All over the country, in towns and villages, and even in the middle of nowhere, you may encounter crosses – usually on a pedestal, some are actual crosses with a cross-piece, others a simple tall erect stone.  There are different types:

Beverley Market Cross

Market crosses: found in towns, and sometimes what are now mere villages, where the monarch (or other designated person) had granted the right to hold a market.  Some have developed into elaborate covered structures, such as Beverley’s, rebuilt in 1714.  Others remain simple, such as Emley’s.  Emley’s long-gone market was granted in 1253; now it has a Premier Stores mini-market, and the remains of the cross (pictured top) are painted white to avoid the several traffic accidents it has been involved in over the years.  A list of all those in Great Britain can be found on Wikipedia.  These and the next type, preaching crosses, do not really fall within the remit of the Milestone Society.

Saxon fragments at Dewsbury

Preaching crosses: during the Anglo-Saxon period wooden crosses would mark spots where priests or monks would preach to local communities, and stone crosses that survive today from mediaeval times (and are not market crosses) may be their successors.  It has been suggested, for example that Stainland Cross, near Halifax, listed as mediaeval by Historic England, might have been a preaching cross.  Although it now stands outside the church this was not its original location.  A preaching cross can be found outside the church in Pocklington: it commemorates a sermon of St Paulinus in 627 AD, though again the cross is much later: its 15th century head is now inside the church.  Paulinus became the first bishop of York, and he is also commemorated at Dewsbury where fragments of a 9th century stone cross can be found inside the Minster.

Wayside crosses: this term applies to any crosses found in open countryside or by old tracks outside towns and villages.  Stone crosses were erected widely throughout the mediaeval period, mostly between the 9th and 15th centuries and had a variety of functions, although the main purpose of raising such a cross was to reiterate and reinforce the Christian faith amongst those who passed it.  Many crosses were erected to mark the boundaries of lands held by ecclesiastical institutions such as monasteries.  Others fulfilled a role as waymarkers especially in difficult and otherwise unmarked terrain.  Such crosses contribute significantly to our understanding of medieval religious custom and landholding.  Decorated examples also contribute to our knowledge of sculptural and artistic traditions.  Examples can be found around Malham (see separate article), and another is the Lady Cross on the old salt road on Lansgett Moor. 

Source: Historic England

RWH / August 2021