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The elusive Stamford Cross

December 5, 2014

The Stamford Cross is both more straightforward and more complex than its Grantham sister.  We do know for sure that a cross was constructed here, because there is at least a record of the cortege being present at Casterton, just outside Stamford to the north, on 5 December.

And there is also a rather clearer than usual eyewitness description of the cross before its destruction: There is a record of repairs being done in 1621.  Then there is an account by one Richard Butcher in 1645 and another by Captain Richard Symonds in 1646.  And finally Stukeley, who became rector of Stamford, actually discovered the ruins of the cross in late 1745.

There is also good reason for the cortege to be here: it was the next natural stop on the route south from Grantham, it had been a part of Eleanor’s first dower assignment, and she had a number of properties nearby: Torpel and Upton towards Peterborough and Ayston and Lyndon towards Rutland Water.

So far, so good.  But where was the cross?  One would have thought that with all this eyewitness material this would be easy to answer, but the accounts lead to at least three different answers: a little way beyond the junctions of the A606 and the B1081, at the actual junction of those two roads or further up the Casterton road, on a hill known as Anemone hill in what is now the Foxdale area of Stamford. The view generally taken today is that the Symonds/Stukeley accounts in favour of Anemone Hill (sketched above by Stukeley, copyright Bodleian Library)  are to be preferred, and the location near Casterton is consistent with the dating of the writ from there rather than Stamford. 

However the question of where Eleanor’s body lay in vigil overnight cannot easily be answered.  There are no remains of any abbey or priory at this location.  It seems to me possible that Edward, who was in the process of acquiring Little Casterton itself stayed there at Tolethorpe Hall, which was in the hands of a family distantly descended from Eleanor’s Pecquigny relatives, and Eleanor’s body lay overnight in the beautiful new church at little Casterton (photo below, Richard Croft at geograph.org.uk).  The cross is placed close to the Little Casterton Road.   But this is pure speculation. Other possibilities are a stay at Great Casterton itself with Eleanor’s body resting at the church of St Peter and St Paul, or a stay in Stamford Castle with Eleanor’s body at one of the town churches or with the Dominicans.

And the confusion even continues when we come to the appearance of the cross.  At different times Stukeley described it as hexagonal and octagonal. He does however record that its base was 13 foot long, with a diameter of about 30 feet, and he estimated its height as forty or fifty feet.  And we do know for certain two things about it: it had a pyramidal piece at the top adorned with roses and it featured Eleanor’s arms of England, Ponthieu and Castile and Leon, often repeated.  We know these for certain because Stukeley sketched the top piece and carried away one of the roses for his garden decoration, and the earlier accounts both refer to the coats of arms. It seems likely, given the design of the other crosses which survive, and the remains of the figure at Lincoln that the cross also featured statues of Eleanor, but even of this we cannot be sure.

Below, the Stukeley sketch of the top piece of the cross and the rose filched by Stukeley.  The sketch is copyright Bodleian Library, and the rose was in the Stamford Museum until it closed, but can now be found in the Stamford Library)

Nor do we know when or how it was destroyed. It had survived until 1646,  but was described as being in very poor condition then.  Did it fall to the Roundheads, or simply lose its battle with the elements? Another unanswered question chalked up to the Stamford Cross.

There is now, however, a new Eleanor Cross at Stamford. In 2008 a reinterpretation or homage to the lost cross was erected in the town’s Sheep Market as part of Stamford’s Gateway project.  Based on the one verified survival from that cross, it is a tapered spike or needle composed of bands carved with a repeating spiral pattern of roses which tapers into a bronze point.  As I have noted elsewhere, the rose was Edward’s personal badge, and therefore a tribute made up of this feature actually echoes beautifully the personal tribute which Edward intended by his crosses.

 

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