Although the symbol itself is a pre-christian one, to most of us it means that dreadfully boring religious crap we’ve had to contend with since childhood. But relics of old stone crosses, which scatter Britain in huge numbers, relate to periods in our history when the xtian ways were damning the ways of our indigenous ancestors – sometimes with frightening furore: burning, hanging and torturing British people for not accepting their screwy ways. The stone crosses which we find today as archaeological relics, tended to be positioned where earlier heathen sites were found – and as a result of this, I thought it important to include such sites on TNA. But these relics took various forms, each relating to the function of the site it meant to supplant or suppress: market crosses, boundary crosses, village crosses, wayside crosses, etc. You’ll find them all here!
In Pete Chalmers (1844) historical brief about the long lost chapel and hospital of St. Leonard (and its associated holy well), mention is made of this long forgotten relic. Its memory was preserved in an old place-name, and was to be found less than half-a-mile southeast of St. Leonard’s sites on,
“the high part of the road, about a quarter of a mile to the south, the Spital-Crosshead, (named) from a pillar which, according to tradition, was erected there, decorated on the top by a St Andrew’s Cross, and removed probably towards the close of the 16th or 17th century.”
The cross is believed to have been erected in the 15th century.
Crosses / Legendary Rocks (destroyed): OS Grid Reference – SE 1975 2909
Archaeology & History
Not to be confused with a much more renowned namesake above Ilkley, this was the name given to two old stones that once existed in the middle of the East Bierley hamlet (as it was then) southeast of Bradford. They were two large boulders next to each other, not far from the early farmstead of Cross House (see map, right) and were described in James Parker’s (1904) historic collage of the area, where he informed us that:
“On the village green (are) the primitive large stones locally called the “Cow and Calf stones,” which used to be in days gone by a Preaching Cross and Market Cross.”
When William Cudworth (1876) described the place nearly thirty years prior, he only mentioned a single cross, telling us:
“There is a lane which has long been called Kirkgate at Birkenshaw, leading up to an ancient cross on the hill. The fact of this cross being on the hill must have given rise to the name Kirk (church) gate, as there was not, until a few years ago, any church at Birkenshaw. In a previous paper we had occasion to notice the existence of the cross as an evidence of a pre-church period.”
The meaning behind the name Cow & Calf is unexplained by our respective authors, although Cudworth’s citation of “the cross as an evidence of a pre-church period” is probably not without merit here. It seems very likely that the animal names of the two large stones—akin to the Cow & Calf Rocks at Ilkley and others of the same name elsewhere in the country—that sat near the top of the hill, probably possessed a creation myth similar to others of the same name. From this, it seems logical that local folk held the rocks as important, which would have obviously attracted the regressive attention of Church; so they stuck a cross here to christianize the place and in doing so ensured that local people could continue using the place as a meeting place. This practice (as if you didn’t already know) was widespread.
Although Mr Cudworth seems to give the first real account of the place, field-name records of 1567 listed a ‘Cowrosse’, which may have been the “cross on the Cow” stone. A.H. Smith (1961) listed the site and suggested the element –rosse may derive from a local dialect word meaning a marsh, but a ‘cow’s marsh‘ seems a little odd. It is perhaps just as likely that an error was made in the writing of rosse instead of crosse.
Cudworth, William, Round about Bradford, Thomas Brear: Bradford 1876.
Parker, James, Illustrated History from Hipperholme to Tong, Percy Lund: Bradford 1904.
Smith, A.H., The Place-Names of the West Riding of Yorkshire – volume 3, Cambridge University Press 1961.
Mentioned only in passing in the Becca and Aberford Enclosure Act of 1825, all remains of this site have gone. It was subsequently referred to by Edmund Bogg (1904) in his journey through Elmet as previously standing where the Roman road veered off to the northeast from the “new road”, as it was then. Bogg’s brief description told that from Nut Hill,
“A little distance south, where the old and new roads part, formerly stood a cross; Highcross Cottage keeps its memory green.”
Bogg, Edmund, The Old Kingdom of Elmet, James Miles: Leeds 1904.
The Cross is on the east side of the A10 Tottenham High Road, on the traffic island at the Monument Way Junction.
Archaeology & History
One of the earliest records of what was called the “hie crosse” is contained in a court-roll of 1456. It was at that time a wooden wayside cross, but there are hints that its origins may go back to Roman times. The Cross is next to what was the southern end of Ermine Street, built by the Romans where there was no pre-existing roadway and described as the most important thoroughfare in Britain: built to give direct communication to the main centres of the military occupation at Lincoln and York. Writing of Roman land survey marks, the now discredited early 20th century Middlesex historian Sir Montagu Sharpe (1932) thought Tottenham Cross possibly marked an earlier (i.e. Roman) stone, although no archaeological evidence has been found to support this. As it was next to Ermine Street it could equally have been a milestone or ceremonial pillar. After the Romans left it may have become a local heathen shrine which, with the coming of Christianity, was ultimately replaced by a wooden cross—but this is speculation, and we will probably never know why and when the original cross was placed where it was.
Originally in the historic County of Middlesex, the settlement of Tottenham surrounding the Cross was known from mediaeval times to the 19th century as ‘Tottenham High Cross’. Local historian William Robinson writing prior to 1840 thus describes the Cross:
“About the year 1580, a column of wood was standing, with a square sheet of lead on the top to throw off the water, supported by four spurs: these, being decayed and rotten, were taken down, about the year 1600, by Dean Wood, Dean of Armagh, who at that time resided in a house on the east side of it, and who erected on its site an octangular brick column, pointed at the top and crowned with a weathercock, and the initials of the four cardinal points, and under the neckings, small crosses, which were called tau-crosses, according to the true cross or Greek letter T.
“Tottenham High Cross, as it appeared in 1788, was an octangular brick pillar, divided into four stories, viz.: a double plinth, first portion of the pillar; second portion, of the same; and a pinnacle; each plinth and story rendered distinct one from the other by certain appropriate mouldings ; and the whole design appeared without any kind of ornament, pointed at the top and crowned with a weathercock. The Cross having fallen into decay, several of the inhabitants of the parish entered into a subscription, in the year 1809, for the purpose of putting it into a proper state of repair, and about the sum of £300. was raised. It was accordingly repaired, and covered with Parker’s cement. The octangular plan, and the proportions of the Cross in its four stories, have not been departed from ; but in other respects it is a new work ; some of the decorations seem to be formed from the exterior and interior of the chapel of Henry VIII; the double plinths or pedestals are as plain as before, but the intermediate mouldings are new; the first portion of the pillar consists of angular pilasters at each cant done with a pointed head; compartment of five turns, connecting itself with another compartment; above it diamonded, with a shield containing an imitation of the black letter. As there are eight faces to the upright, of course there are as many shields, each bearing a letter of the same cutting, beginning at the west face, TOTENHAM: in consequence of there being but eight shields, one of the T’s in the spelling has been necessarily dispensed with. The mouldings between this story and the second are worked into an entablature, with modern fancy heads and small pieces of ornaments alternately set at each angle.
“Second story—small buttresses at the angles of the octagon, with breaks and pinnacles, but no bases. The face of each cant has a compartment embellished with an ogee head, backed with narrow pointed compartments. The mouldings between this story and the pinnacle, making out a fourth story, give, at each angle, crockets, and its termination is with a double finial, but not set out in geometrical rule to the crockets below : there is at the top a vane, with N. E. W. S. The base is surrounded with a neat iron railing on Portland stone curb. The date at which these alterations were made is not placed in any conspicuous part of the structure.”
The craftsman who carried out the modernisation was a Mr. Bernasconia, working to the designs of a Mr. Shaw. Not everyone was pleased by the transformation. A regular contributor identified only as ‘An Architect’ made these caustic comments in the November 1809 edition of the Gentleman’s Magazine:
“Tottenham High Cross has this summer been covered over with Compo: it previously bore a simple appearance, but is now rendered of a very rich and elaborate cast, doing away in the first instance the Architectural history of the erection; and allowing it possible that there might once have been on the spot an Eleanora Cross, holding in contempt, by a want of due imitation, the characteristic style of decoration prevailed at at the time of the Queen’s demise. But according to the system of our Professional innovators, to destroy a sacred relick of antiquity, and to restore it as it is called, upon a model quite in a different style and nature, is one and the same thing. “Any thing is Gothick.”
“….Surveyed November 1809. Entirely covered with the proclaimed everlasting stuff, Compo; a stuff now the rage for trowelling over our new buildings, either on the whole surface, or in partial daubings and patchings; it is used in common with stone work, for instance, on an arcade, half one material, half the other; “ making good,” as it is called (abominable expedient) the mutilated parts of Antient Structures, there sticking on until it reverts (after exposure to the air for three or four years, more or less) to its first quality, dirt and rubbish, and then is seen no more….
“Provided this Compo effort had been advanced on any other occasion, and on any other piece of ground, where no piece of Antiquity was to become the spoil, such as an object to mark the centrical point of three or four counties, a general standard of miles or any other common document for the information or amusement of travellers, all would have been well, and some praise might have been bestowed, for its tolerable adherence to the above style, if not for the material wherewith it is made up. But as nothing of this sort will come in aid of the innovators, and only the barefaced presumption, “ alter or destroy, what was,” is to be encountered, let the detail of parts, put this matter to issue….”
The Cross stood in front of the Swan Inn, a place frequented by fishing writer Izaak Walton in the 1640s when he would go to fish in the nearby River Lea. In 1653 he published The Compleat Angler describing his fishing activities in the classical form of a philosophical dialogue between him as ‘Piscator’ and ‘Venator’ (hunter) and other passing characters, starting and ending his adventures at the High Cross. The 1759 edition of Compleat Angler contains the earliest illustrations of the Cross, with some slight artistic licence, by Samuel Wale.
As the Cross now stands in the maelstrom of North London’s traffic, it is worth recalling American traveller Nathaniel Carter’s 1825 observation when travelling north from London:
“Passing Tottenham Cross, we entered a rich agricultural country, possessing the usual charms of English landscape.”
An Architect (pseud.) – Architectural Innovation No. CXXXIX – The Gentleman’s Magazine, November 1809
Anonymous – Tottenham High Cross, The Gentleman’s Magazine, April 1820
Blair, John, The Church in Anglo Saxon Society, Oxford University Press 2005
Carter, Nathaniel Hazeltine, Letters From Europe..in 1825 ’26 & ’27, G & C & H Carvill, New York, 1829
Margary, Ivan D., Roman Roads in Britain, 3rd Ed., John Baker: London 1973.
Robinson, William, The History & Antiquities of the Parish of Tottenham, 2nd Ed., Nicholls & Son, W. Pickering, W.B. Hunnings: London 1840.
Sharpe, Montagu, Middlesex in British, Roman & Saxon Times, 2nd Ed., Methuen: London 1932.
Walton, Izaak, The Compleat Angler, Facsimile of the 1st Ed., containing illustrations from the 2nd US edition by John Major, No imprimatur, 1907.
The cross is located on a bluff of land overlooking the west side of Stob Cross Road on the northern edge of Markinch.
Archaeology & History
In 1933, following a visit in 1925, the county archaeological inventory described it thus:-
Close beside the East Lodge of Balbirnie House, on a knoll 200 feet above sea-level, stands a stone known, from the nature of its sculpturings, as the “Stob Cross.” It is a somewhat mutilated rectangular slab, 7 feet 5 ½ inches in height, 2 feet broad at the base and 6 inches thick, having a plain cross carved in relief on the east and on the west face. The cross on the east is now very much damaged but sufficient remains to indicate that the arms have been 1 foot wide and that the shaft has measured 1 foot 5 inches across at the intersection. On the west face the design stands out in relief from 1 to 1 ¼ inches. The arms of the cross measure 11 ½ inches in width, and the upper limb, which tapers slightly to its extremity, is 12 ½ inches across at the point of intersection. The shaft measures 1 foot 2 inches across below the arms and widens gradually downwards to 1 foot 8 inches at the base. In 1790, when the cross was in danger of falling, the Earl of Leven had the position faced up with masonry, and the monument now stands, with its major axis north and south, on a two-stepped base of modern construction.
It’s certainly had a hard life, and its official designation as ‘early medieval’ leads us to suspect that it may have been a decorated Pictish cross that has had its ornamentation obliterated by Reformation iconoclasts. Those same iconoclasts may have concocted the ‘history’ recounted by Rev John Thomson (1794) in the Old Statistical Account of 1794 of what he describes as a ‘very coarse piece of work’:-
‘Vulgar tradition says, that it was erected to the memory of a gentleman, who fell on this spot, in a mortal encounter with one of his neighbours.’
Writing of Markinch, nineteenth century historian Aeneas Mackay (1896) has this to say:-
‘A cell of the Culdees was established there by one of the last Celtic bishops, and the ancient cross near Balgonie [sic] may mark its site.’
Modern place-name research ascribes Markinch as a place where horses were grazed while their owners were attending the early mediaeval courts and assemblies at Dalginch a quarter of a mile to the east, so the cross may at that time have been a waymarker. A roadside plaque describes the Cross as possibly marking the limit of an ancient sanctuary enclosure related to the church of St Drostan (known locally as St. Modrustus) in the centre of Markinch. Additionally, it was on the ancient (and recently revived) Fife Pilgrim Way from Culross to St Andrews, so would have been a wayside station for the pilgrims. which if it was a Pictish cross would have made it a target for desecration by iconoclasts. We are lucky that it has survived at all, and with the revival of the Pilgrim Way as a long distance path it will attract many new admirers.
The Cross was close to the Tudor era Byrnand Hall which stood on the north side of the High Street. The Hall was demolished around 1780, and replaced by the present building, now a political club. The Cross was taken down around the same time, so we’re fortunate to have a contemporary sketch.
Harry Speight (1906), the Great Yorkshire antiquarian, described the Cross when he was writing of the ‘big houses’ of Knaresborough, saying:
“Another notable old mansion was Byrnand Hall, which stood at the top of the High Street facing Gracious Street, and was rebuilt about a century ago. It was the property and seat for many generations of one of the leading families of Knaresborough, named Byrnand, one of its members being recorder of York in 1573. Opposite the house stood a very ancient stone cross, consisting of a plain upright column, without date or inscription, supported by several rudely-formed stones placed on three tiers or steps. It appears that one Richard Byrnand paid a fine and was permitted to enclose a cross standing on a piece of waste land then lately belonging to Robert Nessfield. The cross may be conjectured to have been either a memorial or boundary-stone. In those days ” it was not enough,” says the old antiquary, Hearne, ” to have the figure of the cross both on and in churches, chapels, and oratories, but it was put also in church-yards, and in every house, nay, many towns and villages were built in shape of it, and it was very common to fix it in the very streets and highways.
“This ancient relic, the site of which is now marked by a brass cross sunk in the causeway, was in after times called the Byrnand Hall Cross, from its proximity to the house of the same name. It stands on the road equidistant between York and Leeds, being eighteen miles from either place.”
At the end of the eighteenth century, E. Hargrove wrote:
“The (Byrnand) family mansion was situated at the end of the High-street, leading towards York. Near it formerly stood an ancient Cross, which being placed on the outside of the Rampart, and opposite to the entrance into the borough, seems to have been similar in situation, and probably may have been used for the same purpose, as that mentioned by Mr. Pennant, in his History of London, which stood without the city, opposite to Chester Inn; and here, according to the simplicity of the age, in the year 1294, and at other times, the magistrates sat to administer justice. Byrnand-Hall hath been lately rebuilt, by Mr. William Manby, who took down the remains of the old Cross, and left a cruciform stone in the pavement, which will mark the place to future times.”
Abbot J.I. Cummins, writing in the 1920s about the Catholic history of Knaresborough, told:
“Of the Byrnand Cross beyond the old town ditch the site is now marked in York Place by a brass cross let into the pavement for Christians to trample on.”
The Cross occupied an important position in the Knaresborough of old, at one of the highest points of the town by the junction of the modern High Street and Gracious Street, this latter being the road down the hill to the riverside and the troglodytic shrines of St Robert of Knaresborough and Our Lady.
Assuming the eighteenth century drawing is an accurate representation of the Cross, it does give the impression of considerable antiquity, and looks to have been 15-16 feet (4.75m.) high. From its appearance it looks like either a prehistoric monolith or an Anglo-Saxon ‘stapol‘ or column, and if it was the latter, it may have been erected to replace an earlier heathen wooden column or sacred tree following the replacement of the old beliefs by Christianity. If so, there may be no reason to deny Hargrove’s speculation that Byrnand Hall Cross once had a similar juridical function to the Chester Inn Cross in London.
Bintley, Michael D.J., Trees in the Religions of Early Medieval England, Woodbridge, Suffolk, Boydell Press 2015.
Cummins, J.I., “Knaresborough,” in The Ampleforth Journal, Vol XXIV, No II, Spring 1929.
Hargrove, E., The History of the Castle, Town and Forest of Knaresborough, 5th Edition, Knaresborough 1790.
Speight, H., Nidderdale, from Nun Monkton to Whernside, London, Elliot Stock, 1906.
Take the Town End Road out of Slaidburn, and turn right along Wood House Lane at the Gold Hill junction, continue past the entrance to Myttons Farm on the right, and the cross base will be seen on the right next to the gateway just before the sharp left hand bend.
Archaeology & History
Only the socketed red sandstone base of this mediaeval wayside cross survives. It is unusual in that it has carved decorative fluted corners. It has an OS bench mark carved on its north face and has suffered recent damage to one of the corners, probably from a grass cutter. It is beside the old salt road over Salter Fell from Bowland into Lancashire and the Lune Valley.
There is one surviving complete cross and a cross base at the other end of the salt road, south of Hornby. Wood House Lane was known as Cross Lane when the 1850 6″ OS map was printed. It is a Grade II listed building and is described in the citation as:
“Base of cross, probably medieval, sandstone. Of irregular shape with a rectangular socket in the top.”
The farmer of the adjoining land told me that a local elder had told him that the smashed remains of the Cross had been built into an adjoining dry stone wall, which, if this is correct, may indicate
destruction of the Cross at a comparatively late date.
Note: the monument is in the historic county of the West Riding of Yorkshire.
Follow Long Lane northwards from Scorton, over the crossroads at Crosshill Four Lane Ends, and the cross base will be found at the road edge immediately to the right of the driveway of ‘Sandalwood’ on the left hand side of the road.
Archaeology & History
Described in the Historic Buildings listing citation as:
“Cross base, probably mediaeval. A sandstone boulder, roughly rectangular, with rectangular socket.”
The base of one of the numerous mediaeval wayside crosses that once adorned this part of Lancashire. So what happened to the cross? It’s possible that it was wilfully destroyed in the early nineteenth century as we have a likely culprit in the person of the Reverend Richard ‘Cross Smasher’ Wilkinson (c.1791 – 1823), Curate of Whitechapel, who took it upon himself to destroy the symbol of his religion wheresoever he could find it.
Immediately to the north west of the Cross is Cross Hill. The cross itself was probably a waymarker on the road over Harrisend Fell from Oakenclough, and Bradshaw may be the name of the locality, there being a Bradshaw Bridge just outside Street to the north west, while the 1846 6-inch OS map records a ‘Bradshaw Smithy’ on the same road.
The Cross base is situated in a thick hedgerow on the east side of Horns Lane, opposite St Francis’ Hill Chapel, just to the north of and on the field side of the electricity transmission line that crosses the road at this point. It can be accessed from the field to the north by crossing the stream. In winter the Cross base is just visible from the road side through the hedge.
Archaeology & History
This cross is not described or noted by Henry Taylor in the 1906 edition of his Ancient Crosses and Holy Wells ofLancashire. All that survives is the substantial socketed base of what is likely to have been a mediaeval cross. It is almost completely hidden in the hedge, and is only accessible for ‘hands-on’ inspection from the field side of the road.
It was described by Historic England as:
‘The socket-stone of a probable wayside cross 1.0m square and 1.5m high…. Its present position in a pasture field suggests that it is not in situ.’
Despite this description, the substantial nature of the base leads me to query why anyone would wish to move it from elsewhere. It is more likely that past land-owners have encroached on to the ancient highway, and fenced it accordingly. Maybe the Hill Chapel congregation will at some consider exposing the base on its hill crest position and insert a replica cross?
There is no record of what happened to the original Cross. According to a pamphlet describing Hill Chapel, “this house appears to have always been in Catholic hands”, but no mention is made of the Cross. A likely culprit for its destruction is the early nineteenth century Protestant fundamentalist the Reverend Richard Wilkinson.
In view of the continuity of Catholic ownership and worship at the Hill Chapel site over the road since before the Reformation, and the sustained persecution suffered by local Catholics in the centuries following the Reformation, it is very unlikely that they would have drawn attention to themselves by erecting the Cross, making it almost certainly of pre-Reformation construction.
Anonymous, Hill Chapel Goosnargh, privately published pamphlet available from Hill Chapel, n.d..
This site has long since gone, but its existence is worthy of note. Indeed, when Dippie Dixon (1895) wrote about it in his classic work, faded memory was all he could tell of it too, saying:
“Glanton once possessed a market cross. Not a vestige of it now remains; but it is said to have stood about the centre of the village, on a slight knoll facing the Whittingham road…”
This would place it close to the old Red Lion pub. Old crosses that are found at the centre of a village or township represent (albeit forgotten) the spot whence the community was born: a faded form of an omphalos, in the christian guide; later debased into little more than where markets and trade was done. When the ‘market’ wasn’t active, it was the gathering place for local people. As George Tyack (1900) told us:
“The village cross, in its more humble way, played the same part in the rustic life of its neighbourhood as did the high cross in the more bustling life of the town. Such public matters as stirred the still waters of rural existence were there discussed: the items of news from the great world without that reached the village gossips were there recounted, and the summons to the yearly Manorial Court, and other notices not suitable for procalmation in church, were there made public.”
This is the mundane function of the cross. In its earlier status, it was the animistic symbol not only of the centre of the village, but the origin of the world itself, where moots or gatherings took place annually, calendrically, to ritually re-establish and commemorate the birth of the local tribe and their world through consecration. But all of this has long since faded…
Dixon, David D., Whittingham Vale, Robert Redpath: Newcastle-upon-Tyne 1895.
Eliade, Mircea & Sullivan, Lawrence E., “Center of the World,” in Encyclopedia of Religion – volume 3, MacMillan: New York 1987.
Tyack, George S., The Cross in Ritual, Architecture and Art, William Andrews: London 1900.