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Stapleford Cross

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The Saxon Cross standing in St Helen's churchyard was probably erected around 700AD and is believed to be the oldest Christian memorial in Nottinghamshire. It is over three metres tall and features many interlacing carvings including a symbol of St Luke treading on a serpent.

Travelling preachers would have called the local people to worship near it before the church was built. It may even have been responsible for the name 'Stapleford' meaning a post near a ford or river crossing.

A new stone ball was placed on top of the cross in the year 2000 to replace the original which was damaged during a storm in 1916.


 

Stapleford Cross

By Rev. A. D. Hill, Transactions of the Thoroton Society, 10 (1906)

 

Staplford Cross. circa 1906
This splendid shaft, the oldest ecclesiastical monument of Nottinghamshire now standing, is said to have been placed in its present position at a cross

road in 1760. Previous to that it was lying in the churchyard, perhaps nearer to its original site. The square base on which it now stands was re-constructed in 1820, when the square cap, surmounted by a ball, was added to the shaft.

It appears as a cylindrical shaft, about 10 ft. high, but is CROSS more accurately described as square, with rounded faces tapering to a square at the top, from which the cross head probably sprang. The diameter of the shaft at the base is about 2ft. it has three bands of surface sculpture, divided by horizontal lines. The two lower portions are covered with interlaced ornament of continuous scrolls, more or less showing a change of pattern on each of the flattened sides. The central band especially is of wonderful intricacy of lines alternately forming the diameter and circumference of the pattern with which the surface is covered.

The upper part, where the shaft becomes square, is much worn, except on one face, which has upon it a symbolical bird­like figure with wings trampling upon a serpent. Close observation reveals the head to be that of an ox with horns, probably the emblem of St. Luke. The other faces may have borne the emblems of the other Evangelists. Dr. G. P. Browne, now Bishop of Bristol, was the first to point out the meaning of the figure, and he suggests, as an interesting corroboration, that Stapleford feast is governed by St. Luke’s day, or rather “old St. Luke’s,” which corresponds to our October 30th. “Feast Sunday is the last Sunday in October, unless that be the last day, and then it is the last but one;” this is the rule still recognised by Stapleford inhabitants. Of course the feast Sunday could not be on October 31st, for then the week could not include old St. Luke’s day. (The Conversion of the Heptarchy. Browne. S.P.C.K.). The church is dedicated to St. Helen, but we have, no doubt, in this cross, the record of a still older dedication of the locality by the earliest Christian teachers in these parts.

Stapleford Cross in 2002. It has been moved into the churchyard for its own protection (© A Nicholson, 2002).

Two questions of interest arise in connection with this monument. Whence came the art with which these wonderfully intricate scroll-work patterns are produced? What is the probable date of the Stapleford cross?

The earliest Anglian example of the scroll-work is without doubt to be found on the great cross at Bewcastle, which from its inscrip­tions can be dated 670. This is earlier than any of the Irish work, which is usually described as the original source of the art. Following Bishop Browne, I think we must look to the influence of Byzantine art, through Lombardy, where similar work is found, brought perhaps to this country by Wilfrith and Biscop, as giving the impulse which produced the Lindisfarne school of ornament, the interlacement of continuous flowing bands, so especially developed as an Anglian characteristic, both in manuscript and masonry.

The latter half of the 7th century saw the conversion of the kingdom of Mercia to Christianity, after the death of the stout old heathen, Penda, through the influence of the Northumbrian, Oswy, and his son, Alchfrith, who is commemorated on the Bewcastle cross, and of the saintly Chad, Bishop of Lichfield, The 8th century saw its rise to supremacy among the kingdoms of the Heptarchy.

Nottinghamshire, as a borderland between two great kingdoms, must have often felt the tide of conquest swaying this way and that, and the erection of a great cross close to the stream, which marks the county boundary, may have had a civil as well as an ecclesiastical significance. The village, as Mr. W. Stevenson has suggested, derives its name of Staple-ford from the tall shaft (A.S. Stepel, whence our word steeple, or stapol, a prop or post), which, from the style of its ornamentation and the circumstances of the times, was probably erected between A.D. 680 and 780.

By Rev. A. D. Hill, Transactions of the Thoroton Society, 10 (1906)

Thanks to A. Nicholson for the source of text and pictures: www.nottshistory.org.uk

 

Stapleford Cross

Percy Whatnall (ed.), Links with old Nottingham. Historical notes by J. Holland Walker, (1928)

 

STAPLEFORD CROSS is undoubtedly the most valuable and interesting relic of the past in the county. It is one of those wonderful examples of Anglo-Saxon carving, such as the great crosses at Bewcastle and Eyam that have so much to tell us, of the bygone glories of our Motherland.

The old idea that Saxon England was an uncivilised welter of bloodshed and ignorance has given place to the knowledge that it was the Golden Land of Europe, during the awful centuries that we know as the Dark Ages.

Amongst its kings and law givers, are to be recognised Oswald and Alfred, amongst its scholars Bede and Alcuin, amongst its saints Aidan and Cuthbert, its organisers and missionaries Wilfred and Chad, and amongst its artists the unknown producer of the Lindisfarne Gospels, and these wonderful stone crosses. Stapleford Cross seems to date from about 700, a hundred and seventy years before King Alfred. began his reign, and its weatherworn carvings have been the theme of many appreciative treatises.

The curious horned figure is probably the symbol of St. Luke; and the other three faces of the cross probably displayed the remaining evangelic symbols. How Stapleford Cross came to be erected is a very obscure mystery, but the investigation of it will lead the inquirer into a most interesting and unexpected field of local history.

As an indication of the line of inquiry, it is necessary to bear in mind that in 669, Chad came south from Lindisfarne, bringing the Celtic version of Christianity to heathen Mercia, and settled for a time at Litchfield. Lands in the neighbourhood of Sawley were given to Chad’s Litchfield monastery, and there is Saxon work very evident in Sawley and Breaston Churches, also at Wilne, and a very doubtful tradition of similar work at Long Eaton.

The whole district has been too long neglected, and the time is ripe for a thorough investigation of the neighbourhood.

The Cross was recently removed to the churchyard, from a site in the roadway nearby.

Percy Whatnall (ed.), Links with old Nottingham. Historical notes by J. Holland Walker, (1928)

Thanks to A. Nicholson for the source of text and pictures: www.nottshistory.org.uk

Stapleford History >> St Helen's - The Teverey Family >>
Stapleford and Kimberley >> Stapleford Hall, The Wrights >>
St Helen's Church >> The Hemlock Stone >>

   
 
 
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