8 Secrets Of Charing Cross Station

8 Secrets Of Charing Cross Station

Charing Cross station is London's most central (if not one of the busiest) railway terminus, located on Strand and just a few minutes walk from Trafalgar Square. Get to know the station a bit better with these facts.

The river side of Charing Cross station. Photo: Dave Pearce

1. Why is it called Charing Cross?

Charing Cross is the name of the road junction to the south of Trafalgar Square, and that's where the station gets its name from. The junction is where all distances to London are measured from.

The word Charing comes from old English 'cierring', which means 'turning', a reference to the bend in the River Thames by the station.

The replica Eleanor Cross outside the station. Photo: John Willoughby

As for the Cross, that relates to the final Eleanor Cross, a series of monuments marking the nightly resting places of Queen Eleanor of Castile's body, following her death near Lincoln in 1290. The original London memorials have long vanished, but a Victorian pastiche can still be seen in the taxi rank of the station. Ian Visits had a bit of fun with that on April Fool's Day 2014.

There is an alternative suggestion that Charing originates from the French 'chère reine', meaning 'dear Queen' and referring to Eleanor, but it's thought that the area was called Charing long before her days, so this one's unlikely.

2. It's the same as it's always been

Well, not exactly. The office complex above the back of the station wasn't there when it was originally built, for example. But, unusually for a central London railway terminus, it still has the same number of platforms (six) as featured in the original station design. Anyone who's used the station at rush hour will agree that the necessity for more platforms is evident, but presumably the station's location prevents expansion.

3. The storm tree

Image: Google Maps

You've probably never noticed this tree outside the front of the station, on Strand. Thinking about it, it's an odd place to have a large tree, slap bang in the middle of the pavement in the centre of London.

It was planted as a result of the great storm of October 1987, which destroyed a quarter of a million trees in London. Following the storm, the Evening Standard launched an appeal to replace many of the trees, this being one of the replacements. There's a plaque on a nearby pillar commemorating this.

4. Keeping it in the family

Charing Cross Hotel, which opened at the same time as the station, was designed by EM Barry, son of Sir Charles (who was responsible for rebuilding the House of Commons). The hotel is a Grade II listed building. Clearly architecture ran in the family — another of Charles Barry's sons, Charles Barry Jr, was responsible for designing the station hotel at Liverpool Street station.

The hotel front above the station entrance. Photo: John Mugford

5. A royal first

According to Ian Visits (this one, we hope is not an April Fool's), the royal family's was the first passenger train to use the new railway tracks built between London Bridge station and the new Charing Cross station, en-route from Windsor to Dover. This was in December 1863, before the first public passenger train left the station on 11 January 1864.

6. A presidential visit

A plaque below the clock on the wall-mounted commemorates the time the station was visited by a serving US president.

Woodrow Wilson arrived at the station on Boxing Day 1918, to be met by King George V and whisked off to Buckingham Palace. Where he arrived from remains a mystery, but there are no reports of the king being kept waiting due to animals on the line.

Entrance to Charing Cross station. Photo: Greg McCormick

7. The roof collapsed

In December 1905, six people were killed when the glass and metal station roof collapsed during maintenance works. The station was closed for three months for repairs, reopening in March 1906. As a result of the accident, designs for a similar roof at Cannon Street station were scrapped.

8. Changing names

When Charing Cross Railway station was first built and opened in 1864, the tube station which we now know as Embankment was named Charing Cross. The present Charing Cross tube station was known as Trafalgar Square station. We'll let Geoff explain the rest:

Last Updated 11 November 2022