Gloucester’s High Cross, by Liz Jack

Gloucester's High Cross, as shown in the 1455 Gloucester rental

Gloucester’s High Cross, as shown in the 1455 Gloucester rental

Every year, on New Year’s Eve, Gloucester residents gather at ‘The Cross’ to celebrate the coming of the New Year.  The vast majority of them believe that The Cross is so-named because it is where the four ‘Gate’ streets meet in the middle of the city.  Not so!  It is named after the original stone memorial cross that stood at the junction for hundreds of years.

Known as the High Cross or Alta Crux, it began its life in the 13th century.  In a rental compiled in 1455 (Gloucestershire Archives reference: GBR J5/1) there is a sketch of the cross as it was in the 15th century, showing how the lower section had been adapted with pipes to supply water from Robinswood Hill to the city centre.

It is believed that the Cross was rebuilt during the reign of Henry VII and again during the reign of his son, Henry VIII.

By the eighteen century, the memorial stood nearly 35 feet tall; the edifice was octagonal in shape at the base and above it consisted of two sections plus a steeple.  The lower section held the water pipes whilst the upper of the two sections held statues of previous sovereigns of England, King John, Henry III and Eleanor his wife, Edward III, Richard II, Richard III, Elizabeth I and Charles I.

A more impressive recent image of the High Cross is displayed at Gloucestershire Archives.  It shows an engraving made by George Vertue after a sketch by T. Ricketts.

This magnificent piece of sculpture stood proudly in the centre of Gloucester until 1751, when it was considered a nuisance to passing traffic.  The Gloucester Journal of 5th November 1751 states:

This week was taken down, for better Conveniency of Carriages, our ANTIENT CROSS, round which were the Effigies of several of our illustrious Kings and Queens; of which curious Pieces of Antiquity particular Draughts have, however, been taken by the Famous Mr Rickets of this City, pursuant to an Order from the Society of Antiquities in London, to whom they are sent that they may be preserv’d to latest Posterity.

During my research at the Archives I found a small book, handwritten in the 1750s by Samuel Gwinnett, junior.  His father, Reverend Samuel Gwinnett, was the vicar of Down Hatherley near Gloucester but also the curate of St. Nicholas’ Church in Westgate Street.

Whilst at University in Oxford, Samuel, junior, wrote a series of poems, many to a young woman he called ‘Celia of Gloucester’, obviously the love of his life at that time.  Amongst these was one relating to the destruction of Gloucester’s High Cross:

On Our Worthy Corporation of

Gloucester’s pulling down the Cross

venerable with the statues of our old kings

upon his majesty’s Birthday.

When factions banish’d Quiet from the Plain

And wild Disorder shook a Stewart’s Reign

Gotham’s rude Sons, for Civil Discord fam’d

At Monarch Sway with deadly rancour teem’d

Nor ceas’d to thunder with Rebellion’s Tongues,

‘Till Charles’s Blood assuag’d their groundless Wrongs.

Republic Maxim’s did their bosoms fire,

And still the Youngkling apes his Patriot Sire.

For tho’ each Burgher round the Festive Bowl

To Thee, Great George! May pledge his drunken soul;

Yet should black Clouds arise, & strike at Kingly Power

To distant Climes thy tender Offspring drive,

Nor let one Mark of Royalty survive!

For while in gaudy Pomp & rich Array,

Brittania joyous hails thy Natal Day:

While Laureate Cibber’s in Bastion Rhimes

Applauds the Blessings of the present Times!-

With impious hands lo! Gotham’s Senate dare

Deform those Busts, that Regal Badges wear.

Blush!  Blush!  Nor thus your Zeal to Kings proclaim; –

For who at once reveres & stabs a name?

Samuel Gwinnett, Junior, c.1751


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