Since the first early Christian stone crosses appeared on Dartmoor there has been a constant ebb and flow of their numbers down through the ages. It seems that some disappear whilst other are discovered or rediscovered, one such example of this is the supposed cross head on Three Barrows Hill. Since being recorded it has vanished and then suddenly to reappear and then vanish again, in this case it is probably due its site being somewhere amongst three large cairns and the cross head getting lost amongst the other stones. Today there are around 160 known stone crosses or fragments of shafts and heads dotted around Dartmoor. It would be safe to say that over the centuries many more once existed and have now vanished in one way or another. Likewise there are no doubt others waiting to be rediscovered, But why have so many vanished? Originally one has to look to the early Puritan era of the 16th and 17th centuries when crosses were regarded as popish icons and where therefore destroyed. It was thought that in some cases the people who were sent to destroy the stone crosses could not bring themselves to carry out such and act. In order to seemingly comply with their orders they simply hid the crosses or smashed them up and stashed the pieces for later restoration. There are several examples of cross pieces or indeed crosses themselves built into both external and internal walls of buildings or gardens. This is not however to say that every such example that was placed in a wall was hidden there it could equally as well be due to another common cause of the crosses disappearance. This second cause was simply man’s idleness, when building a wall it was always easier to ‘re-cycle’ granite from existing features than cart it down from the moor. This has been proven nationwide from building and walls in the vicinity of such places as Avebury to Hadrian’s Wall, and Dartmoor was no exception. There have been examples on the moor of stone crosses having their arms knocked off and then used as gateposts, bridges, roof supports and as wall components. Likewise the socket stones have been utilised as drinking troughs, well troughs and garden ornaments. Many people have said that this was down to the moorman’s ignorance and scant regard for antiquities but it is still happening today, although for another reason. In latter times it has become fashionable to use such relics as garden ornaments. One such example being the old wayside cross that now stands on the back lawn of Canonteign Barton which clearly is not its original site. It is not secret that all of the granite crosses and other features found around the moor are now micro-chipped to enable them to be identified should they ever go missing.
During the 1930s Mr. Masson-Phillips undertook at detailed study of the stone crosses in Devon, not only did he record the ones that were standing he also noted the various fragments of crosses which included shafts, heads, and socket stones. Whilst many of the moor crosses are well documented in several books, including mine, many of the missing ones are not. Below is a list of 33 lesser known crosses that are recorded in the English Heritage Pastscape Records, the majority of them are the result of Masson-Phillips’ work. You will see that 14 of the crosses or cross fragments he observed in the 1930s are now missing which can only mean their losses are recent. In some cases the only evidence of a stone cross is an entry on an early document as sometime in the past the cross vanished. If you would like further information on the crosses then follow the link which will take you to each individual Pastscape Record which has more information.
|Name/Location||OS Grid Ref.||
|Ashburton, 11 North Street||SX 75525991||Cross shaft, chamfered edges, 1.21mL||Click – HERE|
|Ashburton, St. Lawrence Lane||SX 7572 6981||Cross base, once at Our Lady’s Well||Click – HERE|
|Ashburton, St. Lawrence Lane||SX 7565 6982||Socket Stone – missing||Click – HERE|
|Auswell Rocks, near||SX 7403 7185||Shortacrosse, marked 1605 map – missing||Click – HERE|
|Belstone Church||SX 6191 9350||Cross Slab, dated 4th – 12th century||Click – HERE|
|Buckland Ford||SX 6596 6604||Noted in 1557 bounds, now missing||Click – HERE|
|Christow||SX 83?? 82??||Cross shaft – missing||Click – HERE|
|Drewsteignton||SX 7076 9098||Site of Stone Cross, now missing||Click – HERE|
|Gidleigh||SX 6707 8846||Cross stood in castle grounds, now missing||Click – HERE|
|Gisperdown Farm||SX 6990 6300||Cross head – one arm, 2 incised †||Click – HERE|
|Hennock||SX 8306 8085||Cross socket base, now pump trough||Click – HERE|
|Inglett’s Farm||SX 6963 6898||Cross Shaft – octagonal, 0.25mL x 0.20mD||
Click – HERE
|Langdon Farm||SX 7231 8284||Latin Cross, reported in 1968, now missing||Click – HERE|
|Langston||SX 6731 9011||Reported site of cross, now missing||Click – HERE|
|Little Links Tor||SX 5459 8706||Cross head and arms||No Record|
|Lower Lowry||SX 5559 6927||Site of cross, now missing||Click – HERE|
|Merripit Hill||SX 65?? 80??||Site of medieval cross, now missing||Click – HERE|
|Peter Tavy||SX 512? 777?||Cross shaft, now gatepost at Churchtown Cott.||Click – HERE|
|Peter Tavy||SX 512? 777?||Part of hexagonal cross shaft, now missing||Click – HERE|
|Postbridge||SX 64?? 78??||Supposed site of Maggie Cross||Click – HERE|
|Sheepstor||SX 5513 6694||Cross shaft in wall at Yeo Farm||Click – HERE|
|South Brent||SX 6978 6012||Known site, cross broken up||Click – HERE|
|South Brent Playing Field||SX 7010 5991||Cross Shaft – 1.61mL||Click – HERE|
|Sticklepath||SX 6404 9407||Small cross, now on roof of Methodist Chapel||Click – HERE|
|Stidston Cross||SX 7153 6038||Alleged site of wayside cross||Click – HERE|
|Teigncombe Farm||SX 6736 8714||Cross base serving as a gatepost||Click – HERE|
|Three Barrows||SX 65?? 62??||Noted in 1557, now missing||Click – HERE|
|Throwleigh Barton||SX 6688 9079.||Cross shaft found in wall, location unknown||Click – HERE|
|Walkhampton||SX 53?? 69??||Documented site of cross||Click – HERE|
|Waye Barton Farm||SX 6885 8695||Cross used as gatepost, now missing||Click – HERE|
|Welltown||SX 5410 7000||Cross shaft supporting roof of pig house||Click – HERE|
|Welstor Cross||SX 7395 7211||Benecrosse, marked 1605 map – missing||Click – HERE|
|Widecombe Churchyard Wall||SX 7181 7670||Cross & part of shaft, in E. wall, missing||Click – HERE|
|Key. L = long, D = diameter † = incised cross|
So in conclusion, it could be suggested that there are three main reasons for the disappearance of the stone crosses of Dartmoor: religious thinking, ‘re-cycling’ for use in other structures and simple theft.
Having looked at the ‘ebb’ of Dartmoor cross numbers what about their ‘flow’, why do they come to light today? This can be attributed to two main reasons, firstly modern man’s mobility and secondly a general awareness of antiquities through varying media sources. Mans’ mobility, how does that compute? Simply because today it is much easier to get around Dartmoor which means larger numbers of people walking around the moors, lanes, villages and towns who spot the ‘odd’ thing poking out of the ground or lurking in an ivy covered wall. The latest discovery of a possible cross head was made last year when a couple of letterboxers spotted it poking out of the ground near Little Links Tor. If they had not been letterboxing in that area and found it by chance then it would still be lying there undiscovered.
These days archaeology and history are quite popular subjects thanks to such broadcasts as The Time Team, Meet the Ancestors and numerous documentaries. The internet has provided many online research opportunities via numerous databases and documental access. All of these factors have driven a general increase of interest in varying aspects of history and archaeology, that means more people are aware, should they take an interest, of what features exist. More people are spending time in local record offices and so are coming across documental evidence that had either been overlook or recently discovered, again this can give clues to the possible locations of lost crosses. Compare this with 100 years ago when the only chance of discovering crosses was by walking past them or listening to local tradition. Today if a person in China wanted to know what a Dartmoor cross looked like they simply go to Google Image Search which will provide hundreds of examples. One hundred years ago they would have no chance and wouldn’t recognise one if it fell on them – a bit extreme, but get my drift?
Some crosses have been discovered when old houses have been renovated, for example the cross shaft found at Throwleigh Barton. Again, mobility, people move to Dartmoor and then decide to make alterations to their houses when, hey presto, whilst knocking down a wall a stone cross appears.
Anyway, there you have it, some come and others go and at the very least it is important to record the sites of these missing crosses even though they are no longer in existence and to record the locations of newly rediscovered ones.