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

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Parameters, Methods & Sources


As described by the title, this is a survey of 'Medieval (and earlier) Freestanding Crosses in Norfolk'.


By 'medieval' I mean the period from 1066 to 1539 - basically, the Norman Conquest to the English Reformation - the definition used by the Historic Environment Record and many other authorities. 'Freestanding' simply refers to a standalone upright cross of timber or stone. For Norfolk, I have used the county boundary and civil parish boundaries as they exist in 2020.


I'm following the parameters set by Basil Cozens-Hardy in his 'Norfolk Crosses' list of the 1930s by excluding "post-Reformation market crosses, gable crosses, [and] crosses within a church." It may be that some market crosses of later date - the enclosed type with roof and columnar supports - originated with a simple freestanding cross, but unless there's evidence of this, I have omitted them from the survey. All of Cozens-Hardy's listed cross sites - whether actual or potential - are included here, with four exceptions: a socket hole once within Hockering church, a stone block in Holt, a stone between Walsingham and Egmere, and a road named 'Cross Gate' at Walpole St. Andrew. The reason for these exclusions can be found in Appendix Four: Omissions, Loose Ends, & Sundry Miscellanea. Where possible I have attempted to expand and update Cozens-Hardy's brief entries, adding historical or topographical information as might be useful to an audience wider than the readership of a county archaeological journal.


With regard to 'earlier' crosses, I've tried to include every reference I could find to such pre-medieval objects in the county. There aren't many, and details are sparse. While some are in museums, and some are still at the churches where they were found, the whereabouts of some other cross fragments are unknown. Although the ongoing project known as 'The Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture' has yet to deal with this part of the country, Norfolk and Suffolk are to be covered in the final volume. This probably won't be published before 2022, but hopefully I'll be able to update this survey with any new information revealed there.


The survey was never intended to be purely desk-based, which is why I've visited as many of the crosses as I could - not just the well-known ones on village greens etc, but also the solitary pedestals and fragments of shaft hidden away in neglected churchyards, beside lonely byways, and in isolated thickets. As far as I can determine, the remains of only 99 medieval crosses still exist in Norfolk outside museums. (It could be a round 100 if the objects at Terrington Court, Terrington St. Clements, belong to two separate crosses, as I surmise.) I've managed to inspect 83 personally, but there are two that I've not attempted to reach, namely Hardley Cross beside the river Yare, and Stump Cross deep in the forest at Weeting. Age and health problems have deterred me from the long treks that would be needed to get to them. Of the rest, the exact whereabouts of one is unknown, while others are located on private property to which I'm unlikely to gain access.


I feel that little would be added to this project by visiting those few cross remnants that exist in the museums at Norwich and King's Lynn, even without the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020 having thrown a spanner in the works.


Much of the printed and online information about the crosses of Norfolk is out of date by many years. I thought it important therefore that I not only photograph them, but record their current condition and dimensions. In addition, I've occasionally visited sites where some part of a cross was once known to exist, to see if I could track it down. And, in a few cases, sites where I or others have speculated that a cross might once have stood.


Unfortunately, the typical wayside cross site has usually been subject to road widening or the realignment of a junction, and is frequently thoroughly obscured by trees, bushes, hedges and general wild undergrowth. Even those fragments that may still be in churchyards can be hard to locate, as many old graveyards are now being left wild and unkempt as natural habitats. As well as the obvious camera, maps and steel tape measure, I've carried with me a folding sickle for clearing nettles, tough leather gloves, an archaeology trowel, a stiff brush, and a set of steel rods for probing the soil. Handheld GPS and a laser measuring device have also been useful on occasion. Despite this, my efforts thus far have led to no new physical finds - but I haven't yet given up hope.


As I said in the Preamble, the starting-point for this survey was the list of crosses drawn up by Basil Cozens-Hardy in the early 1930s. The primary source for some of his crosses was Blomefield's (and later Parkin's) 'Topographical History of Norfolk'. Having ploughed through all eleven volumes of that work, I've been able to add a further 32 examples. Some of these derive from medieval wills - although it should be noted that just because a bequest was made for the making of a cross, there is no guarantee that said cross was ever built. But without evidence to the contrary, I've chosen to include them in the survey.


Significant online resources consulted include Norfolk County Council's Historic Environment Record (a version of which is available through the 'Norfolk Heritage Explorer'), 'PastScape', and Historic England's 'National Heritage List for England'. I've also examined more tithe awards and maps - though not as yet for the whole of Norfolk - than I care to remember. The Norfolk Record Office and the National Archives have yielded valuable references, as have the reports published by East Anglian Archaeology. Aside from all the other books, periodicals, and online sources, much of this study - and indeed much of my other research over the past 45 years - would not have been possible without that enduring British resource, the Ordnance Survey, who in my opinion produce the best maps in the world.


Thanks for information and help must go to Elizabeth Fiddick of Dersingham, Maggie Vaughan-Lewis, Robin Carver, Docking Heritage Group, the staff at the Norfolk Record Office at Norwich, and especially to Anj Beckham and all at the Norfolk Historic Environment Record, for ploughing through their archives and digging up valuable extra material for me. Thanks for the reproduction of certain photographs go to Jonathan Plunkett for images from the George Plunkett collection (www.georgeplunkett.co.uk), to the Norfolk & Norwich Archaeological Society (www.nnas.info) for images by Basil Cozens-Hardy from 'Norfolk Archaeology', and to 'Dragontree' for the image from Waymarking (www.waymarking.com)


Cross or Crossroads  

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