In an earlier post we told how on our Dickens London walks we mention the site of the Golden Cross Hotel which used to stand on the site now occupied by Trafalgar Square.
Today a statue of Charles 1st stands on the site of part of the old hotel and on our Westminster London walks we tell how Charles was beheaded not far from here outside the Banqueting House of Whitehall Palace.
On the night of April 13th, 1810, a man named Moxon, a porter employed at the Golden Cross Hotel, was walking across the road at Charing Cross when he stumbled over a heavy metal object.
He stooped to pick it up, and found that he was holding in his hand the sword, buckler and straps which had fallen from the equestrian statue of Charles I.
The newspapers of the day record that Moxon handed the articles over to a certain Mr. Eyre, a trunkmaker, who kept them for some time before he received instructions what to do with them from the Board of Green Cloth at St. James’s Palace.
After considerable delay the sword was replaced on the statue, from which it would appear that officialdom was in no hurry to complete the accoutrements of the ill-fated “Martyr” King, Jacobitism still being a vivid memory.
About 30 years later the sword disappeared entirely. A writer in a periodical of 185o comments : “When did the real sword, which but a few years back hung at the side of the
equestrian Statue of King, Charles at Charing Cross, disappear?
“That the sword was a real one of that period, I state Upon the authority of my learned friend, Sir Samuel Meyrick,who had ascertained the fact, and who pointed out to me its loss.”
A correspondent replied to this query as follows : “The sword disappeared about the time of the Coronation of her present Majesty [Queen Victoria], when some scaffolding was erected around the statue, which afforded great facilities for removing the rapier—for such it was; and I also understood that it found its way into the so-called museum of the notorious Captain D–, where in company with the wand of the Great Wizard of the North, and other well-known articles, it was carefully labelled and numbered, and a little account appended relating the circumstances of its acquisition and removal.”
To which the editor added a footnote, intending to be facetious : “The age of chivalry is certainly ‘past, otherwise the idea of disarming a statue would never have entered the head of any man of arms even in his most frolicsome mood.”
A new sword was placed in position, but so little did officialdom still care about Charles I that they actually affixed a modern one.
But this sword, too, disappeared — when, is not certain.
Light on this second theft, however, was given in 1924 by Miss Elizabeth Montizambert in her book, “Unnoticed London.”
She recorded that while she was in British Columbia she received a letter from a stranger who had read her book, giving information as to the disappearence of the sword.
The writer of the letter declared that he had “accidentally appropriated” the article.
In 1867, he said, he was a reporter on a newspaper, and in December of that year Her Majesty’s Theatre was destroyed by fire. He was in the crowd when it occurred, and realized that the pedestal of the Charles I statue was a good vantage ground from which to view the blaze.
He climbed the pedestal, using the sword for the purpose. The weapon broke off in his hands, and he was about to throw it away when someone begged it from him to keep as a souvenir.
Further inquiries failed to elicit the name of the man to whom the sword was given.
Thus it is possible that swords from the Charles 1 statue are still in existence somewhere.
The statue itself has had a curious history. It was modelled by Hubert Le Soeur, a Frenehman, who came to England about the year 1630, and was cast to the order of the Earl of Arundel, in 1639, “on a spot of ground hard by Covent Garden Church.”
It was put in place just before the outbreak of the Civil War. When hostilities began, the Roundheads had little use for the statue of the King, admirable though it was, and forthwith ordered it to be removed.
The Parliament sold it to a brazier, named Rivet, strictly on condition that it should be melted down or at least broken up. Rivet, who lived near Holborn Conduit, may have been a Royalist and disliked breaking up the effigy of his King. Or, believing that the Commonwealth regime could be only temporary, he may have thought there was a possibility of selling the statue in the future.
At all events he kept the statue intact. He buried it under ground, and proceeded to make knives and forks with bronze handles which he declared were relics of the statue.
He is said to have made a small fortune out of these knives and forks which were bought in large quantities both by Royalists, as a mark of affection for their King, and by the Roundheads as a memorial of their triumph over Charles.
After the Restoration, the statue reappeared and was bought by the Government and set up in 1671 on the Charing Cross site where it stands today and by which we pause on our Westminster London walks and ponder the history of this relic of old London.