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

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(Possible cross site)


In a 1591 deposition for a case between two landowners1 Nicola Whyte found the following: "Twoe peeces of medowe lyinge neere St. Edmund pole towards Santone buttinge upon Jackes hill towards the common Ryver of Thettforde and the butts upon great Norwicke sheepes pasture and within an arrowe shott of St. Ellins chappell".2


Whyte feels that 'St. Edmund(s) Pole' is probably the remnant of a cross - presumably just the upright stump of a shaft, although there seems no other evidence of its existence. Santon (now part of Thetford) was a depopulated parish north-west of the town, and north of the Little Ouse river, with the site of St. Helen's church (or chapel or oratory) now exactly on the boundary with Lynford at TL83968738. (It may be, however, that 'Pole' should in fact be 'Pool'. According to Clarke, "near this spot in the 16th century was a pool known as St. Edmund's Pond".3)


1. Nat Arch, Kew: E 134/33and34Eliz/Mich29

2. Nicola Whyte: 'Inhabiting the Landscape', (Windgather Press, 2008), p.129.

3. W.G. Clarke: 'In Breckland Wilds' (Robert Scott, 1925), p.102.



(Remains of cross)

There was a church on the site of St. Helen's at Santon before the Conquest, almost certainly with a graveyard; but the only sepulchral remains ever discovered there were a piece of a skeleton, and possibly part of a grave-cover. Then in the early 1980s part of a Saxo-Norman cross was found beneath a bush at the edge of a field - not at the actual church site, but not far away (NHER No.5684.)


Exactly where it was found is uncertain, although two likely find-sites are suggested in the NHER. One is c.100m west of the church site, the other c.140m to the east. Both are well within the range of a medieval longbow i.e. "within an arrowe shott of St. Ellins chapel" - so I initially had the wild thought that it might just possibly be a remnant of 'St. Edmund(s) Pole'.


However, it is now clear from photographs1 that this is a 10th-11th century limestone grave-marker, of the same type as that at Taverham. Here, only a little more than half of the circular head has survived, but most of the upright slab, showing that it was originally not much more than a metre tall. Unlike at Taverham, the splayed cross design occurs on both sides of the head, but is of much cruder workmanship. It has remained in private hands since its discovery.


1. Photographs & correspondence kindly supplied by Norfolk County Council, Historic Environment Record.

Magdalen Cross

(Documented record of cross)


The roads of Thetford have changed so much over the centuries that it's now impossible to pinpoint the exact site of Magdalen Cross. We know from Tom Martin and Blomefield that it stood near the hospital of St. Mary Magdalen, built in the 13th century as a leper hospice, but later used for more general care. Through documentary research the site of the hospital has been narrowed down to the TL876835 area, now occupied by the houses of Autumn Close just off Norwich Road.


According to Martin's posthumously-published 'History of Thetford' in 1779, "Opposite to it [the hospital] stood Magdalen-cross, at which Shropham hundred court was sometimes kept, after it was granted from the crown".1 Blomefield describes the location of the hospital and cross thusly: "[it] stood out of the town, on that piece of land lying at the division of the road, leading from the Fleece [inn] to Norwich, where the Kilverstone road strikes off to the right hand, it being some distance beyond the present lime-kilns; it is still called in evidences, Mawdlin-Acre; right before it, at the conjunction of the three roads, stood Magdalen-Cross".2


It was this last description that misled Cozens-Hardy into placing the cross at the present Kilverstone Road-Norwich Road junction (see under Kilverstone.) In fact the arrangement of roads was very different in the Middle Ages. The old road to Norwich at that time followed the alignment of Magdalen Street, while a lost road called Grassmarket Way came from Kilverstone to form the three-ways where the cross stood.3 Martin's map of the town in about 1740 shows Magdalen Cross as a standing structure - although it had gone by that time - in the centre of the junction of the Norwich road and what was then known as Kilnstone Lane. It was on or very close to the ancient boundary line of the borough.


1. Thomas Martin: 'The History of the Town of Thetford' (pub. by Richard Gough, 1779), p.90.

2. Blomefield: Vol.2 (1805), p.77.

3. Alan Davison in (ed. Carolyn Dallas): 'Excavations in Thetford by B.K. Davison between 1964 & 1970' (East Anglian Archaeology Report 62; Norfolk Museums Service, 1993), p.207.

St. Andrews Cross

(Documented record of cross)


Tom Martin's 1740 map of Thetford is wildly inaccurate in terms of scale, perspective and orientation. With that alone to rely on, it would be hard to pinpoint the site where he writes "Once St. Andrews Crosse" in the fork between two roads. Luckily, giving references as far back as 1444, he notes in his 'History' that it "stood at the top of St. Andrew's hill",1 and later, speaking of the site of St. Andrew's church, that "Upon a hillock near this church stood St. Andrew's cross".2


Blomefield is more explicit, writing of the former churchyard of the ruined St. Andrew's: "It is hired by Mr. Henry Cocksedge, to whose garden it joins, and the foundations being taken up, is made a pleasant plantation, commonly known by the name of the Wilderness, it being almost opposite to the blacksmith's shop, which stands on a hill by the Fleece-Tavern, and is placed directly on the site of St. Andrew's-Cross, which is much spoken of in the ancient evidences of this town".3


From this, we know that the cross stood at TL87018335, which is just off Norwich Road, near the junction with Croxton Road. During the late Middle Ages, it was beside the road heading north from the Town Bridge, just where other ways branched off for Norwich, Croxton and Kilverstone.4


1. Thomas Martin: 'The History of the Town of Thetford' (pub. by Richard Gough, 1779), p.59.

2. Ibid, p.83.

3. Blomefield: Vol.2 (1805), p.75.

4. Alan Davison in (ed. Carolyn Dallas): 'Excavations in Thetford by B.K. Davison between 1964 & 1970' (East Anglian Archaeology Report 62; Norfolk Museums Service, 1993), p.196, 207.

St. Cuthbert's Cross

(Documented record of cross)


The site of St. Cuthbert's Cross is at TL87198306, just east of St. Cuthbert's church, and now beneath the roundabout at the meeting of Market Place, Well Street, Magdalen Street and Castle Street. It's shown on Martin's 1740 map as a standing structure, the stump of a shaft on a stepped plinth. Blomefield mentions that the church stands "near the cross called St. Cuthbert's Cross, but in ancient evidences, the Grass Market, it being formerly the place where the market for herbs and garden stuff was usually kept".1 In fact there is a 1553 reference in a court book that this was sometimes known as 'Grass Market Cross".2 By the 18th century, 'Mawdlin Fair' was being held at the cross, every year on July 22nd.


Despite appearing on his map as still extant, Martin writes that "St. Cuthbert's cross stood in the centre of the streets that fork off from the east end of St. Cuthbert's church. The pedestal is now removed to the church-yard wall, and the shaft lies against an adjoining house".3


1. Blomefield: Vol.2 (1805), p.64.

2. Alan Davison in (ed. Carolyn Dallas): 'Excavations in Thetford by B. K. Davison between 1964 & 1970' (East Anglian Archaeology Report 62; Norfolk Museums Service, 1993), p.197.

3. Thomas Martin: 'The History of the Town of Thetford' (pub. by Richard Gough, 1779), p.59.

Dosse Cross

(Documented record of cross)


Writing of other crosses in the town, Martin also mentions "Dosse cross. This stood somewhere in the road between Snareshill and the nunnery".1 Snareshill - now Great Snarehill - is the site of a deserted medieval village north-east of the town, now in Brettenham parish. The nunnery in question is St. George's, a pre-Conquest foundation whose ruins still exist, centred on TL87318226 just south of Nuns' Bridges. The most likely route between the two would have been across the Bridges, along Ford Street and Castle Lane, then over Melford Bridge. A route going east from the nunnery then along heath tracks to Snarehill could be intended, but this seems unlikely as any cross along it couldn't be considered to belong to Thetford town.


A confirming charter of Henry II (late 12th century) records an unlocatable "mill of Dodescros" in Thetford.2 Since that early date confirms the religious nature of the 'cros' component, perhaps 'Dosse cross' is a later rendering of the name 'Dodescros'? Possibly the nearby mill was a water mill on the river Thet, beside the way to Snarehill?


1. Thomas Martin: 'The History of the Town of Thetford' (pub. by Richard Gough, 1779), p.59.

2. Alan Davison in (ed. Carolyn Dallas): 'Excavations in Thetford by B.K. Davison between 1964 & 1970' (East Anglian Archaeology Report 62; Norfolk Museums Service, 1993), p.195.

Strodmere Cross

(Documented record of cross)


With no indication whatsoever of its location, also from Martin we learn the existence of "Strodmere cross".1 This may be a typographical error, as elsewhere in his 'History' he writes of "Stodmere-knoll" as the name of one of Thetford's lanes.2 The latter is perhaps more likely to be correct, as it has independent confirmation in the form of an entry in the Borough Archives referring to a lane leading from Stodmere Knoll towards the Pit Mill.3


This is the only 'knoll' name mentioned in the book, and on Martin's 1740 map there is only one location given that description. A lightly-shaded circle is depicted, situated somewhere between Reymond (Raymond) Street and St. Cuthbert's church, which seems to be labelled 'Stedmans Knoll'. The writing is faint and difficult to discern, but the similarity between 'Stodmere' and 'Stedman' is hard to ignore. The lane from the knoll towards the Pit Mill at TL87048285 - later a water mill on the same site - might have followed the alignment of the present Bridges Walk and School Lane. Of course, I still can't approximate the location of either cross or knoll, and the one might not even be close to the other, so this must remain total conjecture.


1. Thomas Martin: 'The History of the Town of Thetford' (pub. by Richard Gough, 1779), p.59.

2. Ibid, p.58.

3. Alan Davison in (ed. Carolyn Dallas): 'Excavations in Thetford by B.K. Davison between 1964 & 1970' (East Anglian Archaeology Report 62; Norfolk Museums Service, 1993), p.196.



(Possible cross sites)

At the end of his short list of Thetford crosses, Tom Martin adds "Several other crosses undoubtedly must have been in this town, as appears by pieces of them lying about it".1 Unfortunately, he fails to give any details or locations for these.


On his map of the town dated to c.1740, he identifies St. Cuthbert's and St. Andrew's Crosses by their full names, but next to the depiction of Magdalen Cross he writes "Magdalen +" As that is obviously no more than a shorthand, by itself it means little. But elsewhere on the map, south of the Little Ouse river, he also depicts that cross symbol - once by itself just north of Red Castle, and once as "+ here" a little further north-west. These instances don't seem to correspond to the sites of any known extant or vanished churches - although with the map's topographical inaccuracies, one can't be certain of anything. The area in which they appear to be located - between Brandon Road and the river - was formerly a marshy flood plain, which is problematical. But at the same time, it was home to the King's Meadows and other land owned by the canons of the Priory of the Holy Sepulchre not far away.


Also of interest but perhaps unconnected to the above is an 15th century account found by Davison2 of lands in this area owned by the Cluniac Priory founded on the south side of the river in 1103, then moved north four years later. Two cottages are mentioned which adjoin the river and which are "super le corner versus cruce" (? the proper form for cross should be 'crucem'.)


Davison's work on the medieval documents of Thetford has also speculatively revealed - at least to my mind - two other possible crosses in the town.3 Like many other settlements in Norfolk, Thetford once had a 'Walsingham Way' that left the town heading north towards that celebrated shrine. There are two possible exit points and courses for this road, but one which may have left from the area of St. Andrew's Cross may also have had along its route 'Shinning' or 'Shynnyng Cross', possibly where a road called Norwick Way branched off.


Fairly close to Red Castle there used to be a ford across the river, known as 'Inselford' (or some variant thereof), and from it two lanes led northward. One went to 'Potters Cross' - quite possibly the 'Potters Way' documented in the 14th century. The cross - if such it was - seems to have been somewhere in what are now the industrial areas between Telford Way and Brunel Way.


1. Thomas Martin: 'The History of the Town of Thetford' (pub. by Richard Gough, 1779), p.59.

2. Alan Davison in (ed. Carolyn Dallas): 'Excavations in Thetford by B.K. Davison between 1964 & 1970' (East Anglian Archaeology Report 62; Norfolk Museums Service, 1993), p.200.

3. Ibid, p.202, 205, 207.

Bridge Street

(Remains of cross)


Little now remains of the 14th century Dominican friary, incorporated into the buildings and grounds of Thetford Grammar School. The friary church used to stand at TL86758306, and in the early 2000s, the remains of a stone cross were discovered about 60m to the south of it.1 It was built into the flint wall of an early 19th century outbuilding on the west side of Bridge Street, and only found when a lean-to was demolished. Only the circular head and a short length of the shaft have survived, and are suggested to be of Norman date. Made of limestone and stated to be 56cm in height overall, the head itself is noted as 30cm in diameter. A cross with splayed arms with convex edges is enclosed within an un-pierced ring, and has another, sunken, cross at its centre which may have been inlaid. Its size suggests a grave-marker rather than a standing cross, and in all likelihood originated in the friary's burial ground.


1. Andy Shelley & Stephen Heywood: 'A Norman Stone Cross from Thetford' in 'Norfolk Archaeology' Vol.44, part 4 (2005), p.726-7.

Redcastle Furze

(Remains of cross)


About 350m south-west of the previous find, another was made in 1966. Archaeological excavations on what was to be the site of the Redcastle Furze development uncovered in the topsoil a small chunk of coarse limestone bearing Saxon interlace carving. The stone was thought to be too thick to have been part of a grave cover, so was more likely a fragment of a standing cross. Apparently reshaped slightly for use in a 13th century arch, it was found in what had been the graveyard of a mid-11th century church, whose foundations had first been revealed in 1912 just south of Brandon Road, at about TL86418295.1


1. Carolyn Dallas: ' Excavations in Thetford by B.K. Davison between 1964 and 1970' in East Anglian Archaeology Report 62 (Norfolk Museums Service, 1993), p.153.


As well as the crosses in the 'urban' areas of Thetford, like Norwich the town had crosses which stood on its boundary. Thetford was first named as a borough in 952, in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, although it's uncertain exactly what that term meant at the time. In Domesday Book it is termed a Hundred all by itself, while the terms Liberty and Franchise have been applied to the freedoms and rights exerted within its bounds. On the south and west sides, the borough boundary now is much the same as it was in the Middle Ages, and indeed in Saxon times. On the south side in particular it was marked by an earthen bank or 'mere', parts of which are still traceable today. This was called variously the Londmere, Port Mere, Canons Mere or Buttle Bank, running from Barnham Cross Common west to near Elveden Gap, and still also serves as the county boundary with Suffolk.

Barnham Cross

(Remains of cross - now lost)


Date of visits: 1970s & 15/5/19.

At the eastern end of the mere, on the Common, was Barnham Cross (TL8642380945), described by W.G. Clarke as "the ancient Franchise Cross which divided the Liberty of Thetford from the Liberty of St. Edmund".1 Tom Martin's 'History' of 1779 names it "Barnham cross, called also Frances cross".2 The same 1591 deposition that mentions 'St. Edmund pole' records that "the sheepe did feed also in Barnham lowes neare Frannces crose".3 The 'Frances/Frannces' name puzzled me until I found that, in a 16th/17th century account of the bounds, this was mentioned as "the Fraunches Cross".4 This indicates that 'Frances' is merely a corruption of the word 'Franchise'.


When Cozens-Hardy saw the cross in the late 1920s/early 1930s he described only a  pedestal 81cm square, "though considerably more elaborate than the common type." It had a large square base with chamfered edges, on top of which - and carved from the same block - was a smaller octagonal socket stone, the whole thing being 43cm high and with a 30cm square mortise hole. His photograph shows it sloping into the ground at one end, possibly as a result of "rough treatment" when the common was a military camp during World War One. W.G. Clarke has a similar photo in his book 'In Breckland Wilds', but there more of the pedestal seems to be visible above ground (photo left, by Clarke.) A wide horizontal gash can be seen in the lower section, while one side of the socket stone has a large hole drilled right through. The first draft of his book was in preparation between 1909 and 1913, so it's possible that his picture dates from before WW1.


By 1955 the topmost edge of the socket stone had gone, and the whole thing was in two pieces. A hole had been dug undercutting the cross, and it was in danger of toppling in, so two local men used a lorry to move it onto more level ground, about 10m south of its original location.5


When I visited the site in the mid-1970s, I found that the remains had been set into a concrete slab, which was itself breaking apart. It was much the same when I returned a few years later, although more of the concrete had cracked. Most of the octagonal section had gone, and only one side of the mortise hole was still visible (photo middle left.) A newspaper report in 1986 said that the remains of the cross had been damaged by 'treasure hunters', and one medieval portion had vanished.6 Not long afterwards, the surviving fragments were removed to a depot owned by Breckland District Council, and by 1990 had been destroyed. What was supposed to be a temporary replacement marker, made out of old granite kerbing stones, was then placed on the spot.7 It seems to have been more permanent, however, as I visited again in May 2019, to find that the site is still marked by a stone pillar set in a rectangle of granite slabs (photo bottom left.) Barnham Cross is also recorded elsewhere on this website due to the 'plague stone' tradition attached to it.


1. W.G. Clarke: 'In Breckland Wilds' (Robert Scott, 1925), p.25.

2. Thomas Martin: 'The History of the Town of Thetford' (pub. by Richard Gough, 1779), p.59.

3. Nat Arch, Kew: E 134/33and34Eliz/Mich29

4. Alan Davison in (ed. Carolyn Dallas): 'Excavations in Thetford by B.K. Davison between 1964 & 1970' (East Anglian Archaeology Report 62; Norfolk Museums Service, 1993), p.196.

5. Letter from Mr. R. Snelling to R. Rainbird Clarke (Curator, Norwich Castle Museum), Oct. 1957.

6. 'Vandalism to stones rapped' in 'Eastern Daily Press', 27/9/1986.

7. Letter from Mr. J. Deacon to David Gurney (Norfolk Archaeological Unit), 7/9/1990.

(Items 5, 6 & 7 above kindly supplied by Norfolk County Council. Historic Environment Record.)

Barrow Cross

(Documented record of cross)


Travelling west along the Londmere boundary bank from Barnham Cross, at TL84648086 the - supposedly prehistoric but probably medieval - trackway called the Icknield Way enters the borough of Thetford. This point also marked the meeting of boundaries of Elvedon and Barnham.


In 1537/8 Sir Richard Fulmerston had to call witnesses to prove his ownership of various lands, fold-courses and crofts in the area. First to speak was a former prior of the Holy Sepulchre priory, who attested to "a parcel of the fold-course.... which parcel begins at Barrow Cross", standing at this location.1 A similar deposition almost 50 years later, in 1584/5, mentions this as "a cross of wood standing at the Mere's end, between Elveden and Barnham, which divided the bounds of Thetford, Elveden, and Barnham". Three other witnesses at this same deposition revealed that Barrow Cross actually no longer existed, calling it "the late cross", and that "the foundation of the cross would appear upon digging".2


1. Thomas Martin: 'The History of the Town of Thetford' (pub. by Richard Gough, 1779), p.192.

2. Ibid, p.193-4.

Elveden Gap

(Documented record of cross)


The same three witnesses at the 1584/5 deposition who spoke of the 'late' Barrow Cross went on to say "that they know a great mere called Port Mere, also Canons Mere, which beginneth at Skatchhowe in Elveden, at a place where a cross stood, and so extendeth to the late cross....and that.... the lands between both crosses on the north of the mere towards Thetford were canons lands".1


'Skatchhowe' had to have been in the vicinity of the existing Sketchfar Wood, so this unnamed cross is likely to have been in the area of TL83978103, where London Road crosses the boundary bank at Elveden Gap.


1. Thomas Martin: 'The History of the Town of Thetford' (pub. by Richard Gough, 1779), p.194.


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