“We shall find the object of which we are in quest about a mile from the gate by which we have entered on the moor. It is the top of a shaft, and one of the arms of a very curious old cross, and it is much to be lamented that it has been so mutilated.”, Crossing, p.26.
There can be no question that the object of Crossing’s quest would have at one time been the most ornate of all Dartmoor’s ancient crosses. Not only that, the cross design is so unique that it is the only example to be found throughout the Dartmoor National Park. The cross became a scheduled monument on the 22nf of October 1991,
Spurrell’s (Purl’s, Spurls, Purles, or Pearl’s) Cross sits aside what today is known as the Two Moors Way. It is thought that amongst this plethora of alternative names it is Spurrell’s which is the favourite as this is the name of the Spurwell family of nearby Harford and another branch from Shaugh Prior, the Spurrels, Hemery, p.257.
Originally it would have served as wayside cross at a busy intersection of several trans-moor tracks. Amongst these were the old monastic track running from Plympton to Buckfast Abbey and the east to west Owley gate to Harford track. This very fact along with the cross’ proximity to numerous prehistoric ritual monuments would suggest that the location has had significant importance throughout the centuries. There is a map of Dartmoor taken from the sixteenth century Hiwisce Charter which shows there being a ‘Grey Stone’ sited at virtually the same location as Spurrell’s Cross. Again this would indicate the importance of this spot.
The actual date of the original cross is unknown but English Heritage dates it to the medieval period. In the east wall of the south porch of nearby Ermington church sits the head and arms of a very similar cross. According to English Heritage; “It is of pinitic granite, and has cusps of spurs features dating to the 15th century, on the head, arms and shaft.” As this particular design of cross is rare in Devon it may well be assumed that due to the similarity of the Ermington Cross both crosses date to the medieval period.
Sadly the story of this cross is one of destruction and restoration along with evidence of the vagaries of Dartmoor’s unforgiving weather. What is left of the cross today measures 1.74 metres in height with an arm span of 43.5 centimetres and a circumference of 93 centimetres sitting on a north – south alignments, Sandles, p.98.
When Crossing was describing the cross the mutilated head was simply placed on a pile of rocks and there was no sign of the shaft.
In 1931 the Dartmoor Preservation Society restored the old cross to some semblance of dignity, sadly the restoration didn’t last long as it was soon knocked down again. Some twenty three years later in 1954 Spurrell’s Cross was once again restored. This time it was under the direction of Masson Phillips with the work being carried out by the Dartmoor Preservation Society thanks to funding by the Dartmoor National Park Committee. Harrison, p.134. There is an actual photograph of two men re-erecting the cross in the Dartmoor Preservation Society’s book; ‘A Dartmoor Century, 1883 -1983′ which was taken from Masson Phillips’ collection. p.41.
Following an attempt to steal Spurrell’s Cross, this along with other granite artefacts around the moor were micro chipped. The idea being that should any artefact turn up for sale or at an auction it would allow the identification of the artefact telling exactly where it came from.
Crossing, W. 1987. The Ancient Stone Crosses of Dartmoor. Exeter: Devon Books.
Harrison, B. 2001. Dartmoor Stone Crosses. Tiverton: Halsgrove Publishing.
Hemery, E. 1983. High Dartmoor. London: Robert Hale.
Sandles, T. 1997. A Pilgrimage to Dartmoor’s Crosses. Liverton: Forest Publishing.