Witney Butter Cross, Oxon, the town whence blankets come, has a central pillar which stands on three steps, the superstructure being supported on thirteen circular pillars. An inscription on the lantern above records the following:—
Armiger de Coggs
It has a steep roof, gabled and stone-slated, which is not improved by the pseudo-Gothic barge-boards, added during the restorations.
Many historical events of great importance have taken place at these market crosses which have been so hardly used. Kings were always proclaimed here at their accession, and would-be kings have also shared that honour. Thus at Lancaster in 1715 the Pretender was proclaimed king as James III, and, as we have stated, the Duke of Monmouth was proclaimed king at Taunton and Bridgwater. Charles II received that honour at Lancaster market cross in 1651, nine years before he ruled. Banns of marriage were published here in Cromwell’s time, and these crosses have witnessed all the cruel punishments which were inflicted on delinquents in the “good old days.” The last step of the cross was often well worn, as it was the seat of the culprits who sat in the stocks. Stocks, whipping-posts, and pillories, of which we shall have much to say, always stood nigh the cross, and as late as 1822 a poor wretch was tied to a cart-wheel at the Colne Cross, Lancashire, and whipped.
Sometimes the cross is only a cross in name, and an obelisk has supplanted the Christian symbol. The change is deemed to be attributable to the ideas of some of the Reformers who desired to assert the supremacy of the Crown over the Church. Hence they placed an orb on the top of the obelisk surmounted by a small, plain Latin cross, and later on a large crown took the place of the orb and cross. At Grantham the Earl of Dysart erected an obelisk which has an inscription stating that it occupies the site of the Grantham Eleanor cross. This is a strange error, as this cross stood on an entirely different site on St. Peter’s Hill and was destroyed by Cromwell’s troopers. The obelisk replaced the old market cross, which was regarded with much affection and reverence by the inhabitants, who in 1779, when it was taken down by the lord of the manor, immediately obtained a mandamus for its restoration. The Mayor and Corporation still proclaim the Lent Fair in quaint and archaic language at this poor substitute for the old cross.
[Illustration: Under the old Butter Cross, Whitney Oxon]
One of the uses of the market cross was to inculcate the sacredness of bargains. There is a curious stone erection in the market-place at Middleham, Yorkshire, which seems to have taken the place of the market cross and to have taught the same truth. It consists of a platform on which are two pillars; one carries the effigy of some animal in a kneeling posture, resembling a sheep or a cow, the other supports an octagonal object traditionally supposed to represent a cheese. The farmers used to walk up the opposing flights of steps when concluding a bargain and shake hands over the sculptures.