Origins of Market Crosses

I have done a few posts on the origins and uses of carved crosses, the remnants of some can still be found in towns and in churchyards. Some were incredibly ornate and painted and gilded for celebrations, draped in black for public mourning. Here is a new explanation of them, from a website on civic buildings in Herefordshire:

“Covered Market, Pembridge

This timber framed building which has been dendro dated to circa 1520 … is not actually a market hall, but merely a covered market, albeit a very picturesque one. Eight oak pillars support a roof tiled with stone slates. These pillars re supported on unworked stone bases except one, which stands on the remains of the medieval cross base. The interior, which is open, has exposed roof beams and joists…

Near the post on the South West Corner is a rough unworked stone. No one knows the origin of this stone or its use. However, Alfred Watkins, the well-known antiquarian, has published a theory concerning this stone in his book, “The Old Straight Track” (1925) According to him, this stone is a mark stone, which in ancient times settled the place where people would gather to trade goods. He compares these “mark stones” to the crosses that were set up during the plague when the market was moved away from the centre of town to an outlying place. An example he gives is Whitecross in Hereford, where as we know, the market was moved to during 1349. According to Watkins there are records of money payments being made on an open-air stone, as at Knightlow and Colwall.”

This mention of paying on the stone has echoes in Bristol’s famous nails, bronze pillars where merchants were said to agree deals, with payment on the nail being the formalisation of it..

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