Queen Eleanor’s Cross
Queen Eleanor’s Cross. Where exactly did this immense cross stand? This question has been circulating around Stamford for many years now, and every so often pops up again. Although this has probably been done many times before, I have with the aid of notes by Laurence Tebbut, John Chandler and Michael Key, tried to answer the question, putting together the majority of the information the Survey Group has on the subject.
Why a Cross?
Eleanor of Castile, Queen of England and wife of Edward I, died on 28th November 1290 at Harby in Nottinghamshire. Edward decided that she was to be buried in Westminster Abbey, so her body was taken to Lincoln and there embalmed ready for the journey south. A solemn procession for London, by a long and circuitous route, set out on December 4th accompanied by the king himself. Halts for the night were made at approximately every 20 miles, at Grantham, Stamford, Geddington, Northampton, Stony Stratford, Woburn, Dunstable,
St Albans, Waltham Abbey, West Cheam and Charing Cross, eventually reaching Westminster Abbey where the funeral took place three days later, on 17th December. In the following two years Edward had crosses erected in memory of Queen Eleanor in each of the resting-places above. Of these three still remain today at Geddington, Northampton and Waltham.
Early evidence whilst the cross was still standing
Stamford’s cross stood for approximately 350 years, and to confirm this we have two eye-witnesses. The first was Captain Richard Symonds of the Royalist army, who visited Stamford briefly on his way from Newark to Huntingdon on Saturday August 22nd 1645. He wrote the following in his diary,
‘In the hill before ye into the towne stands a lofty large cross, built by Edward I in memory
of Eleanor whose corps rested there coming from the north. Upon the top of this cross these
three shields shields are often carved: England; three bends sinister; a bordure (Ponthieu);
Quarterly Castile and Leon’
The second eye-witness is Richard Butcher, Town Clerk. In his survey of Stamford of 1646 he says the following:
‘Near unto the York highway and about twelve score paces from the town gate which is called Clement Gate, stands an ancient crosse of freestone of very considerable fabric, having many ancient scrutcheons or arms insculped in the stone about it as the arms of Castille and Leon quartered being the paternal coat of the King of Spain and divers other hatchments belonging to that crown which envious time hath so defaced that only the ruins appear to my eye and therefore not to be described by my pen’
There is one other earlier reference to a cross, and that is in the Town Records of November 30th 1621:
‘..... the hall also agreed that the fate of the Kings Crosse shall be forthwith amended by a sufficient workman’
Although to judge by Butcher’s later description the ‘workman’ did not do a very good job.
Peck’s Annals (p.17) show that the cross was destroyed between 1646 and 1660, probably by Parliamentarian ‘fanatics’.
On January 16th 1745 William Stukeley wrote to a fellow antiquarian:
‘Our surveyor of the turnpike road opened up a tumulus half a mile north of Stamford on the brow of a hill by the roadside and there discovered the foundations of the Queen’s Cross, the lower most tier of the steps in tact and part of the second, tis of Barnack stone, hexagonal, the measure of each side thirteen feet so the diameter was thirty feet. It stood on a grassy heath called by the towns people Queens Cross’.
In another letter dated 21st December 1754 he wrote that Mr Wying surveyor of the turnpike, was opening a quarry on the left hand side of the road from Stamford to Great Casterton and that he took away a carved stone from part of the pinnacle and other pieces which he put in his Barnhill garden. He says the cross ‘stood on a delicate eminence called Anemone Hill’. He also wrote to the Mercury quite soon after this, on December 26th 1745, reporting the discovery of the remains of a cross ‘on a grassy cliff on the left hand from Stamford to Brigcasterton’.
A question raised here is whether Queen’s Cross heath and Anemone Hill are the same place, or was the ‘carved stone’ found away from the foundation (steps)?
Towards the end of the 19th century when the Torkington Estate was divided up for building purposes (i.e. Torkington Street, Reform Street) one plot was called Blue Anemone Hill.
There is one other interesting paragraph in the Peterborough and Huntingdon Standard of 10th October 1847 describing:
‘A stone effigy built into a wall in St Martins that of a female of the time of Edward I or II. The head is detached, the hands across the breast are mutilated and the feet are gone’.
If the Stamford cross resembled the cross at Geddington then the above description could very well be part of the cross, as the Geddington one has three sculptures of the queen on it.
There is not a lot of evidence from the modern period, but in 1973 a section of Barnack stone was found in the Foxdale area of Stamford. Mr H W Pond found the stone in a dry stone wall and Mr R F Grimwood of the local History Society had it removed to St Leonard’s Priory for storage and safekeeping, where it still remains. It is described as weighing 2 cwts., and is eight inches square, thirty inches high with rounded edges. Part is carved with chevrons. This was thought to have been part of the cross. The Foxdale area is one mile out of Stamford and this seems too far if we take Butcher’s ‘twelve score paces from Clement Gate’ and Stukeley’s ‘half a mile’, although this does not rule out the stone as being part of the cross as it could easily have been moved to that position.
On walking Butcher’s twelve score paces from Clements Gate (the Stamford side of Scotgate traffic lights) I arrived behind Clock House on the Casterton Road and adjacent to the front garden of Rock Lodge House. Now, before this article was suggested an acquaintance had said that I should look at the ‘ancient stonework’ in Rock Lodge gardens, so permission was given by the owners, to look around the garden and, true enough, built into the walls at certain places were pieces of old masonry. After tracing some previous owners, no information was gained as to the origins of these remains. A suggestion is that they may have been excavated whilst the gardens were being landscaped and probably could have come from the old church of St Thomas, which is alleged (without any evidence at all) to have stood near this spot. The Survey Group would be happy to receive any other information on these.
To end, I would like to think that a few of these pieces came from the cross itself, as Rock Lodge stands ‘twelve score paces’ on the left hand side of Casterton Road and on the first ‘cliff face’. With its commanding views toward Stamford, what more suitable spot could be found for such a monument, at the entrance to the town where the Oakham and North roads meet?
R Butcher, Survey and Antiquities of the town of Stamford, 1646
F Peck, The Antiquarian Annals of Stamford, 1727
The Stamford Mercury
The Peterborough and Huntingdon Standard
This article by Ken Coles is reprinted from the issue 4 of the Stamford Historian published in February 1980
The above article was written in 1980, but 13 years later a fragment of Purbeck marble with a rose carved on one of its surfaces was found in the garden of Stukeley House, 9 Barn Hill, Stamford, the home in the 1740s of noted antiquary, William Stukeley. The appearance of this fragment accorded with a description of the upper shaft of the Stamford Eleanor Cross Stukeley claimed to have found in December 1745 on Anemone Hill (upper Casterton Road). Further research confirmed the fragment to be part of Stukeley’s find and that he had almost certainly discovered the site of the Stamford Eleanor Cross. This discovery places the Stamford Eleanor Cross in the Foxdale area of Casterton Road, map reference TF01910758 +/- 20 m. and not at the junction of Empingham and Casterton Roads as previously thought.
The essence of the case for revision was published in the correspondence columns of the Stamford Mercury, 28 September 2007, p.13, and can also be found on the Mercury website at http://www.stamfordmercury.co.uk/news/opinion/letters/overwhelming-evidence-on-site-of-eleanor-cross-1-486463. A full account of the discovery can be found in John F H Smith, ‘A Fragment of the Stamford Eleanor Cross’ published vol. 94 of the Antiquaries Journal, 1994, pp. 301-311.
In September 2013 a further article on Stukeley, ‘William Stukeley in Stamford: his houses, gardens and a project for a Palladian Triumphal Arch Over Barn Hill’ by J F H Smith was published in the Antiquaries Journal (vol. 93, pp. 353-400). This lists (footnote 53) all the references in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, to Stukeley’s claimed find of the Cross. These are: Bodleian Library, Oxford, Eng. misc. c. 538, fols 41–41v;
Eng. misc. e. 126, fols 91–98;
Eng. misc. e. 196, fols 51 and 111–112.
In addition a drawing entitled ‘The groundplot of Queens Cross, Stamford’ (Eng. misc. e. 126. fol.18) shows that what Stukeley found was hexagonal in plan, not octagonal as suggested by Smith (1994)
John F H Smith
8 January 2014