The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland


St Peter’s Churchyard Cross, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire

Cross in the churchyard of St Peter’s Minster, Stoke-on-Trent. Front.

Saxon Cross, Stoke-on- Trent.

NGR: SJ 87931 45213. In the grassy graveyard of St Peter’s Minster on Glebe Street, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, are the remains of a Mercian cross-shaft on a stepped base, dating from the 10th century AD, although some historians think it might date from the 8th-9th century? The actual name and dedication of the Minster church is St Peter’s Ad Vincular (St Peter in Chains). There is visible decoration on the shaft of this preaching cross although it is now rather worn and weather-beaten, and there are cracks from previous damage. It is a Saxon cross, that is a certainty, the area itself being part of the Old Saxon Kingdom of Mercia; and the first church here (and indeed the cross) were of wood. This 7th Century church was probably associated with St Chad, bishop of Lichfield. The building that is now the minster was built in the 19th Century. The site can be reached from the centre of Stoke. Head west onto Glebe Street and a few hundred yards south of the town hall is St Peter’s Minster and its large graveyard; the cross stands on a stepped base behind modern iron railings.

Mercian cross-shaft in St Peter’s churchyard, Stoke. Front face.

The cross-shaft, without its cross-head if it ever had one, stands 4 feet high (1.3m) in a socketed stone upon a base of two chunky steps, which are probably of a 19th Century date, though the cross itself is probably 10th Century or a few hundred years before that. The monument is set within a paved surround. It is said to stand on, or near, the site of a wooden cross from which St Chad is said to have preached in the 7th Century. Sadly the shaft is quite worn with the carvings on one side being difficult to make out, but the front face has long vine scrolls and interlacing and, on the sides there looks to be some key-patterning, while the reverse side has a lot of knotwork and interlacing and, a series of holes that might have been done in recent times? The break across the middle of the shaft can clearly be seen but this does not detract from its great antiquity; the monument being carefully restored. At the base an inscription reads: ‘This fragment of a pre-Norman cross identified by Chas Lynam F.S.A. was re-erected near to its original position in the 25th year of the reign of H.M. King George V by P.W.L. Adams F.S.A.’ The cross-shaft is a Grade II listed monument.

There is a story or tale coming from St Peter’s Church that says the cross-shaft was discovered in 1876 by a gravedigger who spotted it being used as a door lintel inside the old church, which was being demolished to make way for a newer church building. During its recovery the shaft broke in two so it was placed in storage, but in 1935 it was formally identified by Mr Charles Lynam who had it restored and re-erected in the churchyard.

Doug Pickford (1994) tells us more about the site, saying: “At Stoke itself, meaning a fortified stockade, and the collective name so often (wrongly) given to this area there is the Church of St Peter and nearby is the base and trunk of an ancient preaching cross. Was this cross, I wonder, a stone monolith before it was used for preaching. Perhaps in earlier times it was used for praying to, not preaching from. Stoke was most probably a fortified place holding out from the old Britons who took refuge in the high Staffordshire moorlands.”

The very large Minster churchyard also has some re-erected stone arches from an earlier church; and amongst the many in-teresting graves there is the one of Josiah Wedgwood of Burslem and Etruria (1730-1795) the famous master potter; another of Josiah Spode of Stoke-on-Trent (1733-1797) who was also a famous pottery manufacturer, and the grave of Charles Bourne (1775-1836) the pottery manufacturer of Fenton. There is also a commemorative ceramic (mosaic) seat in the churchyard, which was installed in 2000.

Mercian cross at Stoke- on-Trent (reverse side).

The earliest origins of Stoke-upon-Trent go back to at least 800 AD, but probably further back to the 7th Century. It would seem the Saxon name was Stoiche or Stoche – a stockade, but there was no mention of the Church of Stoke in Domesday, though there was a brief mention of it in ‘The description of Caverswall’. The name and its probable meaning have been considered to be: ‘the place of the church’, ‘place by or next to a church’, or ‘settlement beside a church’; the latter name being the most likely. In St Peter’s Minster can be seen a baptismal font that was in use as a garden ornament. It is thought to be of Saxon origins. In 1932 it was restored and put back into use in the church. Also in St Peter’s there are a number of monuments and marble memorial tablets to the ‘great-and-the-good’ of Stoke-on-Trent’s pottery manufacturing history, which brought about, and shaped the Industrial Revolution in the Potteries of North Staffordshire.

Adrian Room (1993) adds more, saying: “This well-known city has a basic name derived from the Old English stoc (place), as considered for STOKE-BY- NAYLAND. It is more likely that the meaning here is ‘dependent settlement’, as there is no evi-dence for the latter sense. The addition of the river name distinguishes this Stoke from the hundreds of others. The name of this city, perhaps the best known example, was recorded as Stoche in the Domesday Book.” 

The PastScape monument no is: 75813.

Sources & References:-

Pickford, Doug, Staffordshire — Its Magic & Mystery, Sigma Leisure, Wilmslow, Cheshire, 1994.

Room, Adrian, Dictionary Of Place-Names In The British Isles, Blitz Editions (Bookmart Limited), Enderby, Leicester, 1993.

History & Heritage

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2019.






The Major Oak, Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire

The Major Oak in Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire.*

NGR:- SK 62048 67908. In Sherwood Forest Country Park, beside Robin Hood’s Way, ½ a mile north of Edwinstowe, in Nottinghamshire, is the much-photographed ‘Major Oak’, an ancient English oak tree that has stood here for many hundreds of years and, according to legend, it gave shelter to the outlaw Robin Hood, the much talked about legendary figure of Sherwood Forest and Nottingham.  According to legend Robin and Maid Marian were married in Edwinstowe Church. This giant English oak tree was originally called ‘The Great Oak’ and ‘Queen’s Oak’, but in 1806 it was renamed after a well-known military man of local repute. It has a huge girth and an equally great height though it has often proved difficult to measure exactly. The Major Oak has over the centuries been a place to meet and gather for local people, and in more recent times a place to ‘sit beneath’ and be photographed! At the northeastern side of Edwinstowe: take either of two footpaths running northwest (through Sherwood Forest) for a ¼ of a mile or so from the B6034. The tree stands on Broad Drive which is also called Robin Hood’s Way.

The Major Oak in Sherwood Forest (Drawing).+

The Major Oak, Great Oak, Queen’s Oak or Cockpen Tree has probably stood here in Sherwood Forest for 1,000 years. This Pedunculate oak is a native English oak tree with the Latin name ‘Quercus Robur’; the peduncles being its longish stalks carrying the acorns. It is distinguished from sessile oak by its spreading rather than ascending branches, leaves with rounded bases on short stalks and acorns on long stalks or peduncles, according to The Woodland Trust (2007). Measuring the tree has always proved to be difficult.  Its circumference (girth) is said to be somewhere between 30-33 feet (9-10.5m) and its height in the region of 52 feet (16m), and it weighs in at 23 tons (how did they manage to work that one out). Its canopy is said to extend outwards by 92 feet (28m); many of its large branches are now supported by wooden stakes. Down the years many local people have sheltered, and had their photo taken, beneath this famous oak tree, but back in the mists of time the legendary outlaw Robin Hood and his Merry Men hid beneath its bows – no doubt hiding from the Sheriff of Nottingham’s soldiers, or the infamous Sir Guy of Gisborne! 

Garry Hogg (1968) says of the site that it is: “off B6034, half a mile north of Edwinstowe. A five-minute walk through Sher-wood Forest leads you to this extraordinary survivor. It is the largest, if not the tallest, tree in the country. It is a Samson among oaks, forty to fifty feet in girth at breast height, half as much again at ground level, its lower boughs as massive as many an oak-tree bole. A dozen and more people can be accommodated at once within its lightning-blasted shell. It is claimed to be at least six centuries old; certainly it exudes an aura of antiquity that seems to date it back well beyond the age of the baronial castle and the pele towers of the Border.”  

Old B/w Postcard: The Major Oak, and its guardian (seated).

Pat Mayfield (1976) tells of Sherwood Forest, saying: “Many people looked upon the trees within the forest of Sherwood as being immortal, and indeed they must have seemed so, for where our lives might be expected to be counted in tens of years the trees’ lives could be counted in hundreds. More especially was this so because the majority of the trees in Sherwood were in fact oaks and grew to an enormous size and age. I have heard many visitors express their disappointment at the present size of Sherwood Forest, and this must seem to them a very little forest when compared with the days of the legendary Robin Hood. What most people forget to take into account is the fact England is now much more highly populated than it was in those days, and that we have also had the industrial revolution and coal mining brought onto the scene, for which both labour and houses were required. For these reasons trees were cut down fairly extensively, and the forests which once covered the whole of central England have now dwindled to a few hundred acres. Fire, too, has played its part in the destruction of the forest, but nevertheless we do have at least some of it left to remind us of days gone by.”  

Mayfield adds that: “The Major Oak, as it is now called, is reached by the footpath which starts at the Edwinstowe corner of the forest. It was once known as the Queen’s Oak, but it was re-named in 1806 after a Major Rooke. The tree is 30 feet in circumference, although many of its heavier boughs now have to be supported by chains.” 

Tom Stephenson (1946) says that the Oak tree has: “Pride of place among British indigenous trees must certainly be given to the oak. Its roots are deeply buried in our history, and it is one of the few undoubted native trees of this island of ours.

“Among the early inhabitants of Britain the oak was always the object of special veneration, and druidical religious rites and primitive courts of justice used to be held under its branches. Later, the oak acquired great importance for the construction of ships. The “wooden walls of England” or “hearts of oak,” as they have been called, were all made from the tough timber of this tree, the angular branches of which were especially conveniently shaped for the frames of wooden ships. 

“The oak is a magnificent, sturdy tree, and develops a huge strong trunk, firmly rooted in the ground, and massive spreading limbs. It is a very long-lived tree and some oaks seem to be almost eternal, century after century having passed over their heads and left them unchanged. Some rugged old veterans are estimated to have lived for over 2,000 years.”  

Sources / References & related websites:-  

Hogg, Garry, Odd Aspects of England, David & Charles (Publishers) Limited, Newton Abbot, Devon, 1968.

Mayfield, Pat, Legends of Nottinghamshire, The Dalesman Publishing Company Ltd., Clapham, North Yorkshire, 1976.

*Stephenson, Tom (Edt.), The Countryside Companion, Odhams Press Limited, London, 1946.

+The AA, The Illustrated Road Book Of England & Wales, The Automobile Association, London, 1961.

The Woodland Trust, Woodland Trees, Autumn Park, Grantham, Lincolnshire, 2007.

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2019.