High Cross, Tottenham, Greater London

Wayside Cross: OS Grid Reference – TQ 33781 89561

Also known as:

  1. Historic England Grade II Listed Building Number 1188856

Getting Here

The Cross is on the east side of the A10 Tottenham High Road, on the traffic island at the Monument Way Junction.

Archaeology & History

Cross shown on 1873 map

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.”

(left) engraving based on Samuel Wale’s 1759 illustration to Compleat Angler; (centre & right) 19th C views pre- and post-renovation

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….”

Folklore

A modern view (Wikipedia Creative Commons)

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.

Afterword

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.”

References

  1. An Architect (pseud.) – Architectural Innovation No. CXXXIX – The Gentleman’s Magazine, November 1809
  2. Anonymous – Tottenham High Cross, The Gentleman’s Magazine, April 1820
  3. Blair, John, The Church in Anglo Saxon Society, Oxford University Press 2005
  4. Carter, Nathaniel Hazeltine, Letters From Europe..in 1825 ’26 & ’27, G & C & H Carvill, New York, 1829
  5. Margary, Ivan D., Roman Roads in Britain, 3rd Ed., John Baker: London 1973.
  6. Robinson, William, The History & Antiquities of the Parish of Tottenham, 2nd Ed., Nicholls & Son, W. Pickering, W.B. Hunnings: London 1840.
  7. Sharpe, Montagu, Middlesex in British, Roman & Saxon Times, 2nd Ed., Methuen: London 1932.
  8. Walton, Izaak, The Compleat Angler, Facsimile of the 1st Ed., containing illustrations from the 2nd US edition by John Major, No imprimatur, 1907.

© Paul T Hornby 2020

 

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  51.589023, -0.070277 High Cross

Bishop’s Well, Tottenham, Middlesex

Holy Well (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – TQ 332 911

Also Known as:

  1. My Lady’s Hole

Archaeology & History

Long since gone after drainage operations on Tottenham Cemetery made the waters dry-up, this was one of several holy wells in the Tottenham area.  Its history has been described in various old tomes, but the most definitive is found in William Robinson’s (1840) classic on the parish of Tottenham, when the well was still visible.  He told us:

“There is a spring which issues from the side of a small hillock on the south side of the Moselle, nearly opposite the Vicarage, leading thence to the Church, called Bishop’s Well.  This spring was formerly considered famous for many strange and wonderful cures performed on the diseased by the use of this water.  It has been for some years neglected, but of late the owner of the field in which this well is, had it cleansed, and planted some trees round it, and put up posts and rails to prevent the cattle treading down the sides of it.  It is said that the water of this well never freezes.  In former times this well was in great repute from the purity of its water.  The ladies in the vicinity of it were accustomed to send their servants in the morning and evening for water for their tea, from which circumstance it was for many years known by the name of “My Lady’s Hole.”  The water of this well is not only esteemed for its medicinal qualities, but particularly for curing disorders of the eye.

“There were formerly many other springs about the village, especially one which issued out of the hill on which the Church stands; and another in Spottons Wood otherwise Spottons Grove, on the north side of Lordship Lane, which in the fifteenth century was of considerable notoriety; but none of which have in former times been so much frequented and held in such repute as Bishop’s Well.”

(Please note: the grid-reference for this site is an approximation)

References:

  1. Foord, Alfred Stanley, Springs, Streams and Spas of London: History and Association, T. Fisher Unwin: London 1910.
  2. Hope, Robert Charles, Legendary Lore of the Holy Wells of England, Elliott Stock: London 1893.
  3. Robinson, William, The History and Antiquities of the Parish of Tottenham, Nichols & Sons: London 1840.
  4. Sunderland, Septimus, Old London Spas, Baths and Wells, John Bale: London 1915.
  5. Thornbury, Walter & Walford, Edward, Old and New London – volume 5, Cassell: London 1878.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  51.602995, -0.078076 Bishop\'s Well

St. Bride’s Well, London, Middlesex

Holy Well (covered):  OS Grid Reference – TQ 3157 8111

Archaeology & History

St Brides Well on 1896 map

Close to the centre of that corporate money-laundering place of homo-profanus that is the City of London, was once a site that represents the antithesis of what it has become.  Tacked onto the southeastern side of St. Bride’s church along the appropriately-named Bride Lane, the historian Michael Harrison (1971) thought the Holy Well here had Roman origins.  It “was almost certainly,” he thought,

“in Roman times, the horrea Braduales, named after the man who probably ordered their construction: Marcus Appius Bradua, Legate of Britain under Hadrian, and the British Governer in whose term of office the total walling of London was, in all likelihood, begun.”

This ‘Roman marketplace of Bradua’ that Harrison describes isn’t the general idea of the place though.  Prior to the church being built, in the times of King John and Henry III, the sovereigns of England were lodged at the Bridewell Palace, as it was known.  Mentioned in John Stow’s (1720) Survey of London, he told:

“This house of St. Bride’s of later time, being left, and not used by the Kings, fell to ruin… and only a fayre well remained here.”

The palace was eventually usurped by the building of St. Bride’s church.  The most detailed account we have of St. Bride’s Well is Alfred Foord’s (1910) magnum opus on London’s water supplies.  He told:

“The well was near the church dedicated to St. Bridget (of which Bride is a corruption; a Scottish or Irish saint who flourished in the 6th century), and was one of the holy wells or springs so numerous in London, the waters of which were supposed to possess peculiar virtues if taken at particular times.  Whether the Well of St. Bride was so called after the church, or whether, being already there, it gave its name to it, is uncertain, more especially as the date of the erection of the first church of St. Bride is not known and no mention of it has been discovered prior to the year 1222.  The position of the ancient well is said to have been identical with that of the pump in a niche in the eastern wall of the churchyard overhanging Bride Lane.  William Hone, in his Every-Day Book for 1831, thus relates how the well became exhausted: ‘The last public use of the water of St. Bride’s well drained it so much that the inhabitants of the parish could not get their usual supply.  This exhaustion was caused by a sudden demand on the occasion of King George IV being crowned at Westminster in July 1821.  Mr Walker, of the hotel No.10 Bridge Street, Blackfriars, engaged a number of men in filling thousands of bottles with the sanctified fluid from the cast-iron pump over St. Bride’s Well, in Bride Lane.”  Beyond this there is little else to tell about the well itself, but the spot is hallowed by the poet Milton, who, as his nephew, Edward Philips records, lodged in the churchyard on his return from Italy, about August 1640, “at the house of one Russel a taylor.”

In Mr Sunderland’s (1915) survey, he reported that “the spring had a sweet flavour.”

Sadly the waters here have long since been covered over.  A pity… We know how allergic the city-minds of officials in London are to Nature (especially fresh water springs), but it would be good if they could restore this sacred water site and bring it back to life.

Folklore

Bride or Brigit has her origins in early British myth and legend, primarily from Scotland and Ireland.  Her saint’s day is February 1, or the heathen Imbolc (also known as Candlemas).  Although in christian lore St. Bride was born around 450 AD in Ireland and her father a Prince of Ulster, legend tells that her step-father (more probably a teacher) was a druid and her ‘saintly’ abilities as they were later described are simply attributes from this shamanic pantheon. Legends—christian and otherwise—describe Her as the friend of animals; possessor of a magickal cloak; a magickian and a healer; and whose ‘spirit’ or genius loci became attached to ‘sacred sites’ in the natural world, not the christian renunciation of it.  St Bride was one of the primal faces of the great prima Materknown as the Cailleach: the Gaelic deity of Earth’s natural cycles, whose changing seasons would also alter her names, faces and clothes, as Her body moved annually through the rhythms of the year.  Bride was (and is) ostensibly an ecological deity, with humans intrinsically a part of such a model, not a part from it, in contrast to the flawed judaeo-christian theology.

References:

  1. Foord, Alfred Stanley, Springs, Streams and Spas of London: History and Association, T. Fisher Unwin: London 1910.
  2. Gregory, Lady, A Book of Saints and Wonders, Colin Smythe: Gerrards Cross 1971.
  3. Harrison, Michael, The London that was Rome, Allen & Unwin: London 1971.
  4. McNeill, F. Marian, The Silver Bough – volume 2, William MacLellan: Glasgow 1959.
  5. Morgan, Dewi, St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street, in the City of London, Blackfriars: Leicester 1973.
  6. o’ Hanlon, John, Life of St. Brigid, Joseph Dollard: Dublin 1877.
  7. Sunderland, Septimus, Old London Spas, Baths and Wells, John Bale: London 1915.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

St Bride's Well

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St Bride\'s Well 51.513575, -0.105216 St Bride\'s Well

Strand Cross, Westminster, London, Middlesex

Cross (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – TQ 3077 8093

Also Known as

  1. Stone Cross of the Strand

Archaeology & History

First mentioned in Latin manuscripts from 1274 CE, the best description of this long lost monument, curiously, appears to be in Gover’s Place Names tome.  In a slightly edited format he told us the following:

“There was a stone cross “without the bar of the New Temple” traditionally supposed to have been erected by William Rufus “in devotion to the Holy Cross and for the health of the souls of himself and his mother, Queen Maud… It was in the Strand, possibly on the site of the present church of St. Mary.  It is referred to as crucem lap’ in 1274; la Crois de Piere in 1293; …Stonecrouch in 1337; crucem fractum in 1342…”

In subsequent notes Gover et al (1942) tell of a man they found in historical records to be Thomas le Barber, “described alternatively  as being Thomas le Barber atte Stonecourche” in the Calendar of Rolls records of 1337, and again in the 1339 accounts.

Of the cross itself, information is minimal and scattered.  It was destroyed several centuries ago but is mentioned in a number of old books on the history of the city.  The historian Thomas Allen (1829), for example, told that

“opposite to Chester Inn stood an ancient cross.  On this cross in the year 1294, the judges sat to administer justice, without the City.”

It was also a site where legal pleas for the county of Middlesex were to be held, at “the Stone Cross of lad Straund” as it was then known.  Due to the early administrative function delivered from this cross, it strongly implies the place to have been a moot site prior to the erection of the cross, probably dating from the period in which tribal elders met here.

A Mr Newton tells in his London in the Olden Time that the top of the cross was damaged and knocked off by the crazy christians around the time of the Reformation and that for many years stood headless.  When Vallance (1920) came to describe it, he told merely that,

“the Strand Cross, near Covent Garden.  This cross was hexagonal on plan, and comprised four stages.  It was standing in 1547, but was ultimately removed, its site being occupied by the Maypole, which was spoken of in 1700 as new.”

The Strand Cross would have been on the ancient ley (not one of those ‘energy lines’ invented by New Age fantasists) described first of all by Alfred Watkins (1925)—running from St. Martins-in-the-Field to St. Dunstan’s in Fleet Street—but he seems to have been unaware that the monolith ever existed.  The alignment was subsequently described in more detail in Devereux & Thomson’s (1979) work on the same subject, but its existence seems to have evaded them too!  Chris Street (2010) did include it in his much more detailed walk down the same ley.   A maypole was also known to exist close to the site of the cross; with one account showing that the two monuments existed at the same time in 1543.

As the site seemed to have been an early moot spot, the Strand Cross may have been an omphalos in early popular culture (before the christians of course), or at the very least, a site of popular animistic tradition.

References:

  1. Allen, Thomas, The History and Antiquities of London – volume 4, Cowie & Strange: London 1829.
  2. Anon., Rotuli Hundredorum – 2 volumes, G. Eyre and A. Strahan: London 1812.
  3. Aungier, George James, Croniques de London, Camden Society: London 1854.
  4. Devereux, Paul & Thomson, Ian, The Ley Hunter’s Companion, Thames & Hudson: London 1979.
  5. Gover, J.E.B., Mawer, Allen & Stenton, F.M., The Place-Names of Middlesex, Cambridge University Press 1942.
  6. Newton, William, London in the Olden Time, Bell & Daldy: London 1855.
  7. Stevenson, W.H. (ed.), Calendar of the Close Rolls Preserved in the Public Record Office, HMSO: London 1900.
  8. Street, Christopher E., London’s Ley Lines, Earthstars: London 2010.
  9. Vallance, Aymer, Old Crosses and Lychgates, Batsford: London 1920.
  10. Watkins, Alfred, The Old Straight Track, Methuen: London 1925.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Strand Cross

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Strand Cross 51.512179, -0.116853 Strand Cross

Cow Cross, Finsbury, London, Middlesex

Cross (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – TQ 3180 8181

Archaeology & History

Site of Cow Cross on 1896 map

Site of Cow Cross on 1896 map

Not far from the long lost Fag Well could once be seen this old stone monument.  Although not illustrated on the first Ordnance Survey maps of the inner city, it is highlighted on the 1896 edition (as shown here), just where Cow Cross Street meets Charterhouse Street—right by the boundary line—and is marked as ‘Site of Cow Cross’.

The cross gained its named from the cattle market that was held here from very early times, on the boundary of the lands of the Knights Hospitallers in the 12th century.  Cattle itself–both horses and cows—were actually slaughtered at the market by the cross: a practice that has thankfully stopped (in public at least).  Despite the place-name being referenced in many early accounts, actual descriptions of the cross are few and far between due to it being destroyed at quite an early date.  When John Stow came to write his history of London in 1603, he told that it was no longer standing.  Whether the cross replaced an earlier standing stone, we simply do not know…

References:

  1. Gover, J.E.B., Mawer, Allen & Stenton, F.M., The Place-Names of Middlesex, Cambridge University Press 1942.
  2. Temple, Phillip (ed.), Survey of London – volume 46, LCC: London 2008.
  3. Vallance, Aymer, Old Crosses and Lychgates, Batsford: London 1920.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Cow Cross

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Cow Cross 51.519838, -0.101834 Cow Cross

Broken Cross, Westminster, London, Middlesex

Cross (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – TQ 322 812

Archaeology & History

In truly that most unholy of places in England—Westminster, London—there was, in bygone times, a slightly more sacred site which, earlier still, might have been where a standing stone stood…. Might….  But such days are long gone down there.  A gathering place of local people in very early times, the Broken Cross was, according to Vallance (1920),

“erected by the Earl of Gloucester in the reign of Henry III (1216-1272), but it did not stand very long.  Its site is said to have been ‘the place of the meeting of the Folkmote…near St. Martin’s-le-Grand, about midway between the Northgate of the precinct (of St. Paul’s) and the church of St. Vedast.’  On 5th September 1379, agreements were drawn up for letting the stations about the Broken Cross to five divers persons.  The cross was bodily taken down in 1390.”

Yet its name was maintained in street-names for many years later, simply as ‘Broken Cross’.  Its position would have been very close to Cheapside.

George Gomme (1880) pointed out that such early folk moots were the development of tribal gatherings grafted from megalithic meetings onto early christian assemblies, pointing out how such assemblies for laws and councils were made at nearby St. Paul’s as early as 973 AD.

References:

  1. Gomme, George Laurence, Primitive Folk-Moots, Sampson Low: London 1880.
  2. Gover, J.E.B., Mawer, Allen & Stenton, F.M., The Place-Names of Middlesex, Cambridge University Press 1942.
  3. Vallance, Aymer, Old Crosses and Lychgates, Batsford: London 1920.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Broken Cross

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Broken Cross 51.514645, -0.097060 Broken Cross