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The first of the "disappeared" crosses: Grantham

The Grantham Cross is possibly the most mysterious of all the crosses - there is no contemporaneous record of its construction, and there is no depiction of it. So how do we know, as I said yesterday, that Grantham was the next stop?

Firstly, we know from the evidence of the Patent Rolls that on 4th December business was done in Lincoln, and on 5th a writ was signed at Casterton, just north of Stamford. Grantham is therefore the obvious stop for a single night. Grantham was also an obvious stop as a town which had been part of Eleanor’s original 1254 dower assignment.

And then Stowe’s Survey of London includes Grantham in a list of the Eleanor Crosses, and the great antiquarian and historian of the Crosses, William Stukeley, is reported to have found parts of the Grantham cross near his house in Wyndham Park, when he moved there in 1726, taking a coat of arms of Leon as a decorative garden feature.

Finally and most persuasively, there is the evidence of the local Grantham Civic Records, which report in 1646 of the aftermath of the destruction of “The cross at the upper end of the High Street, formerly called the Queen’s cross”. Good stones such as these were not to be allowed to be taken by any Tom, Dick and Harry, so the constables were sent to find the stones, (as well as those from another destroyed cross, known as the Apple Cross) and get them back for the Corporation of Grantham’s use. So seriously did they take this task that in 1652 the records show that someone was prosecuted for using a stone from one of the crosses in their wall. Stukeley was lucky that the search had lapsed by the time he came to Grantham!

As for the route, one of the reasons why the Grantham stop has proved controversial over the years is that it lies a full 26 miles from Lincoln (ie by the most direct route). However, while 26 miles is certainly a good journey – particularly in the short days of December, it is not the longest of the journeys made by the cortege, and it is well within the range of distances usually encompassed by Edward’s court. However this distance could only be kept this low by cutting across from Ermine Street and progressing substantially along the current A607. Most commentators have hesitated to suggest this was done because of the lack of places to accommodate breaks en route, but I am tolerably sure it was done - for a good reason. Two of Eleanor’s properties lie barely off the A607: Welbourn, south of Navenby, had been acquired by her in 1288 and granted by her to her close friend Isabella de Vescy, and Carlton Scroop, west of Ancaster, was being purchased by her in October of 1290. Both of these manors therefore could easily offer hospitality to the cortege as it passed, and offer her tenants a chance to pay their respects.

Once arrived in Grantham, Eleanor’s body would have lain before the altar in the church of St Wulframs, which was still in the process of being completed.

Given the destruction of the Cross, this might be supposed to be the end of the story of the Grantham cross. But there is are in fact two post scripts.

Some time after the destruction of the Cross, and the collecting up of the stones, a Market Cross was erected in Grantham; and it seems likely that the stones found by the constables were used in this project. Certainly the steps at the base of the current market cross have been dated to around the end of the thirteenth century – that is, to roughly the date of construction of the Eleanor Cross. It is tempting therefore to speculate that the steps at the base of the cross are survivals from the second of the crosses. Perhaps the more so, when one looks at the base of the nearest geographical survivor – the Geddington Cross. My own theory is that the crosses were slimmer and simpler in the north and gained girth and complexity on the route south. The Grantham Market Cross base, though probably now even smaller than it was before destruction (some losses of stones must be allowed for) would be the perfect base for an Eleanor Cross even slimmer than that at Geddington.

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And finally, as recently as this year the Grantham Civic Society has received planning permission for a memorial plaque to commemorate Eleanor and the lost Cross. It is due to be unveiled when the annual Queen Eleanor Cycle Ride visits Grantham on 29 August 2015 …


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