestal is shown, but it is the correct pedestal; in other respects the views repeat all the errors of Hollar. A view of the statue and pedestal complete is given in a drawing by Sutton Nicholls (Plate 85), which continues the incorrect representation of the horse's legs. This view shows the iron railings very close to the pedestal. On 22nd February, 1721–2, the Office of Works reported to the Treasury "the ruinous Condition of that fine Equestral Statue at Charing Cross, which is very much out of repair, the reins of the bridle being broke & wasted small, the joynts of the Pedistall wants to be stopt & Cleaned; the lower plint whereon the Pedistall stands, ye stones are forced out and broke; the upper Torus moulding is broke in many places; 40 of the Iron barrs are allready stole, and the rest in great dainger. The whole Iron worke is too small & Decaied & Cannot serve again. The Outward Curb of Stone is broke in many places, the upright Stones are all broke; The flanders brick, pibble & flint pavings are sunk into holes and broke, and is in a very bad condition."
The report seems to have fallen upon deaf ears, but about eighteen months later the Lords of the Treasury themselves noticed the bad condition of the statue and gave instructions for a survey to be made. (fn. n40) The Office of Works reported on 12th August, 1723, calling attention to their previous memorial, and further suggesting that it was necessary "to put the Ironworke at a greater distance & fix the same in a better manner for the preservation of that fine Equestrian Statue." The total cost was estimated at £369, which was approved on 19th August, 1723. Plate 86 shows the railings altered in position. (fn. n41)
In 1767 lamps were placed round the statue "for the safety of carriages" (The British Chronicle, 4–6th February, 1767). They are shown in Plate 117.
In April, 1810, the sword, buckles and straps fell from the statue, but were picked up and delivered to the Office of Works, (fn. n42) and in 1844 the sword was stolen.
In 1855–6 repairs to the pedestal were carried out by Sir George Gilbert Scott.
Brief reference must be made to the pillory, which was set close by the statue, as shown by a print by Rowlandson (Plate 117) in 1809. The view is taken looking towards Cockspur Street. The punishment (inflicted by the populace) differed according to the popularity of the culprit. Thus, when Defoe was pilloried at Charing Cross in 1703 he received an ovation. The pillory was hung with garlands and the crowd drank his health. On the other hand John Middleton, who was pilloried at Charing Cross for perjury in 1723, was so severely handled that he died before he was released.
Description of the Statue.
The statue (Plate115) represents the King, bareheaded, on horseback, in a demi-suit of armour, with a high falling collar, and across his chest is a scarf tied with a bow on the right shoulder. The George was originally suspended from the collar of the Order, but this was stolen in 1844. The King holds in his right hand a baton, which rests upon the pummel of the saddle, and in his left hand the reins. Neither sword nor buckles are present. His legs are cased in long boots, much crinkled, as was the fashion at the time.
The horse is a sturdy Flemish animal, with full equipment. His neck is arched and he stands with his right foreleg raised, and his full flowing tail almost reaching to the ground.
The statue displays grace and distinction and is without doubt one of the best examples of its kind of the period in the country. Speaking of it, Horace Walpole remarks: (fn. n43) "the commanding grace of the figure and exquisite form of the horse are striking to the most unpractised eye."
The stone pedestal (Plate 116) was executed by Joshua Marshall (fn. n44) from a design by Wren. The upper part has a heavily moulded cornice, with carved laurel and other enrichments. The sides of the pedestal each consist of a moulded square panel with rounded surfaces to the ends, which contain carved cartouches in strong relief. The carving represents the Royal Stuart arms with heraldic supporters and amorini respectively, and also folded draperies with swags entwined amongst a medley of martial trophies at the base. The plinth to the pedestal is moulded and stands on a plain high rectangular base. The top of the pedestal is covered by a shaped granite slab to which are fixed (with four bolts to each) three bronze plates, each about 12 inches square, taking the three legs of the horse which reach the ground. The plate under the left foreleg has around the hoof the inscription, in letters 11/8 inches high: "Hvber Le-Svevr Fecit 1633."
The carving to the mouldings and cartouches is much weather-worn and in parts almost unrecognisable. There are also traces of repairs to holes on the flat surfaces of the panels, which may have been caused by dowels supporting descriptive tablets.
Three drawings, illustrated in Plates 113 and 114, relating to the statue are preserved in the Wren Collection at All Souls' College, Oxford. These presumably were preliminary sketches prepared by Wren for the design of the proposed pedestal to support Le Sueur's statue. As in the case of the engravings by Hollar, Morden and Lea, and Sutton Nicholls (see p. 266), the left foreleg and right hindleg of the horse are shown raised.
State Of Repair.
Good, but the pedestal is weather-worn, and in places covered by London grime and soot.
In The Council's Collection Are:
(fn. n45) The Charing Cross, from drawing in the Pepys Library, Magdelene College, Cambridge
(fn. n45) The Charing Cross, from drawing in the Crowle-Pennant Collection, British Museum (photograph).
(fn. n45) Wren's designs for pedestal, from drawings in Wren Collection, All Souls' College, Oxford (3) (photographs).
(fn. n45) Pedestal (measured drawing).
(fn. n45) Statue and pedestal (2) (photographs).
(fn. n45) The modern Charing Cross (photograph).