A few miles north of London, just off the M25, lie the market towns of Waltham Abbey and nearby Waltham Cross. Both settlements have seen better days but they’re full of history that stretches back 1,000 years. Waltham Cross takes its name from one of the Eleanor Crosses that King Edward I erected after his wife Eleanor of Castile (d. 1290) died at Harby, Nottinghamshire.
Eleanor and Edward were happily married for 36 years and she bore him 14 children. When she died he was devastated and planned to erect a series of funeral monuments, wherever the funeral cortege stopped on its way to Westminster Abbey. Of the 12 he erected, from Lincoln to Charing Cross, only three still stand: Geddington and Hardingstone, both in Northamptonshire; and the one at Waltham Cross.
As the cortege reached London, the final two were erected, at Cheapside and at Charing Cross. Both were pulled down in the English Civil War. The original Charing Cross is the place from where distances to London are measured. Today it’s marked by a plaque behind the equestrian statue of King Charles I.
It was also where executions took place: in 1660 Samuel Pepys witnessed the hanging, drawing and quartering of Major-General Thomas Harrison and famously remarked he was ‘looking as cheerful as any man could do in that condition’. The present Charing Cross, outside the station, was designed in 1865 by EM Barry.
The Eleanor Cross at Waltham was the work of Roger de Grundale and Dymenge of Leger and was erected in 1294. Though it has been restored somewhat (the original statues are said to be in the V&A Museum), it still stands out among the usual chain stores and charity shops of the High Street. You can see the shields bearing the ancient arms of England, Ponthieu, as well as Castile quartering Leon. Above, Eleanor looks down.