Ancient Monuments

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Standing cross in the churchyard of St Mary's Church

A Scheduled Monument in Wirksworth, Derbyshire

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Latitude: 53.0821 / 53°4'55"N

Longitude: -1.5726 / 1°34'21"W

OS Eastings: 428722.562925

OS Northings: 353963.26088

OS Grid: SK287539

Mapcode National: GBR 59G.R7N

Mapcode Global: WHCDV.TS9J

Entry Name: Standing cross in the churchyard of St Mary's Church

Scheduled Date: 21 July 1994

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1008822

English Heritage Legacy ID: 23351

County: Derbyshire

Civil Parish: Wirksworth

Built-Up Area: Wirksworth

Traditional County: Derbyshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Derbyshire

Church of England Parish: Wirksworth St Mary

Church of England Diocese: Derby


The monument is a medieval standing cross located in the churchyard west of St
Mary's Church. It is a gritstone cross comprising a dressed rectangular socle
or socket stone and a rectangular section shaft. Originally the shaft would
have been surmounted by a cross head but this is now missing.
The shaft is c.3m tall and has chamfered edges. The chamfers terminate c.20cm
above the base to create a narrow pedestal. Similar moulding forms a
decorative collar at the summit. The shaft measures c.45cm north-south by
c.30cm east-west and tapers slightly to the top. It is leaded into the socle
which is c.60cm high and measures 80cm by 75cm. Because St Mary's Church is
known to have originated in the Anglian period, it has been suggested that the
socle was originally that of an Anglian high cross and that the medieval shaft
was fitted into it after being moved from the market place. However, from
appearances there is no evidence for this. Weathering and toolmarks on the
socle match it to the shaft and it is more likely that both date to the
13th century when the church was rebuilt. Anglian and medieval cemeteries are
likely to survive in the churchyard but have not been included in the
scheduling as their extent and state of preservation are not sufficiently
understood. Post medieval graves falling within the area of the scheduling are
excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath them is included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features,
considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

A standing cross is a free standing upright structure, usually of stone,
mostly erected during the medieval period (mid 10th to mid 16th centuries AD).
Standing crosses served a variety of functions. In churchyards they served as
stations for outdoor processions, particularly in the observance of Palm
Sunday. Elsewhere, standing crosses were used within settlements as places for
preaching, public proclamation and penance, as well as defining rights of
sanctuary. Standing crosses were also employed to mark boundaries between
parishes, property, or settlements. A few crosses were erected to commemorate
battles. Some crosses were linked to particular saints, whose support and
protection their presence would have helped to invoke. Crosses in market
places may have helped to validate transactions. After the Reformation, some
crosses continued in use as foci for municipal or borough ceremonies, for
example as places for official proclamations and announcements; some were the
scenes of games or recreational activity.
Standing crosses were distributed throughout England and are thought to have
numbered in excess of 12,000. However, their survival since the Reformation
has been variable, being much affected by local conditions, attitudes and
religious sentiment. In particular, many cross-heads were destroyed by
iconoclasts during the 16th and 17th centuries. Less than 2,000 medieval
standing crosses, with or without cross-heads, are now thought to exist. The
oldest and most basic form of standing cross is the monolith, a stone shaft
often set directly in the ground without a base. The most common form is the
stepped cross, in which the shaft is set in a socket stone and raised upon a
flight of steps; this type of cross remained current from the 11th to 12th
centuries until after the Reformation. Where the cross-head survives it may
take a variety of forms, from a lantern-like structure to a crucifix; the more
elaborate examples date from the 15th century. Much less common than stepped
crosses are spire-shaped crosses, often composed of three or four receding
stages with elaborate architectural decoration and/or sculptured figures; the
most famous of these include the Eleanor crosses, erected by Edward I at the
stopping places of the funeral cortege of his wife, who died in 1290. Also
uncommon are the preaching crosses which were built in public places from the
13th century, typically in the cemeteries of religious communities and
cathedrals, market places and wide thoroughfares; they include a stepped base,
buttresses supporting a vaulted canopy, in turn carrying either a shaft and
head or a pinnacled spire. Standing crosses contribute significantly to our
understanding of medieval customs, both secular and religious, and to our
knowledge of medieval parishes and settlement patterns. All crosses which
survive as standing monuments, especially those which stand in or near their
original location, are considered worthy of protection.

The cross in St Mary's churchyard is a well-preserved example of a simple
standing cross which would have played a role in the liturgy of the church.

Source: Historic England

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