Charing Cross

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:

3 thoughts on “Charing Cross

Lisa Swift:

So what happened to the other crosses that didn’t survive? Was the erection of crosses at over-night resting places unique to Eleanor or was it quite a common thing to do?



The erection of crosses as monuments in this case isn’t unique. For example, monuments were erected between Paris and St Denis to mark the resting places of St. Louis in 1271. A cross is also said to have been associated with the funeral procession of Queen Matilda who died in 1083. However the number of crosses erected for Eleanor required a significant investment of money which few other patrons could have matched.

The figure of Eleanor at the V&A is weathered and over time many of the crosses suffered from the effects of the British climate. Unfortunately medieval art wasn’t always as appreciated as much as it is now and the crosses weren’t well cared for, particularly before the 19th century.

Incidentally the V&A also has four figures of English kings that were once part of a cross in the centre of Bristol. The figures are now displayed on the stairs that lead up to the British Galleries. The figures are also very weathered but are well worth a good look.

Samantha Dep:

What happened to the original cross that was outside charing cross?

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