Churchyard cross in St Mary the Virgin churchyard


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1016322

Date first listed: 08-Dec-1997


Ordnance survey map of Churchyard cross in St Mary the Virgin churchyard
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Northamptonshire

District: East Northamptonshire (District Authority)

Parish: Higham Ferrers

National Grid Reference: SP 96089 68523


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.

The remains of the churchyard cross at Higham Ferrers represent a good example of a medieval standing cross with a stepped base and splayed, ornamented shaft located in or near its original position. Limited activity in the area immediately surrounding the cross indicates that archaeological deposits relating to the monument's construction and use in this location are likely to survive intact as buried features. While most of the cross has survived from medieval times, the subsequent restoration of the head illustrates the continued function of the cross as a public monument and amenity.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument includes the remains of a standing stone cross located within the churchyard of St Mary the Virgin Church, Higham Ferrers, approximately 48m west of the church tower. The cross is believed to be medieval in origin with later additions. There are references to a cross - known as the Warden Cross - at this location in 1463. The cross base is of ironstone, measuring some 3.6m in diameter. It takes the form of four circular steps of mortared block construction surmounted by a square socket stone. The socket stone is of Weldon stone and has deeply chamfered corners. The cross shaft, which is also of Weldon stone, is bonded into the socket with lead and stands to a height of approximately 2.44m. The lower portion is square in plan but above it is splayed to form an irregular octagon with slightly concave sides. The broader faces of the shaft are decorated with oak leaf carvings and the narrow faces are crocketed. The capital is square with plain mouldings and triangular ornamentation on the four faces. The cross was restored in 1919 when a new head was attached to the capital. This modern head bears a depiction of the Virgin and Child on the east face and a Crucifixion on the west face. The cross is Listed Grade I. The total height of the cross is approximately 3.35m.

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: 29716

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Page, W, The Victoria History of the County of Northamptonshire, (1930)

End of official listing