OS Grid Reference: SD 75471 13676. At the edge of Affetside village green, near Bury, Greater Manchester, stands an old cross of uncertain date. It is probably Medieval but, because it stands on the old Roman road (Watling Street), some historians have even considered it to be a Roman cross or milestone, or even a Roman column, but that seems unlikely. It is probably a pilgrims cross. Watling Street runs southeast from Affetside towards Manchester, and northwest in the opposite direction towards Ribchester. The village green has some modern standing stones and a large pond. Affetside Cross is best reached from the A 676 (Ramsbottom road) and then southeast for ½ a mile along the almost straight-running lane that is the Roman road, bringing you into the picturesque little village, where you’ll find the old cross beside the green – you can’t really miss it!
Affetside cross is about 4¼ feet high on its three steps, well actually two steps, as the top step is in effect the base which the gritstone shaft is socketed into, while the two lower circular, tiered steps are well worn with age. The shaft is formed from one complete length of local stone. At the top of the shaft there is a collar with a round or bun-shaped capital which may originally have held a stone cross, or maybe it never did? This is perhaps why the cross-shaft has taken on the appearance of a Roman column! There looks to be some faint carving on the shaft, or is this simply the mason’s tool marks. Thought to be Medieval in date and probably a pilgrims cross that was used ‘as a place to stop and pray for a safe journey’ by those weary but very religious travelers – making their way to Whalley Abbey by way of Bury, Ramsbottom, Helmshore, Holcombe Moor and Accrington – from the late 13th/early 14th century until the Dissolution of that holy place in 1537, when pilgrimages ceased. It would seem though the present monument is a market cross and more recent in age maybe 17th century, being re-erected about 1890, according to Pastscape.
The village of Affetside stands on the Roman road Watling Street which runs from here into Manchester (Mamucium) where there was a Roman fort and settlement, while in the opposite direction it runs to the fort at Ribchester (Bremetennacum). Is it possible that the pillar of the Affetside cross was a Roman milestone as the village is actually about halfway between the two forts; maybe it was re-fashioned by Medieval masons into what we see today. Or does the cross mark the site of a beacon – at which time an earlier monument or cross had stood here, apparently. These questions can never really be answered with certainty, we can only guess.
Authoress Jessica Lofthouse (1964) does not say anything about Affetside cross but she mentions the village and Roman road, saying that: “Driving the civilizing power of Rome through the north-west came Julius Agricola and his road-builders in 79 A.D. Follow the line of the Manchester-Ribchester highway through Affetside and north by Blacksnape and Over Darwen.”
Sources and related websites:-
Lofthouse, Jessica, Lancashire Countrygoer, Robert Hale Limited, London, 1964.
Shotter, D. C. A., Romans in Lancashire, Dalesman Publishing Company Ltd., Clapham, Yorkshire, 1973.
© Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2017.