18 March 2009
Getting to the bottom of London's central point
The official centre of London is a horse's bum.
Westminster has lots of quirky things to entertain you as you wander round it in desperate search for some cycle parking. Here at the bottom of Trafalgar Square (serviced by a measly handful of stands up by the National Portrait Gallery that are always full) is that very centre: the point to which a 'distance to London', notionally, is measured. It's the origin of the national roadmap; England's kilometre-zero. And that point is a gelding's backside.
It is, of course, the horse underneath the statue of King Charles I (right), riding defiantly to his execution in 1649. He was dispatched at what is now the Banqueting House, a short trot down Whitehall. There's something equivocal about the statue: is it a stern reminder of the brutality of a kangaroo-court execution, or a commemoration of the people's rough justice? Either way, I'm all in favour of preserving the monarchy. I've heard formaldehyde does the trick.
It's appropriate then that from here, directly below the equine posterior, you can see both our ruling institutions: the Houses of Parliament down Whitehall, and Buckingham Palace through Admiralty Arch and along the Mall. It's the only spot in London with this double vista (right). A tempting thought for anyone with a howitzer.
The horse-bottom zero-point is celebrated by a plaque (bottom of top photo). Its punctuation-free text looks to have been drafted by a lawyer:
CITY OF WESTMINSTER
ON THE SITE NOW OCCUPIED BY THE STATUE OF KING CHARLES I WAS ERECTED THE ORIGINAL QUEEN ELEANOR'S CROSS A REPLICA OF WHICH STANDS IN FRONT OF CHARING CROSS STATION MILEAGES FROM LONDON ARE MEASURED FROM THE SITE OF THE ORIGINAL CROSS
The original Eleanor's Cross stood from 1290 to 1647. The replica – the original 'Charing Cross' – is in the unloading area in front of Charing Cross station, a few yards north-west, though it's currently smothered in scaffolding.
According to the BBC website, from here it's 198 miles to Liverpool, 1118 miles to Rome, and 10,500 miles to Sydney, and according to Google Earth it's 250 yards to the nearest bike parking. That was full, but I found some more up in Mays Court, yon side of the Coliseum, and had a quick drink with a friend for five hours. So this morning, boom boom, I'm a little horse too.