A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that


Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Hooptedoodle #174 - Charing Cross - any clues?

There's one
A chance, once again, to display my ignorance. I was interested to know what Charing Cross actually means, where the name comes from.

So I did a bit of reading, and I'm probably more confused now. The official version of the background to the Charing Cross in London is that it takes its name from one of the Eleanor Crosses erected by Edward I in memory of his wife - the one in the old parish of Charing, in fact, the most southerly of the twelve crosses, which were placed in a very approximate line at sites between London and Lincoln. The name Charing is thought to be derived from the Old English "cierring", referring to a nearby bend in the River Thames.

There's another one
Fair enough - it's a place in London, that was once called Charing (or something similar), and was noted for Old Ed One putting a cross there. Ah - but there are also Charing Cross areas in Glasgow and in Birkenhead, none of which ever had an Eleanor Cross anywhere near them.

So I got to thinking, maybe a Charing Cross is a more general thing - some kind of cross (obviously), serving some community purpose, or commemorating something more general than Eleanor. That didn't get very far. One interesting fact is that there seems to have been an important Charing Cross Hotel at both the Glasgow and Birkenhead locations - you don't suppose they were just named after the place in London? Might they have been railway hotels? Hmmm.

And another
Anyway, I shall do some more casual research, but it occurred to me that the real explanation might be something that everyone knows except me. Please - anyone know anything about this? Obviously it is of little real import, but it will niggle at me if I don't find out, so I'd be grateful for the shedding of a little light.

16 comments:

  1. Occasionally I have wondered why there are many streets named Piccadilly, one in Central London, one in Manchester, one here in York. Just idle curiosity I don't feel the urge to take this any further.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Someone told me the origin of Piccadilly years ago, but I checked just now and I can't find anything quite the same (or as convincing?). The old theory was: Like its cousin "peccadillo", the place name comes from an anglicised version of a diminutive of the Spanish "pecado" - a sin. So a piccadill was a little sin - this is also said to have been in use as a term for an architectural folly or a 17th Century (ECW vintage) lace turnover collar to keep your face away from your filthy clothes. Thus Piccadilly might have been a place of little sins - red-light district? - or might have been some kind of architectural fol-de-rol which was a feature of the district. As you will have guessed, I have no idea, but it evident from the internet that my daft theory is as good as most of the alternatives!

      Cheers - Tony

      Delete
  2. My money is on the railway effect, that is the non-London ones are merely named after the London Charing Cross (which, as you say, were way markers on the last journey of Eleanor). Marvellous things, railways - though as someone who often travels around the country on them, it would be better if I had my own, royal, coach.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Predictably, I have had an enjoyable but completely fruitless hour or so poking around the internet looking for clues. As an aside, I am once again astounded by the amount garbage out there, and also the extent to which that garbage becomes institutionalised by people quoting each other and publishing links. It is also amazing how fast the history of a big city vanishes into obscurity - shift the people out and knock down their houses, and the "official" records and histories have no chance of replacing the narrative tradition which that destroys. It would appear that there is mention of Charing Cross in Glasgow as early as 1803, which would predate the railways more than somewhat. I can't find anything to support that. The significant bits of building in that district (apart from the Grand Hotel, which dated from the 1890s and was demolished around 1970) are Burnet's super Charing Cross Mansions, completed in 1891 and still standing (though hidden by an M8 flyover), which was built as a showpiece to crown the smart new bourgeois shopping area at Sauchiehall Street, and Glasgow's own Charing Cross railway station, which seems to date from 1886, and it was part of the Glasgow underground system. The station, I would guess, is named for the district it served on the underground. No further forward, really, but fun anyway.

      I have to get on with something useful now - I did manage a quick moment of regret, recalling that my late cousin was archivist for the Wirral, based in Birkenhead, and he would have known all about this stuff. I should have thought to ask him.

      Regards - Tony

      Delete
  3. As a middle-aged white man on the internet I feel free to speculate in lieu of knowing anything at all. So here goes.
    According to Wikipedia the settlement Charing in Kent may derive its name from the Anglo-Saxon word cerring, meaning a bend in the road. When one looks at the Charing Crosses in Birkenhead and Glasgow on Google maps the bend in the main road is clear in each case. My brief research suggests that the old Kings Road or Bath Road (now the A4) may have taken a sharp turn at Charing Cross in London (a big kink to go from the Strand to the Mall).
    So my theory is that all Charing Crosses derive their name from points where major roads took a big bend (the cerring of Anglo-Saxon terminology) and where this also formed a major intersection with other roads (hence cross?) as it does in London and Glasgow (before the M8 obliterated the junction itself).
    It helps my theory that the route of the A4 in London was a road in pre-Roman times.
    Of course the other Charing Crosses may simply be named after the London original, but the urban geography is very similar in every case.
    My tuppence-worth of false currency.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You know what? - you could be on the money there. A curving road leading to a major crossroads would fit the bill. My occasional (deranged) correspondent Martin P also emailed to point out that our current words like "chariness" could come from someone "swerving" something, though I think that might have more to do with words for care and consideration (such as "charity"). Martin suggests that a chariot might have been a vehicle which travelled in curves; no - I don't think so, I feel he is actually raving at this point.

      I like the curving cross roads idea - my only quibble is that it seems unlikely that all three locations would come up with the unusual word Charing independently unless it was a word in common usage at one time. Hmmm.

      I might mention that Martin suggested that the London one was named after the Glasgow one, but I reject that one out of hand. Unless, of course, Edward I had visited Glasgow...

      Interesting - very good shout - I like it.

      Delete
  4. Occam's razor is your friend here. Which hypothesis has the fewest assumptions? There was definitely a cross built at a place already called Charing which then became known as Charing Cross. Many places around the world were definitely named after that place e.g. the one in Lahore. So, our competing theories are that the one in Glasgow was one of many places named after an already prominent district in the capital of the Empire, or that it was named for a similar (unproven) geographic feature by ancient people speaking a similar enough language to make that happen. I know which one my money is on.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You must find all this very tiresome. I believe we know in our hearts (not without regret) that all these places are named after the site in L*o*n*d*o*n, but it is still not obvious to me why this should be. If you were going to invest in a prestigious new development in Glasgow in the 1890s, would you choose to name it after a famous place in London - a place, moreover, with an unavoidable association with an English king famed as Scotland's greatest enemy? Why? As a tribute to Her Glorious Majesty (Gawd bless her)? To comfort the homesick Londoners in this distant corner of the empire (Gawd bless it)? Hmmm - Glasgow is not exactly Lahore, is it?

      You are right, of course, but the right answer still begs a few questions.

      Delete
    2. I was always told Charing Cross was a corruption of Chere Reine Cross (dear queen cross) which fits in with the Edward 1/Eleanor story. Of course it might be an urban myth but then the Charing would come from the Cross, not the other way round. As I live near Pity Me = Petit Mere or liitle sea or lake, and Bearpark which comes from Beaurepaire, beautiful resting place, Chere Reine Cross rings true enouigh to me. Even if it isn't true I'd like to think it was.

      Delete
    3. Thanks for that Clive - I've seen this idea before. It is a pleasing one - usual criticism of it is based on the fact that Charing (the place) already bore that name before Eleanor died. I have no evidence either way, of course.

      I received a suggestion that there might have been an outbreak of churches of the Charing Cross, or similar, but that's just a stab too. Certainly having a number of places independently named after some religious entity seems more likely than just borrowing a location name from somewhere else. It might be, of course, that it was considered a good idea for provincial city fathers to add dignity to their towns by adopting names from the capital - "we have our own Piccadilly, right here in Clitheroe...".

      Bearpark is excellent - haven't come across that one before!

      Delete
  5. I think the railway connection is unlikely because afaik Charing Cross was built by the South Eastern Railway Company and served the South of England. A railway company serving the North is unlikely, I would think, to have named their hotels after a competitors railway station. Which would not, of course, stop a non railway hotelier doing so.
    The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place Names has Charing in Kent deriving from the Old English personal name Ceorrra, the Charing part of Charing Cross(first recorded as Cyrringe in 1000AD) from Old English ceirring meaning turn or turning, and the Charing in Charingworth, Glos., as deriving from the worth of the people of Ceafor meaning beetle in Old English but also being a nickname.
    The Birkenhead example may have the same derivation as one of these or be something totally different because spelling changes over a thousand years of written history produces some strange modern results. The Scottish one is unlikely to have any Old English derivation unless the name was imported in as for Lahore. HTH :0)

    ReplyDelete
  6. Well, I have here a Gazetteer of Scottish Place Names, and it tells me that the (once) middle class residential area of Glasgow named Charing Cross was named after the place in London. That wasn't a lot of fun, was it? Anyway, thanks for playing, and apologies to anyone who felt uncomfortable.

    ReplyDelete
  7. As the debate has fizzled out I will only add that most of my favourite book shops in Charing Cross Road have long gone and the last one I frequented has turned itself into an 'Adult' shop, clearly as a toy collector; I'm no adult so no longer feel the need to visit it! The two antiquarian art-book shops are still holding on, but other than the odd tome on the occasional tables outside on sunny days they are a bit beyond my budget..hey-ho, Amazon it is, these days!

    Is one supposed to feel this old in ones early 50's?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hugh, I can't remember! They say that if it hurts you are still alive, though.

      Delete
  8. Its been fascinating reading this. As someone who lives a long way away although having once been in a railway station in London and in some park in Glasgow, my only contibution would have been that I don't trust placenames. As a young Subbie taking my Harbour Watch Officer roll as seriously as possible, I valiantly nodded my head when informed that the harbour limit was at what sounded like Major's Beach and spent weeks surreptitiously studying the chart on the wall looking for this place. Eventually I discovered that in New Scotland, Meagher can rhyme with any of Mar, Maher, Meager or Major. and vice versa and that was just the start.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Nothing to add, but very interesting anyway!

    ReplyDelete

To avoid spam and advertising material, comments are moderated on this blog, and will appear once I have seen them.