Monday, July 9, 2012

Miniature Cathedrals - England's Market Crosses

by Deborah Swift

Kirkby Lonsdale Market Cross
There is a wonderful Market Cross at Kirkby Lonsdale, a town near to where I live, where I sometimes go to shop, or enjoy a pot of tea with friends. Seeing it made me curious to find out about other market crosses which are wonderful examples of miniature architecture, reflecting their time and the style of the day.

The primary purpose of wayside crosses was to remind the traveller that he was there but for the Grace of God
"for this reason ben Crosses by ye waye that whan folke passynge see the Crosse, they sholde thynke on Hym that deyed on the Crosse, and worsyppe Hym above all thynge" Wynken de Worde 1496

In Norman times crosses were often put up to define boundaries, particularly of a place of sanctuary. Within a mile of St Wilfrid's church in Ripon a man was safe, no matter what crime he had committed. Crosses were therefore erected on each of the five major roads leading into the town, to show the boundaries of the sanctuary.

Oakham Market Cross
However, as time went on, these crosses developed a more secular use as landmarks, meeting places and points of trade. They also became places where punishment was meted out under the eye of God represented by the Cross. Stocks and pillories are often to be found at their bases. In Oakham, the market cross, used to trade butter and other produce has it's stocks right up next to the cross. Can you spot something weird about these stocks?Click this link for more pictures and  More info on this cross at
where you can also view its fabulous wooden roofbeams.
Amroth Market Cross

In Wales the market cross was used to hang the heads of foxes and wolves captured in the vicinity as well as to punish thieves - foxes and wolves being considered a type of thief. A reward was offered for the capture of a wolf which was the same price as that of the reward for a robber, dog foxes were worth 2s 6d and vixens 1s 6d as late as the middle of the nineteenth century. Examples of these crosses can be seen at Eglwyscummin and Amroth.
As time went on, the cross grew a roof, and the covered areas beneath the crosses were used for trade, particularly after the Reformation, when people were unsure whether they were still to be used as "places of worship" or whether these old monuments would be against the edicts of the King. But even as early as 1337 the market cross at Norwich was large enough to house a chapel and four shops! The early equivalent of the modern shopping mall! One of the finest of these is at Chichester. Built in 1501, it is octagonal in shape, features eight flying buttresses with matching arches, and above it the pinnacle is a lantern spire, originally lit at night. Salisbury has a similar one but hexagonal. It is known as the Poultry Cross, presumably because poultry was sold there. There are other examples at Leighton Buzzard and Shepton Mallet. (Great town names, too!)

Salisbury Market Cross
One of the most famous "preaching crosses", ones from which open air sermons were delivered, was Paul's Cross, erected in the early 13th century near the wall of old St Paul's, London. Before it was pulled down in 1641 it was the scene of many historic events - mayors were elected under its shadow, heretics excommunicated there and in 1588 the first news of the Armada's defeat was announced from it to the public. Today few preaching crosses remain, except the Black Friar's Preaching Cross in Hereford and the one at Iron Acton Gloucestershire.

The wonderful cross at Wymondham, Norfolk
In 1643, under Puritan rule, Parliament passed an act ordering all crosses in churches, chapels and churchyards to be taken away, as "Monuments of Superstition and Idolatry". This led to the destruction of many fine crosses including Charing Cross in London. Although stones from this cross were later used to make the pavements in front of the Palace of Whitehall. Enterprising sympathisers who wanted to retain their connection with the cross also made souvenirs by cutting and polishing the stone and using it as knife handles.This is the period that interested me when writing The Gilded Lily, which features some Puritan characters alongside the libertines of London.

My explorations into these crosses led me to explore what are known as "The Eleanor Crosses", twelve crosses erected between 1291 and 1294. This became a whole separate interest, quite apart from the research I was doing for my books, so if you liked these, you can find out more about these beautiful monuments on my blog

"Deborah Swift's THE GILDED LILY is a heart-rending story of two sisters on the run, searching for a better life. Beautifully written and meticulously researched, the novel drew me straight into the teeming streets of Restoration London. An addictive, page-turning read." Mary Sharratt, author of 'The Vanishing Point' and 'Daughters of the Witching Hill.'

The Gilded Lily will be published by Pan Macmillan in Sept 2012


  1. Nice article. It is interesting how things like these develop into something completely different.

  2. Hi Your Majesty King Hal, just been over to your blog, a nice place for all the Tudor fans out there to check out. Thanks for leaving a comment, I too like the way things seem to evolve into their opposite, given enough time!

  3. These corn markets and crosses are so characteristic of the traditional English village, that are still used and we shouldn't lose them. Lovely post Dee


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