Category: Architecture and buildings

County Hall – once London’s government, now hotels, art and fish

By , April 6, 2010 2:44 am

London’s Local Government

The original plans for London County Hall, from 1909

The original plans for London County Hall, from 1909

Until the late 19th century, “London” was just the “square mile”, or what is now known as “the City”, the area within the Roman and medieval walls.

The rest of what is now Greater London was the City of Westminster, part of other counties, such as Kent, Middlesex and Essex, or  local parishes and boroughs (such as Southwark).

In 1889, the London County Council (LCC) was formed, covering what is now thought of as Inner London (which excludes the City of London itself, independence is maintained there).

In 1965, the body expanded to cover the City’s growth since Victorian times, and was re-named the Greater London Council (GLC).

From 1965 to 1986, the GLC ran many parts of London’s public sphere, co-operating with the local councils.

The LCC's first home, formerly the Metropolitan Board of Works

The LCC's first home, formerly the Metropolitan Board of Works

From 1986 to 2000, London was the only major city in the world not to have its own governing body, instead the city was run by the many local councils which make up the urban area – this caused many problems over matters which affected the whole city, such as management of the river.

The LCC and GLC operated from County Hall, a grand building on the south bank of the River Thames, nearly opposite the Houses of Parliament in Westminster.

The site of London County Hall

The land was originally part of St. Mary’s Lambeth, and was called Peddler’s Acre after the varying myths over a peddler who had owned the land and bequeathed it to the church.

From its foundation, the LCC operated from Spring Gardens, a building erected for and used by the Metropolitan Board of Works, whose functions (among others) the LCC inherited when it was set up.

Land was reclaimed from the Thames for the front of the building and the embankment

Land was reclaimed from the Thames for the front of the building and the embankment

The large increase in duties conferred on the LCC by the Local Government Act meant the body soon ran out of room, and looked to buy the land just east of Westminster Bridge, to build its own County Hall.

The London County Council bought the land to built its large new home on, and constructions started in the Edwardian era, before the First World War. They paid £617,032 for the land, in 1904.

The building was mostly finished by 1922, with extra bits added here and there until the late 1950s.

While the foundations were being dug for the Hall a number of interesting Roman artefacts were found, including part of a wall and a Roman boat, which were dug up and transferred to the Museum of London.

London County Hall’s architecture

King George V and Queen Mary opening County Hall in 1922

King George V and Queen Mary opening County Hall in 1922

The design of the new building was the subject of a public competition. The winner, out of 51 applicants, was Ralph Knott. The Hall itself is a grand, enormous building.

It’s built with a huge semi-circle in the centre, and two wings extending out along the river.

The building is built mainly from grey stone, with columns along the front and a green, seemingly leaded, tower or spire above the centre and green leading along the windows where the walls meet the roof.

The main stone used was Portland Stone – a grey-white limestone from Dorset which was a common choice for public buildings in London. St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London, the Bank of England, and Buckingham Place, for example, are all built of Portland Stone.

Now – no politicians, but hotels, sharks, and a museum or two

County Hall during the Second World War

County Hall during the Second World War

The Hall is no longer a local government building – it contains two hotels, one pricey and a cheaper option, and some flats, a gym, a couple of restaurants, and tourist attractions.

The London Aquarium is here – this is a good place to take young children fed up with the round of old churches, national buildings and Old Masters!

The variety of sea life here is amazing – with over a million litres of water in the various tanks, this is one of the largest aquaria in Europe. There’s a huge shark tank, and a recreation of a coral reef which is astonishing in its complexity.

The tanks are positioned so that the visitor can walk underneath, then next to, and then above the same tanks, after using stairs, corridors and lifts. The London Aquarium’s website can be found here.

London County Hall, seen from the north bank of the River Thames, by Westminster Bridge

London County Hall, seen from the north bank of the River Thames, by Westminster Bridge

Also in County Hall is the fascinating London Film Museum. This has a mixutre of regular exhibitions and temporary displays, and is well worth a look – the museum’s website is here.

The London Eye is next to County Hall, and has its ground-level offices in County Hall, on the east side of the building.

The Eye has 32 capsules (representing the 32 London boroughs). It’s a beautiful and modern addition to the River Thames’ sky line. Click here for London Eye tickets

The nearest tubes are Waterloo and Westminster.

London County Hall, seen from the River Thames, to the north of the main building

London County Hall, seen from the River Thames

Jewish Blood Libel: Persecution & Greed in Medieval England

By , February 2, 2010 1:29 am

The English origins of the blood libel

“Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln” was a popular medieval saint, supposed to have been the victim of a ritual, Jewish murder in the 12th century.

The terrible medieval blood libel against Jews, which started a wave of persecution, torture, death, and exile, got off to a less than glorious start in Norman England.

In later times a blot on Russia and Eastern Europe, and in modern times, also shame on the Muslim World, this long-lasting accusation, born from anti-semitism, started in Norwich and Lincoln, in the mid 12th century.

What is the Jewish Blood Libel?

A 16th century French woodcut, showing a Jew calling the devil forth from a vat of Christian blood

A 16th century French woodcut, showing a Jew calling the devil forth from a vat of Christian blood

The exact details varied from case to case, but there were many elements common to all or most of the blood libel allegations.

They involved the ritual human sacrifice, and slaughter for religious Jewish practice of a Christian, in sadistic ceremonies.

In general, a child, usually a pre-adolescent boy, was said to have been abducted or seduced and  coxed into a Jew’s house.

He was then tortured, often circumcised, sometimes with a parody of cruxifiction, and had his blood drained for, use in ritual religious foods.

The accusations were often followed by an orgy of violence against Jews who lived anywhere near the town where the death occurred.

It was a rather handy way for Kings and local power-brokers to get their sticky fingers on Jewish money and assets – either by taking over the estates of the “criminals”, or by demanding what was, in effect, protection money.

The fact that Jews are particularly careful to avoid eating even animal blood – draining it from animals as they are killed, and soaking meat cuts to remove it – appears to have passed the blood libel mobs by.

After the first blood libels circulated in England, the practice spread all over Europe, and to Russia and the Muslim world.

The First Accusation in England – William of Norwich

A 15th century painting depicting William of Norwich

A 15th century painting depicting William of Norwich

William of Norwich was born in about 1132AD. He lived in the town for his whole life, and died at the age of about 12, in 1144.

William was an apprentice tanner, and had business dealings with Norwich’s Jewish population. Shortly before he vanished, he was seen visiting the house of a Jewish family with whom he was acquainted. He was murdered, and his body later found and buried in a local graveyard.

There followed accusations against Norwich’s Jews, and Thomas of Monmouth, a Benedictine monk in Norwich, wrote a book called The Life and Miracles of St. William of Norwich in 1174.

He was encouraged in this by the Bishop of Norwich, William De Turbeville, who seems to have seen great potential in establishing William’s tomb as a pilgrimage site. Places which became popular with pilgrims could rake in substantial amount of cash, and other valuables, left as offerings to the saints.

It doesn’t appear that William was ever actually made a saint by the Church, although he was referred to locally, in Norwich and Norfolk, as Saint William.

Blood Libel leading to Sainthood – Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln

Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln being enticed in Copin's house

Little Saint Hugh of Lincoln being enticed in Copin's house

This blood libel was a grander and far more damaging affair. Hugh of Lincoln was an 8 or 9 year old boy, the son of a local woman called Beatrice.

Hugh vanished at the end of July, 1255. His body was found roughly a month later, in or near the property of a Lincoln Jewish man, called Copin, Kopin, Joscefin,or Jopin.

A local priest called John of Lexington saw an opportunity, and under threat of torture, Copin “confessed” that he and a group of other Jews from both Lincoln and other towns had gathered together for the ritual torture and sacrifice of a Christian boy.

Copin was promised a pardon for his confessing and implicating other Jews, but King Henry III arrived in Lincoln in October, and ordered that Copin be dragged around the city tied to a horse, and then executed.

The Kings of England “owned” all English Jews, and could tax them freely and more heavily than non-Jewish, Christian subjects.

Earlier in 1255, King Henry III had sold the English Jews to his brother, Richard Earl of Cornwall. But he realised that, as King, he was still entitled to the proceeds of the estates of those Jews convicted of serious crimes.

About 100 of Lincoln’s Jews were dragged off to the Tower of London.  At least 20 of them were executed, and their property forfeited to the Crown, before the rest were pardoned and allowed home.

Lincoln Cathedral (West Front) This photo is in the public domain

Lincoln Cathedral (West Front) This photo is in the public domain

Unlike William of Norwich, it appears that Hugh of Lincoln did actually become a Catholic Saint. His feast day was on 27th July each year.

Not long after his death, his body was translated to Lincoln Cathedral. Above the stone tomb, a shrine was put up to Little Saint Hugh. Miracles were attributed to the intercession of Little St Hugh, and he was a popular saint.

The coffin was opened during restoration work in 1790, and found to contain a boy’s skeleton, approximately 3.5 feet long.

St Hugh of Lincoln was also a popular saint, but a different man. He was an adult when he died, and was Bishop of Lincoln.

Unless I’ve missed it, Lincoln Cathedral’s otherwise interesting website doesn’t mention the whole Little Saint Hugh thing at all, but there are lots of references to the (adult) St Hugh.

Little Saint Hugh’s legacy

The shrine above Little Saint Hugh's tomb, in a 17th century illustration

The shrine above Little Saint Hugh's tomb, in a 17th century illustration

The story was widely-known and repeated. Geoffrey Chaucer wrote about Little St Hugh in The Prioress’ Tale, one of the Canterbury Tales. The passage reads:

O yonge Hugh of Lyncoln, slayn also

With cursed Jewes, as it is notable,

For it is but a litel while ago,

Preye eek for us, we synful folk unstable

A (rough) translation into modern English, by me and not to be relied upon as gospel:

Oh young Hugh of Lincoln, also slain

By accursed Jews, as is known well,

For it was but a little while ago

Pray also for us, we unstable, sinful folk

In 1955, the Lincoln Cathedral (since the Reformation, an Anglican foundation) put up a sign next to Little St Hugh’s tomb, which says:

Trumped up stories of “ritual murders” of Christian boys by Jewish communities were common throughout Europe during the Middle Ages and even much later. These fictions cost many innocent Jews their lives. Lincoln had its own legend and the alleged victim was buried in the Cathedral in the year 1255.

A medieval blood libel fresco in St Paul's Church in Sandomierz, Poland

A medieval blood libel fresco in St Paul's Church in Sandomierz, Poland

Such stories do not redound to the credit of Christendom, and so we pray:

Lord, forgive what we have been,
amend what we are,
and direct what we shall be.

Other Examples of Medieval English Blood Libels against the Jews

There were other, similar accusations in towns and cities across England:

  • Saint Harold of Gloucester – killed in a blood libel incident in Gloucester in 1168. His feast day was March 25th
  • Robert of Bury -the supposed victim of Jewish ritual sacrifice in Bury St. Edmunds, in 1181. On Palm Sunday in 1190, there was a mob attack on the town’s Jews. 57 were killed, and the rest banished from Bury.
  • Unknown boy – another blood libel accusation, in Devizes, Wiltshire, in 1892.

Cressing Temple: Visiting Knights Templar property in England Today

By , January 5, 2010 3:37 am

Introduction to the Knights Templar

Plan from excavations in the late 1990s at Cressing Temple

Plan from excavations in the late 1990s at Cressing Temple

The Knights Templar, the fabled, fantastically rich, and powerful organisation that rose spectacularly in the Middle Ages, fell as dramatically.

The “Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon” order,  known  more commonly as “The Knights Templar”, was founded in Jerusalem in 1119 AD to protect pilgrims bound for the Holy Land, and dissolved by the French King and the Pope in 1312.

In just under two centuries, the Templars became  powerful, important, and famous as an order of fighting monks. They were far from the only military knights who were also subject to a monastic rule, but they became (and remain to this day) the best known.

Everyone loved them, from the Pope, Kings and Princes to the peasants and labourers, and their success and visibility was unparalleled.

Their fall 200 years later was equally dramatic, and the Papacy was forced by the French King (who was, in effect, in control of the Pope) into eliminating them.

Many of the Templars were burned alive, particularly in France. In other countries, such as England, most were allowed to go quietly on their way, many joining other orders of monks.

The cellar at Cressing Temple, from the Templars' time, uncovered during excavation works

The cellar at Cressing Temple, from the Templars' time, uncovered during excavation works

Visiting Knights Templar sites in England today

Many of the biggest and best-known Templar properties can be indentified and visited, but the extent of the remains of Templar buildings varies significantly.
There are a number which have substantial and significant sites still, and others where only the name survives today.
This is the first in a series of posts about visiting Knights Templar property in England, and starts with the Essex site of Cressing Temple.

Cressing Temple – significant remains and buildings survive

Cressing Temple is in Essex, England. It’s a scheduled ancient monument, owned by Essex County Council, and open to the public.   A lot is left, and it’s a great place to visit to get a sense of the Knights Templar organisation and property.

It was the largest and most significant of the properties the Knights Templar owned in Essex, and was in the charge of a “Preceptor”.

This was the title of the Knight who had charge of an area and a number of monks under him; he was answerable only to the Grand Master of the Order.

Cressing Temple was given to the Templars in 1137 by Matilda, wife of King Stephen, not the rival claimant to the throne, the Empress Matilda.

The astonishing buildings at Cressing Temple, standing today

Plan showing the timber structure of the Wheat Barn at Cressing Temple.

Plan showing the timber structure of the Wheat Barn at Cressing Temple.

Two great barns were built by the Templars at Cressing. The first is now called the Barley Barn, and is thought to have been built some time around 1210 A.D.

The Wheat Barn was built in about 1260 to 1270 A.D. It is built directly on top of a Bronze Age settlement.

The Barley Barn is an immense structure built from oak, and was made from an estimated 480 oak trees. Tree science, dendrochronology, has dated the felling of these trees from between 1205 and 1235.

The Barn was originally larger even than it is today, but it seems to have been repaired later and made smaller at that time. It now measures about 36 metres long by 13½ metres wide.

Although it’s been repaired over the years, the original structure of the Barn still holds it up today. The arcade posts and main ties are the ones built by theTemplars.

The Barley Barn at Cressing is the oldest timber framed barn still in existence in the world.

The Wheat Barn is larger, 40 metres long and 12½ metres wide. It was built from 472 different oak trees, and there are identical trusses with braces meeting at a scissor above the collars.

Records and research into Cressing Temple

The Templar-built well at Cressing Temple

The Templar-built well at Cressing Temple

More is known about Cressing Temple than many Templar foundations because inventories made by both the Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller have survived.

There has also been extensive archaeological research, with Essex County Council excavating the site between 1987 and 1996.

The archaeological excavations have shown that when the Templars took over the land they cleared it, and set up drainage systems, and started to build.

Evidence has been found of post holes, timber slots, gravelled surfaces outside, and latrine pits. The foundations of an original timber chapel built in about 1145 was discovered. This was replaced by a stone chapel a few years later.

The Templars also dug a very deep well, about 45 feet deep. It was lined with Reigate stone. There is also evidence that they filled in some existing ditches, and dug new ones to drain the land more efficiently.

The Well House was only built at the end of Victorian times, but the well itself is undoubtedly a Templar structure.

There is evidence from Carbon 14 dating to show that trees were cut down partly in order to make room for the buildings, and partly in order to provide the timber to build them.

There is also what appears to be a clay quarry which may have been used for tiles for the floors of the barns and other buildings.

The Wheat Barn, at Cressing Temple

The Wheat Barn, at Cressing Temple

The quarry appears to have been used as a rubbish dump and filled up by the Templars in the years after it was opened.

Three large ponds were also dug and presumably stocked with fish. The Knights Templar, like other monastic orders, did not eat meat many days of the year and ate fish instead. It was common for large houses or organisations to have their own fish ponds.

A very complete inventory from 1313 mentions a church, two chambers (almost certainly used as bedrooms) a great hall, a pantry, a kitchen, a buttery, a larder, bakehouse, brewhouse, dairy, granary, smithy, a well, and two barns.

The Templar holding at Cressing Temple was originally about 14,000 acres. It was very fertile land, good for agriculture, and the produce could be easily moved by river.

The Templars employed over 160 tenant farmers on the Cressing Temple site, and also established a market.

In 1309, before the estate was handed to the Knights Hospitaller the Cressing Temple was recorded as having a mansion house, bakehouse, brewery, dairy, granary, smithy, gardens, a dovecote, chapel, cemetery, watermill and a windmill.

After the suppression of the Order, the Cressing Temple passed to the Knights Hospitaller in 1313.

Visiting Cressing Temple

The Barley Barn at Cressing Temple

The Barley Barn at Cressing Temple

Cressing Temple’s address is Witham Road, Cressing, Braintree, Essex, CM77  8PD.

It’s about 50 miles from central London, and 4 miles from the nearest railway station, Witham (trains take about 45 minutes from London Liverpool Street station).

From April to September Cressing Temple is open from 10am – 5pm Sunday to Friday, in March and October  from 10am -  4pm Sunday to Friday, and from November to February,  10am and 3pm Monday to Friday.

The site’s details, opening hours, and travel directions can be found here.

St. Stephen, Walbrook: Mayor of London’s Church, and home of the Samaritans

By , December 6, 2009 3:57 am

Sir Christopher Wren’s 17th century masterpiece, the small church of St. Stephen Walbrook, is the parish church for the Mayor of London. It’s an ancient site – before the mediaeval church there was a Saxon church on the site, which in turn had replaced a Temple of Mithras from the second century AD.

In more recent times, the Samaritans, an organisation offering support and help to those suffering from depression or at risk of suicide, was founded at St Stephen in 1953, as was the international arm, Befrienders Worldwide.

This post is about the four different religious buildings which have been built on this same site, the founding of the Samaritans charity in the Church, and finishes with pictures, taken yesterday, of the breathtakingly beautiful church built by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London.

The Roman Temple of Mithras

A statue of Mithras slaying a bull. This sculpture is in the British Museum.

A statue of Mithras slaying a bull. This sculpture is in the British Museum.

During the 400-year Roman occupation, the Temple of Mithras was built on the banks of the Walbrook, a small stream then running through the centre of Londinium. (Like many other London rivers and streams, it now runs in a culvert underground – see this post on the River Fleet for information about London’s largest buried river).

The Mithraic Mysteries / Mysteries of Mithras / Mithraism was a Roman Cult. It had 7 levels of people in the cult, in a type of gnostic progression, and engaged in ritual slaughter of bulls, and ritual meals. Not much else is known about the cult, which was highly secretive, albeit wide-spread throughout the Roman Empire.

After the Fall of Rome, the stones from the Temple seem to have been taken away for other buildings, leaving only the foundations.

These were re-discovered during building work in the 1950s, and are preserved in the courtyard of a rather nasty modernist office block.

The Saxon Church

At some unknown time between the 7th and 10th centuries, a Christian church was built on the site of the Roman temple. This often happened, in order to “hallow” the sites of pagan temples. The Saxon church used the foundations of the Roman Mithras Temple. It is mentioned in records in the late 11 century, when it was given to a monastery.  What it looked like is a mystery.

The Mediaeval Church (15th century)

By the 15th century, the church was too small for the parish’s needs, and it was re-built on the east side of the Walbrook, now a road rather than a river. One of a staggering 100 churches in the City of London, also known as “the square mile”, the mediaeval church was built of flint, and had both a tower and a cloister.

Like much of the City, the Church burned in the Great Fire of London, in 1666.

Christopher Wren and the Rebuilding of the City of London

A portrait of Sir Christopher Wren, by Godfrey Kneller (1711)

A portrait of Sir Christopher Wren, by Godfrey Kneller (1711)

More than three-quarters of the City had been destroyed in the Great Fire. One of those charged with getting London back on its feet as soon as possible was Christopher Wren, the King’s Surveyor.

Wren designed and supervised more than 50 churches, among other buildings both in London and elsewhere. Under the Rebuilding Act 1670, he supervised a vast programme of building work.

St Stephen Walbrook was Wren’s local church – he lived on Walbrook, and was in the parish. The work on the church began in 1672. By 1679, the church was finished, apart from the steeple, built 12 years later.

The Architecture of St Stephen Walbrook

Sir John Sommerson described the church of St Stephen as “the pride of English architecture, and one of the few City churches in which the genius of Wren shines in full splendour”.  Nikolaus Pevsner thought it one of the ten most important buildings in England.

The building was, in effect a series of experiments for the ideas Wren had for the rebuilding of St Paul’s Cathedral. The dome was very unusual in English ecclesiastical architecture at the time.

As the building materials were lighter than those used in the much larger St Paul’s, the sense of light and space inside St Stephen Walbook is wonderful.

The location is an extremely hectic one – the Mansion House, the Bank of England, and the City of London Magistrates’ Court are all within sight from Walbrook. And yet, stepping inside the church, there is a simple oasis of calm and beauty.

Music at St Stephen Walbrook

The church is well-known for music recitals. In particular, it has organ recitals on Fridays, at lunch time. For a list of upcoming events, see here.

The Samaritans

This important and valuable charity was founded in 1953 by the then Vicar of St Stephen Walbrook, Chad Varah. He thought there wasn’t enough support for people undergoing a traumatic emotional time, and was particularly moved after burying a 14 year old girl who had thought that the onset of menstruation was a disease, and had killed herself. He wanted to set up what he called a  “999 for the suicidal” (999 being the UK’s emergency number).  What was needed, in Chad Varah’s view, was “a man willing to listen, with a base and an emergency telephone”. And so it came to pass.

The phone was set up in the Crypt of St Stephen Walbrook and this, the first telephone helpline in the UK, achieved a great deal of publicity in the press. Volunteers came forward to help man the phone.  The service grew – today, there are 201 branches and 17,000 trained volunteers in the UK and Ireland who answer phone calls, have drop-in centres, and receive emails and texts.  For more information about this important charity, see their website.  The Samaritans also run Befrienders Worldwide, an international service doing much the same work.

Photographs of St Stephen Walbrook today

The Eleanor Crosses: King Edward I’s 12 stone statues showing love and grief for his wife

By , June 25, 2009 1:06 am

When his wife, Eleanor of Castile, died Edward I spoke of her as the woman, “whom living we dearly cherished, and whom dead we cannot cease to love”.

Edward commissioned 12 large and elaborate stone crosses to stand in each of the places at which her funeral procession rested overnight, on the journey from Lincoln to Westminster Abbey in London.

This article is about Edward, Eleanor, and the 12 Eleanor Crosses  – some of which, remarkably, are still in existence well over 700 years later.



Eleanor’s early life

Statue of Eleanor of Castile, from the Northampton Eleanor Cross

Statue of Eleanor of Castile, from the Northampton Eleanor Cross

Eleanor of Castile was born the daughter of Ferdinand King of Castile and his second wife, Jeanne.

She was their second child, and was born in 1241 (the exact date isn’t known, but probably at the end of the year).

Eleanor married Edward I, future King of England, in Burgos on 1st November 1254; Burgos is in the north of Spain. At the time of the marriage, Eleanor was either 13 years old, or coming up to 13 shortly.


Edward I’s early life

Edward I, often nicknamed “Hammer of the Scots” or Scottorum Malleus was also known as “Edward Longshanks”.  He was unusually tall for medieval times, and is thought to have been about 6 foot 2 inches tall.

A few centuries after he died, someone dug him up and measured the bones. Nice.

King Edward I

King Edward I

Edward was born on 17th June 1239, son and heir of King Henry III and Eleanor of Provence.

Edward and Eleanor’s marriage was entirely political and arranged by their parents. The young couple had no say in it whatsoever.

Following his father’s death, Edward became King of England and Eleanor, Queen, on 16th November 1272.



Edward and Eleanor’s marriage and children

Although an arranged marriage, the couple appeared to have grown very close. They had either 15 or 16 children.

Their first daughter was stillborn, the second, Katherine, died as a baby, as did the third, Joan. John died at the age of 5, their next son Henry died at the age of 6.

Their sixth child, Eleanor lived until the age of 29, but their next unnamed daughter died at the age of a few months.

Their eighth child, Joan of Acre, lived to adulthood, and had eight children in total. Their next child, Alphonso, died at the age of 10. Their tenth child Margaret lived to adulthood, and had a son, but their next four children, daughters Berengaraia, an unnamed daughter, Mary and an unnamed son all died as babies or infants.

Elizabeth of Rhuddlan, daughter of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile

Elizabeth of Rhuddlan, daughter of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile

Their fifteen child, Elizabeth of Rhuddlan, lived to adulthood and had ten children, and their sixteenth and last child, Edward of Caernarvon, lived to succeed his father and become King Edward II.

The couple appeared to have been happy together. Unlike medieval kings, Edward I had no known mistresses or bastard children.

Eleanor also travelled with him on his military activities. For example, she gave birth to their final son and eventual heir, Edward, in a tent where Caernarvon Castle was being built to subdue the west in 1284.

The Catholic Church in medieval times officially forbade all sexual relations even between husband and wife during Lent.

It can been seen from the household accounts kept by the royal household and which survive that each year on Easter Monday Eleanor’s Ladies in Waiting pretended to hold hostage in his own bed in his own room until he paid them a ransom so that he could visit his wife’s bedroom for the first time since before Lent.


What is known about Eleanor of Castile

King Edward II, son of Edward I and Eleanor of CastileAs is common, not a huge amount is known about Eleanor. Even queens in medieval times were still just women and therefore not terribly important. What evidence survives does show, however, that she was well educated and intelligent.

Eleanor employed several scribes and an illuminator, or illustrator, paid for from her household accounts, to find and copy books for her to read (in the time before printing, books were extremely expensive, as they could only be produced by somebody copying the entire thing by hand).

She also commissioned works to be written for her, including Saints’ lives and romances. She entered into correspondence with abbots and professors at Oxford regarding matters as diverse as the theories in relation to angels, treaties on chess, and monastic orders.


The death of Queen Eleanor

In autumn 1290, Edward and Eleanor were told that Margaret, heir to the Scottish throne, had died. Edward and Eleanor were in Nottinghamshire, as a parliament had just been held there. Edward and Eleanor left Clipstone, where the parliament had been held, and went towards Lincoln.

When they reached the Valley of Harby in Nottinghamshire, about 8 miles from the city of Lincoln, the Queen’s existing illness became worse. She died in Harby on 28th November 1290, aged about 49 years old. Edward was at her bedside as she died.

After she died, Eleanor of Castile’s body was taken to the Gilbertine Priory of St Catherine, Lincoln.

The Gilbertine Order was an unusual one in that it was the only monastic order to be founded in England. The order therefore ceased to exist at the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII in the 1530s. Gilbertine priories were also unusual in that they featured monks and nuns living in the same establishment. The common layout for Gilbertine priories was to have nuns’ quarters in the north of the precinct, monks in the south, and a church, refectory and other common buildings in between.

The Priory of St Catherine where Eleanor was taken is described as being in Lincoln, but that is only true for the site today. At the time when Eleanor of Castile’s body was taken there, the Priory was south of Lincoln proper, and outside the city walls. It therefore had substantial walls to protect it.


Eleanor’s burials, and burial procession

Eleanor of Castile’s body was embalmed and dissected at the Priory of St Catherine. Rather revoltingly, to modern eyes, different bits of her body were buried in different places, her viscera, namely her stomach and bowels or guts, were buried in Lincoln at the Visceral Tomb in the Angel Choir at Lincoln Cathedral.

The rest of her body was then sent to London. The procession took twelve days to reach Westminster Abbey, where most of her would be buried, and the Eleanor Crosses were built to mark the places where her funeral cortege rested overnight.

On reaching London, she was buried in Westminster Abbey, apart from her heart which was buried in the Dominican monastery at Blackfriars.

The Visceral Tomb in Lincoln Cathedral survives, although the effigy of Eleanor of Castile which was on top of the Tomb was destroyed in the 17th century during the time when puritans got very upset about such idolatry (as they saw it).

Westminster Abbey, where most of Eleanor of Castile's body was buried

Westminster Abbey, where most of Eleanor of Castile's body was buried

The procession of Eleanor’s body to London was a grand one. King Edward I accompanied the procession the whole way.

Eleanor’s body was temporarily placed in a general tomb near the high alter in Westminster Abbey which had contained the body of father-in-law King Henry III until his remains were removed to his finally completed grand tomb earlier in 1290.

After Eleanor’s tomb was built, her body was moved from the grave to her own tomb. That tomb still survives, although has been damaged a little over the years.


Edward I’s 12 Eleanor crosses

The twelve Crosses erected by Edward I were probably designed not only to show his love and respect for his wife but to encourage people to pray for her soul. Twelve Crosses were originally built, but only three of them remain more or less intact, although bits of others can still be found.

Each of the Crosses were slightly different in style. Each had a plinth of steps at the bottom, and was built in three stages further up. At the bottom, the column was adorned with Eleanor’s heraldic symbols, and the Coat of Arms representing Castile, England and Ponthieu. Higher up, statues of the Queen were around the column, and the third part continued the column upwards became thinner, and was surmounted by a cross.

The Lincoln Eleanor Cross

The first Cross was built just outside the walls of the Gilbertine St Catherine’s Priory south of Lincoln. The Priory was destroyed following the dissolution of the monasteries, and a small piece of the Cross is all that survives. It is now in Lincoln Castle.

The Grantham Eleanor Cross

The next Cross was built at Grantham, a market town south of Lincoln but still in the county of Lincolnshire. That Cross has disappeared entirely, no remnants remain. The Cross at Grantham was destroyed by Oliver Cromwell’s forces in the 17th century.

The Stamford Eleanor Cross

The next overnight resting place, and therefore the next Eleanor Cross was in Stamford, also in Lincolnshire. A small piece of that Cross survives, which is a stone carved rose. The rose is in the museum in Stamford.

Recently, a thirty feet high statue made of bronze and stone has been put up in Sheepmarket, Stamford, but it is not intended as an exact replica of the original Eleanor Cross, is not in the same place, and is supposed to recall and inspire rather than replicate the original Eleanor Cross.

The Cross in Stamford was, as in Grantham, destroyed by Oliver Cromwell’s forces.

The Geddington Eleanor Cross

Plans and sketches of the Eleanor Cross at Geddington

Plans and sketches of the Eleanor Cross at Geddington

The next Eleanor Cross is at Geddington, which is in the north-east of Northamptonshire.

The Eleanor Cross at Geddington survives, and is probably the best preserved of all of them, and still stands in the original location where it was built in 1293.

The Cross is, like all the Eleanor Crosses were, mounted on hexagonal staircases, and then features a long slim column, narrowing towards the top, with statues around it.

The Geddington Cross was different from the other 11, in that the cross was more triangular in shape than the others.

It is preserved and looked after by English Heritage, and their page on the Eleanor Cross at Geddington can be found here.

The Geddington Cross has three statues of Eleanor halfway up the column. The Cross originally mounted at the top of the Geddington statue has not survived.

The Hardingstone, Northampton Eleanor Cross

Drawings of the Eleanor Cross at Hardingstone, Northampton

Drawings of the Eleanor Cross at Hardingstone, Northampton

The next Cross was erected at Hardingstone in Northamptonshire. This Cross is octagonal, and sites on a plinth of steps which are replacements.

It is different in both shape and style to the Geddington Cross, but has similar features in the statues of Eleanor in the second part and the narrowing part at the top.

At the bottom of the Eleanor Cross in Hardingstone are carved stone books, which were originally painted with prayers for Eleanor’s soul to be said by those who read them.

The Stony Stratford Eleanor Cross

The next Cross is at Stony Stratford. This parish is now part of Milton Keynes, and is in Buckinghamshire, near the border with Northamptonshire. The Cross appears to have been of a similar to design to that at Geddington, and was destroyed by Cromwell’s armies in the Civil War in the 17th century.

The Woburn and Dunstable Eleanor Crosses

The next Cross was at Woburn in Bedfordshire. There are no surviving remnants of the statue and it’s not known precisely where in the town it stood.

The next Cross was erected at Dunstable in Bedfordshire. The Dunstable Cross no longer exists.

The St. Albans Eleanor Cross

The Waltham Eleanor Cross in the early 1920s

The Waltham Eleanor Cross in the early 1920s

The next one is at St Albans in Hertfordshire. It was in front of the Clock Tower, which is 15th century, in the high street, opposite  one of the entrances to St Albans Abbey.

This cross was demolished in the 1720s and replaced by a town pump, as it was in poor repair.

The Waltham Cross Eleanor Cross

You’ll never guess where this town got the second part of its name from…  This cross is in pretty good repair, and still standing in its original location.

The statues were removed to a local museum in the 1980s to protect them from pollution.

The Westcheap / Cheapside Eleanor Cross

The Westcheap / Cheapside Eleanor Cross shown in a 1630 drawing

The Westcheap / Cheapside Eleanor Cross shown in a 1630 drawing

The last but one Cross was in Westcheap, now known as Cheapside. This was demolished under orders from the puritan parliament in 1643.

There are several drawings and pictures of it as well as fragments of the remains in the Museum of London, so what it looks like is still known.

The Charing Cross Eleanor Cross

The last Cross was built at Charing, now called Charing Cross and a major railway terminus in London.

The statue was originally not where the railway station is today, but nearby on the south side of Trafalgar Square. At the time, this site was part of the Royal Mews attached to Westminster Palace.

Distances in London and from London to other places in the United Kingdom are measured from this point in Trafalgar square according to statutory interpretation.

The current Eleanor Cross which can be seen in the foreground of the Charing Cross Station forecourt is a replica.

The original was the most expensive, largest, and grandest of the Eleanor statues and was built from marble, rather than cheaper stone.

The replacement Eleanor Cross is 70 feet high, and was built by the South Eastern Railway Company when they built the station and the hotel above it. There are many drawings of the original and fragments and those drawings are in the Museum of London.

The Eleanor Cross at Charing, in the late 19th century

The Eleanor Cross at Charing, in the late 19th century

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