The Destruction of Banbury's Crosses - A Memorial

Back to Faith Trail......................Back to Banbury Town Horse

On July 1st 2000, as part of the town's Hobby Horse Festival, the destruction of Banbury's medieval crosses was commemorated with a short performance telling the story of this act of puritan vandalism.

It was written by Stephen Wass and performed by Stephen and Verna Wass together with Etty Martin and Colin Street.

The performance took place in Banbury's market place outside the old Corn Exchange and next to a plaque, recently let into the ground to mark the site of the original high cross.

Stephen Wass reads from Matthew Knight's deposition of 1604. Verna Wass carries a flag especially embroidered for the occasion and a stray hobby horse looks on.

July 2000

[Enter company with a great beating of drums!
They clamber onto an impromptu platform].

Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross
To see an old woman get up on her horse
A ring on her finger, a bonnet of straw,
The strangest old woman that ever you saw

Tune: "Old Woman'

Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross
To see what Tommy can buy
A penny white loaf, a penny white cake
And a tuppenny apple pie

"The fairest street in the town lyeth by west and east down to the river of Charwelle. And the west part of this street is a large area environed with meatly good building having a goodly cross with many degrees about it. Here is kept every Thursday a very celebrate
market." Leland 1535

Tune: "Banbury Bill'

[All this time a flag bearing an image of the cross has been slowly unfurling.]

"A man in and of Grimsbury in the parish of Banbury called John Trafford when he came to the cross would leave it on his right hand and put off his hat when he came by there."

[Cries of "Idolatry!"]

"There was a very fair and large market cross with fair large and broad stone steps the same being four square and on each side the lower step being in length 27 foot or thereabouts and having eight steps upwards being furnished with market people and sundry sorts of victual and provision."
Deposition of Matthew Knight 1604

"In the later years of Elizabeth I's reign Banbury became widely known as a centre of extreme puritanism. Its member Sir Anthony Cope was vociferous in parliament, its ministers prophetic in the pulpit and its people frenzied iconoclasts who wrought havoc in the church and...

To Banbury came I, o profane one,
There I saw a puritan one
A hanging his cat on Monday
For killing a mouse on Sunday

.... destroying the cross"
E.R.C. Brinkworth MA

Tune: Jameko

[Interrupted by a ranter...] ''This serves no profitable, laudable or pious end at all, it is born only from the inbred fancy, vanity, wantoness, incontinency, pride and profaneness or madness of men's depraved natures."

[All this time the fully unfurled flag has been waving overhead. A slow drum beat begins]

Standing upon my shoppe door near upon the sun rising I did see Thomas Colling and John West, masons, go up the steps of the high cross with their stone axes and tools and when they were at the top thereof they began to hew at the stone where a very large and long spire stood. I charged them in the Queens majesties name to give over their proceedings and the said workmen gave over their said work and left some of their tools lying behind them and went away from thence.

Tune: Off She goes

Having been to some of the ancientist alderman of the borough to see if they had given their consent for pulling down of the said high cross I returned to see standing and being round about the said cross Richard Wheatley, Thomas Wheatley and Henry Shewell and a great company of people more to the number of 150.
William Knight with a great voice did encourage and animate the said workman saying,

[A voice calls from the crowd] 'Come let us down with it and down with it quickly'

and presently the spire of the said high cross did fall to the ground ......

[The flag is thrown high and falls to the ground.]

to the great discontentment of many that were present. the said Sewell cried out,
[A voice again calls from the crowd] 'God be thanked, their god Dagon is fallen down!'

and took a stone axe and hewed a picture of the crucifix into small pieces.'
Deposition of Matthew Knight 1604

Tune: Jameko [mournfully]

"The crosses also, like old stumps of trees,
or stooles for horsemen that have feeble knees
Carry no heads above the ground..."
Bishop Corbet 1621

[Someone pushes forward with many 'excure me's]
"Many of the respectable and influential inhabitants of the town, hearing with regret that, instead of some lasting memorial being erected in the town to celebrate the the marriage of the Princess Royal, a subscription has been set on foot for a ball! Any money that may be subscribed will be frittered away to no lasting good. We therefore appeal to our fellow townsmen to erect some substantial memorial such as an historical cross"

[Flag shouldered and march off in the direction of The Cross. ]

Tune: British Man-o-War