According to legend Eleanor of Castile, wife of Edward I, is responsible for 2 London place names.
Elephant and Castle is on the south side of the Thames not far from Waterloo. Allegedly, the name comes from ‘La Infanta de Castile’, because it was the place Eleanor of Castile, the King of Spain’s daughter, stayed before her wedding to Edward I of England in 1252. The Spanish kings’ daughters were called Infantas; but not until around 1600 – 400 years later.
Elephant and Castle probably took its name from a pub sign; just as Angel is named for the Angel pub in Islington. In the old days a local pub was often the defining landmark. Shakespeare mentions the Elephant as a good lodging house in his play Twelfth Night. He would have known; his Globe Theatre was only down the road.
But why an Elephant and Castle, you ask?
The area was originally a place where cutlery (silverware) was made. The coat of arms of the Worshipful Company of Cutlers has an elephant with a castle on its back – probably because knife handles were made from ivory.
In 1290, Eleanor of Castile died in Lincoln. Her grief-stricken husband, Edward, brought her body back to London for burial. Where her body rested each night Edward ordered a lavishly carved stone cross constructed in her memory.
The last Eleanor Cross was built not far from his palace of Whitehall in Charing. According to legend the name is a corruption of the French words ‘Chere Riene’ – ‘Dear Queen’. In actual fact the village of Charing, where the last cross was erected, had been there for 100 years. Charing derives from ‘cierring’… an Old English word meaning a bend in the river.