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A Survey of Medieval (and earlier) Freestanding Crosses in Norfolk

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Cross or Crossroads: Locating potential cross sites


In this survey, as well as recording existing crosses, fragmentary remains, and documented records of others, I have included the suggested sites of 51 additional wayside crosses. 10 were proposed by Basil Cozens-Hardy, 14 by various writers, and 27 by me. Some are more probable than others, but there are only four that I would regard as doubtful.


All are derived from names on a map or documentary references, but without further evidence we can't be certain if any of these were actual crosses, named crossroads, or other features in the landscape. Of the 51 given, 21 are definitely at a three-ways or crossroads, with another 7 possibly so. The precise locations of the others are either unknown or uncertain, and/or have no recorded name. As 76% of the known and locatable Norfolk wayside crosses are or were at a meeting of ways, it seems not unreasonable to look for others at such a location.


Among the 'possibles' that occur at road or trackway junctions are names such as 'Bennet Cross', 'Gent's Cross', and 'Blofield Cross'. The earliest references we have to these locations are, respectively, 1577, 1612, and 1840. Unfortunately these dates are all too late to be certain that they were actual freestanding crosses.


It was only in the late 14th century and into the 15th that the word 'cross' developed from its original and sole meaning of 'crucifix' to have an additional meaning - devoid of any religious context - of 'two lines (or roads) intersecting'. Any location reference earlier than that had to have meant a standing cross. And while there's no doubt that the original usage would also have continued long afterwards, we can rarely be certain.


The Old English term for a crossroads was gelŠte, which survived into Middle English as lete. Also used up to about 1500 were the terms carfouk and gateshadel, both of which had multiple variants such as carfox, carfowgh, gateschetyll, and gaytschadyl (or in an example from this survey, 'le Gate Shedelis', used at Shouldham in 1357.) In the wills and deeds etc that I've read, more commonly used were words and phrases such as 'four-ways', 'four went ways', 'division of the roads', and - for instance at Banham in 1429 - 'where the way parts'. In Latin documents the term trivium is often used, which originally meant a three-ways, but came to be used for any junction. In many areas, a crossroads was just as likely, as it is now, to be called something like 'end', 'green' or 'corner', due to the habitations that accumulate around them.


Most old maps were unfortunately drawn on too small a scale to show named crossroads. Faden's map of 1797 was the first to portray Norfolk at the one inch to one mile scale, and even this shows only two: 'The Six Cross Ways' at Thurton, and 'Read's Cross' at Hales. Bryant's 1826 map, at a slightly larger scale, shows both of these plus 19 others. With a few, it's hard to know if the name given refers to the junction, or the area around it - for example, 'Norton Corner' at Wood Dalling, 'Pulpher Corner' at Gately and 'Codd's Hole' at Shotesham. Even the first edition one inch to one mile Ordnance Survey maps of 1838-40 name only eight crossroads in the whole county.


Collating the information from these three map sources, I can say that four of the junctions are the sites of known crosses, while six others are possible sites suggested in this survey. That leaves four with a 'Cross' component to their name about which I've been unable to find any further corroborating information. All seem to exist only on Bryant's map of 1826: 'High Cross' just east of Dersingham, 'Hoveton Cross' in the centre of the village of that name, 'Twodstile Cross' at Repps with Bastwick, and 'Wilted Cross' at Shotesham. Investigations into these names, and into the 51 listed potential cross sites, are still ongoing.


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