Eleanor Cross 1km south west of Delapre Abbey
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1015536
Date first listed: 25-Jan-1927
Date of most recent amendment: 14-Feb-1997
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: Northampton (District Authority)
National Grid Reference: SP 75424 58222
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
Reasons for Designation
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.
Of the 12 Eleanor crosses erected at the end of the 13th century only three still stand. The cross at Northampton is the only surviving one which included statuary by the royal sculptor William of Ireland, who worked on four other Eleanor crosses which have since been destroyed. In its architectural and sculptural detail it is a rare and well documented example of medieval stone carving of the highest quality. Recent careful conservation of the stonework has resulted in the preservation of sculptural detail in good condition. The cross is adjacent to the site of the battle of Northampton of 1460 which is included in the Register of Battlefields. The monument has been the subject of art-historical research and is thus well understood. As a monument accessible to the public it also serves an important educational and recreational function.
Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.
The monument includes a standing stone cross erected at the end of the 13th
century in memory of Eleanor of Castile, wife of Edward I. Queen Eleanor died
on 28 November 1290 at Harby, Nottinghamshire, and her funeral procession
passed from Lincoln to Westminster in December. The cross at Northampton
commemorates the resting of Queen Eleanor's body at Delapre Abbey on the night
of 8th-9th December 1290. The cross was constructed between 1291 and 1294 by
the King's master mason, John of Battle, with sculptural work by William of
Ireland. It was restored during the 18th and 19th centuries, when the steps
were rebuilt, and most recently in 1984 when some of the stonework was
renewed. The monument includes the standing cross, which is Listed Grade I,
together with its foundation and associated archaeological deposits which lie
within a boundary of 1m around the standing structure.
The monument is situated about 2km south of the city centre on the east side
of the A508, formerly the principal medieval route between Northampton and
London. It lies near the site of a crossroads at the south eastern corner of
the precinct of Delapre Abbey, formerly within the parish of Hardingstone. The
cross, which stands on a slight rise, is spire-shaped and includes a stepped
base, spire and shaft fragment. There are nine steps of octagonal plan, the
lowest step measuring about 9m across.
The spire of the cross takes the form of a tall pinnacle of three receding
stages constructed of Lincolnshire limestone and Purbeck marble. The lowest
stage is octagonal in plan with eight solid faces separated by angle
buttresses. On each face is a blind pointed arch divided into two vertical
panels with blind tracery; in the upper part of each panel is a shield carved
in turn with the arms of Castile, Leon, Ponthieu and England. Below the
shields, on alternate faces, is carved a lectern holding an open book on which
a text would originally have been painted. Above each arch is a flat
crocketed gable. The angle buttresses are also panelled and terminate in
foliate pinnacles. The lower stage is separated from the middle stage by a
projecting cornice, also with foliate ornament. The middle stage is also
octagonal in plan, although slightly shorter than the first, and is composed
of four open canopies set above those faces of the lower stage which contain
carved lecterns. Under each canopy is a statue of Queen Eleanor. The
canopies are supported by vertical shafts rising above the angle buttresses of
the lower stage and similarly terminating in foliated pinnacles. Each canopy
has crocketed gables and a crocketed pyramidal roof. Behind the pinnacles of
the middle stage rises the upper stage, square in plan, its four solid faces
positioned above the four principal faces of the lower stages. On each face is
a blind arch divided into four vertical panels with blind tracery and
surmounted by a crocketed gable. At each angle is a vertical shaft
terminating in a foliated pinnacle like those below. On top of the spire
stands a broken cross-shaft, added to the cross in 1840; the form of the
original terminal, which disappeared before 1460, is unknown. The full
surviving height of the cross is about 14m.
MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 1 metre boundary around the archaeological features, considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
Legacy System number: 17157
Legacy System: RSM
Books and journals
Pevsner, N, Cherry, B, The Buildings of England: Northamptonshire, (1973), 353-354
Vallance, A, Old Crosses and Lychgates, (1920), 98-101
Gough, R G, 'Vetusta Monumenta' in Vetusta Monumenta, , Vol. iii, (1796), 9-10
Alexander, Jonathan and Paul Binski (eds), Age of Chivalry: Art in Plantagenet England 1200-1400, 1987, exhibition catalogue
Listed Building description, The Eleanor Crosses, (1968)
ms ?c.1900 [cf. Vallance 1920 viii], Hope, John [?], The Eleanor Crosses,
This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
End of official listing