Ancient Monuments

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Churchyard cross in St Mary the Virgin churchyard

A Scheduled Monument in Higham Ferrers, Northamptonshire

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Latitude: 52.3064 / 52°18'23"N

Longitude: -0.5921 / 0°35'31"W

OS Eastings: 496089.013106

OS Northings: 268522.990709

OS Grid: SP960685

Mapcode National: GBR DYK.75D

Mapcode Global: VHFPD.P9B7

Entry Name: Churchyard cross in St Mary the Virgin churchyard

Scheduled Date: 8 December 1997

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1016322

English Heritage Legacy ID: 29716

County: Northamptonshire

Civil Parish: Higham Ferrers

Built-Up Area: Higham Ferrers

Traditional County: Northamptonshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Northamptonshire

Church of England Parish: Higham Ferrers St Mary the Virgin

Church of England Diocese: Peterborough


The monument includes the remains of a standing stone cross located within the
churchyard of St Mary the Virgin Church, Higham Ferrers, approximately 48m
west of the church tower. The cross is believed to be medieval in origin with
later additions. There are references to a cross - known as the Warden Cross -
at this location in 1463.
The cross base is of ironstone, measuring some 3.6m in diameter. It takes the
form of four circular steps of mortared block construction surmounted by a
square socket stone. The socket stone is of Weldon stone and has deeply
chamfered corners.
The cross shaft, which is also of Weldon stone, is bonded into the socket with
lead and stands to a height of approximately 2.44m. The lower portion is
square in plan but above it is splayed to form an irregular octagon with
slightly concave sides. The broader faces of the shaft are decorated with oak
leaf carvings and the narrow faces are crocketed. The capital is square with
plain mouldings and triangular ornamentation on the four faces. The cross was
restored in 1919 when a new head was attached to the capital. This modern head
bears a depiction of the Virgin and Child on the east face and a Crucifixion
on the west face. The cross is Listed Grade I.
The total height of the cross is approximately 3.35m.

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 remains of the churchyard cross at Higham Ferrers represent a good example
of a medieval standing cross with a stepped base and splayed, ornamented shaft
located in or near its original position. Limited activity in the area
immediately surrounding the cross indicates that archaeological deposits
relating to the monument's construction and use in this location are likely to
survive intact as buried features. While most of the cross has survived from
medieval times, the subsequent restoration of the head illustrates the
continued function of the cross as a public monument and amenity.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Page, W, The Victoria History of the County of Northamptonshire, (1930)

Source: Historic England

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