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TWO STONE CROSSES & THE GRIMSTONE DOWN EARTHWORKS
x

The Churchyard Cross


The first paragraphs of a paper entitled “Stratton Church and Village Cross” written by Alfred Pope and published in the “Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Antiquarian Field Club,” vol. xvi, p. 1, 1895, introduce us to the background of the churchyard cross.

Pope writes, “Before we enter the church I wish to say a few words upon, and to have your opinion, as to the origin and antiquity of this venerable pile of stones, which may at one time have formed the base of the village cross of Stratton. The shaft which was also doubtless also of stone has, it will be observed, been long since removed or destroyed. It is open to question whether this cross now stands in its original position. That the base has been removed from some other place, probably in the village or rebuilt upon its original site, there can be little doubt, as evinced by stones of different kind, shape and workmanship from the original (which it will be observed is of Ham Hill and plain perpendicular in character) having been built into it, whilst those stones so introduced are of a local kind and much more roughly hewn. If you will be so good as to look under the nosing or curb at the top step you will find a bold fluted moulding on those which originally formed part of this ancient monument, but that such moulding is not carried through the stones which were used in the rebuilding or restoration. Please also note the original position of the shaft where it was inserted into the base. The age of the work may be somewhat open to doubt, but that it stood here prior to Dean Chandler’s Visitation, 1405, there can be no question, and it would probably be contemporaneous with or prior to the chapel then standing. On the whole I am inclined to think that this present structure, which may have replaced a cross possibly of wood of more ancient date, would have been erected about the same time as the Flamboyant windows, also of Ham Hill stone, on the south side of the late church and rebuilt in their original positions into the present edifice. Many of these venerable stone churchyard crosses date prior to the Norman Conquest, when the English people were gradually being converted from Pagan worship and were learning the blessings of Christianity. The Pagan Saxons worshipped stone pillars, so, in order to wean them from their ignorant superstition, Christian Missionaries, such as St Wilfred, erected stone crosses and carved upon them the figures of the Saviour and His Apostles, displaying before the eyes of their hearers the story of the Cross written in stone. In these early days, when there were as yet no parish churches, the Christian services were held in the open air at some spot which convenience and shelter and perhaps safety might dictate, and a cross was set up to mark the spot, and that cross consecrated the place for the time a church, and eventually perhaps a church or chapel would be built at or near the spot. In this case, if we accept the theory that this cross stands in its original position, or rather in the place of a more ancient one, it would seem that the original church or chapel was pitched close to the church-place or worshipping-cross of the district. Another theory would be that this cross was the ancient village market or ‘cheeping’ cross from the Anglo-Saxon ‘cheap’, meaning to buy, and was removed here from some other site. There are many such crosses about, especially in the North of England, and Somersetshire and Cornwall too, are rich in them. They were intended to remind people of the sacredness of bargains and to tell both buyers and sellers that ‘no one ought to go beyond or defraud his brother in any matter.’ I am inclined to the former theory and to think that this cross has always been what is known as a churchyard cross and that it stands on its original site, or, more probably, on the site of a more ancient one which might have been the church-place of the district prior to a church being built. I may mention that an effort is being made to restore this venerable monument of antiquity. Miss Ashley has started a subscription for that purpose, and has, I understand, already some £10 in hand. If any of you ladies and gentlemen feel sufficient interest in ancient churchyard crosses, of which we have but few instances in this county, to assist in this very interesting work, subscriptions will be gladly received either by the Vicar or by my brother churchwarden or myself.”

The paper was illustrated with the photograph shown below.




In his 1906 book ‘The Old Stone Crosses of Dorset’, Alfred Pope provided further details of the churchyard cross of St Mary’s, Stratton.

He wrote [pages 120-122], “A fine old late fourteenth-century cross (restored) stands west of the north porch of the church. It is of Ham Hill stone, and consists of two square steps, a socket, and an octagonal shaft, surmounted by a Latin cross, both of which are modern. The basement step is benched with a fine drip moulding, with a fillet, and has a bold plinth, the greater portion of which is buried in the ground. It measures seven feet three inches square, and is eighteen inches deep to the edge of the plinth. The second step is five feet five inches square and nine inches deep. The socket is very massive and octagonal in its upper bed, with bold convex broaches. It measures three feet six inches square at the base, by one foot eight inches deep. The shaft is probably shorter and less massive than the original, and it has been suggested that the head of the original cross may be seen on the top of the gable at the east end of the nave. The restoration was carried out by subscription (to which Miss ASHLEY was a large contributor), in 1895, from designs prepared by Mr. G. R. CRICKMAY, the then diocesan architect and surveyor, from whose plans the church also (except the tower) was rebuilt a few years previously.”

The photograph below by Evans of Dorchester is from a plate in the book.