Ancient Crosses of Lancashire

The following are all extracts from The Ancient Crosses of Lancashire: the hundred of West Derby by Henry Taylor (1902).


In Baines’s Lancashire an old print is reproduced showing the village of Liverpool as it existed when both the castle (of which the Molyneux family were hereditary constables) and the embattled house of the Stanleys were still standing near the river. Between the retainers of these great families actual fighting took place in the streets in 1424. Owing to the rapid and enormous increase of this city almost all landmarks, including these buildings, have been swept away.* Liverpool, however, was not without the symbols at least of Christianity and peace and goodwill to men, for it had no less than five crosses. These are shown on an old map in the Binns collection at Liverpool. They were as follows:-

  • The High Cross, at the junction of Castle Street, High Street, Water Street, and Dale Street.
  • The White Cross, at the junction of Tithebarn Street, Oldhall Street, and Chapel Street.
  • The Red Cross, at the junction of Castle Street with Red Cross Street.
  • Towns-end Cross, at the junction of William Brown Street and Byrom Street, where the Technical Schools are now built.
  • S. Patrick’s Cross, at the junction of Tithebarn Street, Vauxhall Road, Marybone, and Hatton Garden.

The whole of these crosses have disappeared, but I give below all the information which I have been able to glean about them.

*It seems almost incredible that in the year 1565 the population was only about seven hundred.)

The history if the “Red Cross” is involved in some obscurity. On the map of Liverpool already referred to in the year 1539, the “Red Cross” is distincly marked in the position described above.

In Brookes History of Liverpool (published in 1853), the author states that a market for the sale of provisions, vegetables, butter, &t., was established early in the eighteenth century on the south side of S. George’s Church, where Alderman Tarleton afterwards erected an obelisk of red stone, which was called the “Red Cross” or “Tarleton’s Obelisk.” This fact, however, does not necessarily prove that a medieval cross did not stand on this site, for market crosses were rebuilt all over England many times over in the course of centuries.

The same author states that the “High Cross,” which was known to have stood at the junction of Castle Street, Water Street, and Dale Street, at the middle of the sixteenth century, for butcher’s meat, fish, and vegetables, was removed in the years 1673 to make way for the new town hall. Mr. Brooke tells us that a portion of the ancient cross called the “White Cross” was in existence within the memory of persons recently living, close to where the “White Cross” Market used to be held, and that the remains of “S. Patrick’s Cross” were not removed until a few years after the year 1775.

In an interesting article on “Lancashire Hearth Taxes” (Transactions of the Hsitoric Society, Lancashire and Cheshire, 1900) Mr. W. Ferguson Irvine says: “In 1701, the Earl of Macclesfield, who has superseded Lord Molyneux as constable of the castle, died, and the office, ins spite of Lord Molyneux’s claim to it as hereditary in his family, was given to Lord Rivers. The Corporation of Liverpool was at this time the tenant of the site…” One of the main objects of the application for the grant of the site of the castle was the scheme for making the new market there. The town suffered great inconvenience from the want of a proper market. the corn market was at the High Cross; the butchers occupied part of the area of the present exchange; the potato, shoe, and yarn market was at the White Cross, between Oldhall Street and High Street.

Mr. Irvine, in this article, quotes a letter written at that time about the markets, as follows: “I would propose, and I hope it will look faire, that the Butchers be at the new markett; the Butter, Cheese, and Poultry about the Change, as the Butchers were: The Corne markett as formerly, the Yarn markett, and the Pottatos at the White Cross.”

Some additional notes on the Liverpool crosses are given in the Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire (1897), recording some discoveries recently made through the laying of electric wires. These notes are as follows:-

Almost at the centre of the street [the ancient High Street], and close to the surface, lay three large blocks of yellow stone about three feet long, two wide, and one thick, much worn and damaged. These lay exactly on the spot where the White Cross is known to have stood, and though they cannot be said with certainty to have belonged to its base, their position and character are suggestive.

The following notes occur in a paper contributed by Lieutenant-Colonel Fishwick, on “Lancashire in the Time of Charles II.,” to the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, vol. xxxiii.: “In 1654 the streets of Liverpool were first lighted, the order on the town books being ‘that two lanthorne’s with two candles burning every night in the dark moon be set out at the High Cross and at the White Cross, and places prepared to set them in every night till eight of the clock.’” *

*In Liverpool in the Reign of Charles II., by Sir Edward Moore, edited by W.F. Irvine, are several references to the various crosses and markets in the town, which would interest those who desire to follow up this subject; and similarly in The Moore Rental (Chetham Society, 1847).
There can be little doubt that religion was promoted and stimulated in Liverpool by the inmates of Birkenhead priory, and it may be that the erection of the some of the ancient crosses in that town is due to their piety. Dr. Halley writes:-

Liverpool was becoming at that time a place of some importance. As early as the reign of Henry II. its fishermen and traders had been incorporated, and in the time of Edward I. they were able to defray the expenses of sending two representatives to Parliament. In the reign of Edward III. the ancient chapel of St. Nicholas, an appurtenance of the Vicarage of Walton, was consecrated as a sanctuary, in and around which the inhabitants of the chapelry had the privilege of interring their dead…. Of the ecclesiastics residing near Liverpool the prior of Birkenhead was the most considerable. He claimed property in the ferry for carrying passengers and goods across the Mersey, and the monopoly of providing accommodation for them on his own side of the water….

The invention and general adoption of railways brought about an amazing change throughout the whole of the country towns of England. During the eighteenth century and at the beginning of the nineteenth the Lancashire and Cheshire gentry, when the weather became dreary in the autumn and winter, and the roads impassable,* moved for a time into their town houses in Manchester, Liverpool, Chester, Stockport, Preston, Lancaster, Ormskirk, and elsewhere. These towns were thus for a time the centres of social life, the market place and the market cross being places of resort for the discussion of foreign and domestic affairs. Note merely were punishments inflicted at the market cross, but “Notices” of every description were affixed to it. Thus, in Notes and Queries for January 12th 1901, we are informed that lists of those persons who took out certificates for hair powder (one guinea each) were to be fixed on the market cross and on the church or chapel.

* The following extract from Diary of Nicolas Blundell shows the terrible state of the roads at the beginning of the eighteenth century: “1724, Dec.8. – Fanny and I went to Wigan to be under Dr. Frans. Worthington, our health being very bad. The coach was overturned, and when we came neare Wigan it was laid fast the rode being so deep; we left it in the laine all night, and we went with our horses to Wigan, where we lodged at Kendall’s, the legs of man.”

Crosses in the Southern Part of the West Derby Hundred, Between Liverpool and Warrington

The ordnance maps show the sites or remains of no less than twenty ancient crosses in this part of Lancashire. Many have disappeared since the date of the 1848 survey. Some highly interesting notes by the Rev. Austin Powell concerning the crosses of this district appear in the volume for 1887 of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire. This district (about ten miles from east to west and five from north to south) is a small oasis of old-world rural Lancashire hedged in by great manufacturing towns. The country is pretty and undulating, and contains several fine parks.

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