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Somerton Market Cross

A Scheduled Monument in Somerton, Somerset

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Coordinates

Latitude: 51.0539 / 51°3'14"N

Longitude: -2.7282 / 2°43'41"W

OS Eastings: 349058.454246

OS Northings: 128538.259827

OS Grid: ST490285

Mapcode National: GBR MK.FSRW

Mapcode Global: FRA 565B.GZ3

Entry Name: Somerton Market Cross

Scheduled Date: 12 January 1925

Last Amended: 7 July 1999

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1016740

English Heritage Legacy ID: 32181

County: Somerset

Civil Parish: Somerton

Built-Up Area: Somerton

Traditional County: Somerset

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Somerset

Details

The monument includes a post-medieval market cross, prominently situated in
the market place in the centre of Somerton. The cross structure is octagonal
in plan and is constructed from a local Lias stone with Ham stone dressings. A
three-stepped base supports an octagonal column, the top corbelled to support
the roof timbers. A stone slate pyramidal roof rests on eight arches with low
angled buttressess at the corner of each pier. A string course between the
arches and the roof supports a battlemented parapet. A gargoyle at each angle
of the string course carries water through a lead spout. The roof is crowned
by a stone ball finial.
The market cross, which is Listed Grade II*, was erected in 1673 during the
reign of Charles II, probably on the site of an earlier cross recorded as
being in place by 1390. The cross was sold to the town by Lord Ilchester in
1916.

The five wooden posts set into each the northernmost five arches to restrict
vehicular access, together with the modern guttering flags and drains which
surround the monument but lie within the area of protection, are all excluded
from the scheduling, although the ground beneath theses features is included.

MAP EXTRACT
The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

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.

Somerton Market Cross survives in an excellent state of preservation and
provides a continuity of a monument at the Market Place from at least the late
14th century. It is a focal point of the town and possesses interesting
features such as the gargoyles, each one displaying a different character.

Source: Historic England

Sources

Books and journals
The Victoria History of the County of Somerset - Parish Surveys, Somerton, (1974), 144
Pooley, C, Old Stone Crosses of Somerset, (1877), 85

Source: Historic England

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