By Stuart Frost
I take the train into work each morning. As it passes over the Thames I usually cast a glance towards the towers of Westminster Abbey which I can make out behind the Houses of Parliament. Westminster Abbey was (and is) one of the great medieval churches. I arrive into Charing Cross station with thousands of other commuters. I often wonder how many of them realise that the name also goes back to the Middle Ages? The underground station at Charing Cross does provide a summary of the story on the platform, but understandably most commuters are too preoccupied with other things to pay much attention to it.
When Eleanor of Castile, the Queen of King Edward I, died at Harby (near Lincoln) in 1290, her body was transported with ceremony to London for burial in Westminster Abbey. At each place that her body rested for the night, a cross was erected in the years afterwards dedicated to her memory. The monument that now stands outside Charing Cross station, that thousands hurry past every day, is not the medieval original. Of the twelve crosses built only three crosses survive: at Geddington, Hardinstone (Northampton) and Waltham.
You can get a sense of what the original figures on the Charing Cross were like at the V&A. A figure of Queen Eleanor from the Waltham Cross (on loan from Hertfordshire County Council), and dating from the 1290s, is on display at the V&A in Room 46. Click on the image below for a better view.
This wonderfully evocative figure is the work of Alexander of Abingdon who was also responsible for the now lost images of the Charing Cross in London. I find it reassuring that, despite the continual construction of new architecture, echoes of our medieval past are all around us in our landscape, preserved in the buildings, monuments, place names and even the street patterns of our towns and cities.
You can find out more about the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries Project at:http://www.vam.ac.uk/futureplan/projects/med_ren/index.html