Ancient Monuments

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The Wishing Chair Cross cross base at junction of Stakesby Road and Westbourne Road

A Scheduled Monument in Whitby, North Yorkshire

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Latitude: 54.4865 / 54°29'11"N

Longitude: -0.6354 / 0°38'7"W

OS Eastings: 488498.972409

OS Northings: 510980.699879

OS Grid: NZ884109

Mapcode National: GBR SJ0K.7H

Mapcode Global: WHG9Y.6HPG

Entry Name: The Wishing Chair Cross cross base at junction of Stakesby Road and Westbourne Road

Scheduled Date: 13 January 1995

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1009851

English Heritage Legacy ID: 25646

County: North Yorkshire

Civil Parish: Whitby

Built-Up Area: Whitby

Traditional County: Yorkshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): North Yorkshire

Church of England Parish: Whitby St Mary

Church of England Diocese: York


The monument includes a cross base known as the Wishing Chair situated on the
pavement at the south side of the junction of Stakesby Road and Westbourne
Road in Whitby. This was the base for a mile cross of the medieval period
defining the approach to the abbey at Whitby.
The cross base survives as a block of local fine yellow sandstone with an
oblong depression cut into the top to serve as a socket and the north edge of
the socket broken away to form what looks like a chair. The block measures
0.58m across and 0.55m deep and is 0.49m high from the surface of the
pavement. The socket is 0.34m by 0.25m and 0.24m deep.
There is a strong local tradition that a child seated in the chair will have
their wish come true. The modern cross set up on the opposite side of the road
in 1957 is a commemoration of the Festival of Britain and also defines the
mile bounds of the abbey. Such crosses were common in the medieval period to
mark the entrance of the holy precinct of a religious house. The place name
Stoupe Cross Farm to the south east of the abbey may mark the location of
another cross.
The surface of the pavement, the telephone box and the wall on the south side
are excluded from the scheduling but the ground beneath the cross is included.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
It includes a 1 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 Wishing Chair cross survives as a base only but its position is original
and so marks an important land boundary of Whitby Abbey.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Woodwark, T H, Crosses of the North York Moors, (1923), 25

Source: Historic England

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