One of the most interesting items in our collection is one that has been very easy to walk straight past without realising its significance. This is the base of the High Cross which, from 1431 – 1821, sat at the junction of High Street and Bridge Street to signify the location of a market.
This assumes additional interest when one stops to realise that William Shakespeare would have most likely walked past the cross as he made his way about town, particularly as it lay on the main route between the Birthplace on Henley Street and the Grammar School on High Street.
The first reference to this cross can be found in the accounts of the masters and proctors of the Guild of the Holy Cross who, in 1431, made payments to Thomas Burton, a mason, for “making a cross” and also incurred other expenses for “beer given and expended at the raising of the High Cross”. [BRT1/3/42]
It appears that further improvements had been made by 1478 – 1479 as more payments were made by the Guild including 16d to one Richard Smyth “for hanging the clock at the High Cross”. [BRT1/3/91]
Various other documents in our collections make reference to the Cross – from the earliest map of Stratford-upon-Avon in 1759 through to this lovely painting of the Garrick Jubilee which shows the cross decorated for the celebrations.
The cross was demolished in 1821 and a new Market House, now Barclay’s Bank, was built in its place. Captain James Saunders, whom we have encountered before in these blogs, rescued the base and moved it to the garden of his house in town. He died in 1830, and in 1861 the base was sold to the Guardians and Trustees of Shakespeare’s Birthplace. It has been in our care ever since, firstly in the garden of the Birthplace and later in various exhibitions in the Shakespeare Centre.
The cross is now back on display in our new exhibition, Famous Beyond Words, so be sure to stop and explore this 600-year-old piece of Stratford’s history the next time you visit.
BRT1/3/1-119 Accounts of the masters and proctors of the Guild of the Holy Cross, 1353-1504
ER1/48 f.22 Winter map, 1759
TR2/1/1 Minutes of the Trustees and Guardians of Shakespeare’s Birthplace, 1847 - 1890
SBT 1993-31/210 Scene at the High Cross during the Garrick Jubilee, British School, 18th Century
The Market House, Stratford-upon-Avon by Robert Bearman (Stratford-upon-Avon Society, 1990)
Stratford-upon-Avon: a history of its streets and buildings by Robert Bearman (Stratford-upon-Avon Society, 2007)