Wednesday, 1 August 2012

London Trivia #2 - Where is the centre of London?

Photo courtesy of
To celebrate London 2012, in this second post of historical trivia I attempt to answer the question: where is the centre of the capital? I had some vague notion that the statue of Eros at Piccadilly Circus marked the spot, but it turns out I am wrong! Neither is it Buckingham Palace or St Paul's Cathedral…so where is it?
Buckingham Palace from the air- photo Thomas Nugent.
The actual spot is marked by a brass plaque in what was medieval Charing Cross (more of this later), near the currentTrafalgar Square and the equestrian statue of King Charles I.

Statue of Charles I , southern corner of Trafalgar Square.
To find out why this spot is defined as the centre of London we need to go back to the 11th century and the time of Edward the Confessor. Edward was one of the last Anglo-Saxon kings (reigning 1042 - 1066) and he pledged to go on a pilgrimage to Rome, but civil unrest meant he couldn’t leave his kingdom. In recompense for breaking his vow he decided to build a large church. He chose an area of high ground  near the marshes of the Thames, demolished the existing monastery and started building that which later became Westminster Abbey.
Edward the Confessor, depicted in the Bayeux tapestry.
However merchants in the old city of London considered it an unreasonable distance to travel to Westminster and the new seat of authority, and so when traders wanted to hear the latest government policy they met at a half way point -  Charing Cross. It is this spot, marked by the brass plaque and is still the official centre of London, so much so that people working within a 6 mile radius can claim London-weighting for their expenses and are entitled to extra payments.

Westminster Abbey - built of the site of Edward's church. Photo Karen Matthews.
And finally, I mentioned medieval Charing Cross, near Trafalgar Square, a short distance from the modern Charing Cross. The original spot was marked by the memorial cross erected by King Edward in 1290, to mark the route of his beloved wife's, Queen Eleanor, funeral procession. The giant cross became such landmark that when the new Charing Cross railway station was opened in 1865, to drum up publicity the original monument was removed and a new and grander memorial erected beside the station to establish a landmark.
Charing Cross station - from the London Eye. Photo Mike McMillan.


  1. Wow very interesting! Love it, do remember reading something about this in some book...... too many books.... to little memory. :-)

  2. I know the feeling: too many books, not enough time, failing memory....or perhaps that's just me.
    thanks once again, for commenting.
    G x

  3. Very interesting post, Grace - I remember asking my father once where those historic milestones (you know, x miles to London)actually ended and he told me Marble Arch. I therefore assumed that meant Marble Arch was considered the centre of London, but everyone who lives in London knows it isn't.

    Personally I always thought the heart was Piccadilly Circus.

    Speaking of the Olympics, where I live (quite close to Hampton Court) the cycling events have recently been taking place so for hours today I've had helicopters hovering over my house and frazzling my nerves.

    Quality of work today = not good. My Olympic feline wasn't too happy with the noise either >^○^< - she hid in my wardrobe all day!

    Thanks for an interesting post.

  4. Very interesting. I live in Yorkshire and your post reminds me of an Eleanor Cross which I always thought meant that the royal funeral procesion stopped at Sledmere, but sadly I see it's a modern copy of the cross. Still, it's pretty interesting to look at, and now I'll know a bit more about the original.


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