OS grid reference: SJ 9835 5662. St Edward’s parish church is located on Church Street the A523 road just to the north-west of the market-place in Leek town centre. In the churchyard stand two ancient preaching crosses from the 7th-11th centuries, one of which is called a Mercian cross, the other is of Anglo-Norse origins, while inside the church there are a number of fragmentary pieces of Anglo-Saxon stone carvings and, also the famous ‘Calvary Stone’ also known as the ‘Tree of Life Stone’, which dates from about the same period – the 10th century.
The tallest of the two churchyard crosses stands at the side of the church near the chancel door. It is 10-11 feet high and stands on a more recent stepped base, the original base being a large unhewn lump of stone with a Latin inscription. This cross has a round-shaped shaft that gradually tapers away, above a prominent collar, towards the top where the wheel-head is broken and missing. Sadly, the cross is now quite worn although some carvings can still be made out near the top of the shaft, especially on the collar, which is an interweaving pattern fashioned in the form of a flowing serpentine with it’s designwork from the Scandinavian school of carving and, above that a single long loop of thick ropework with interlacing inside that on all four faces. Below the decorated collar are three rather crude heads that are different on the north, south and east faces, but each one generally having long, flowing and curling hairstyles. There is an old saying that: “When the churchyard cross shall disappear Leek town will not last another year”. This may happen sooner rather than later as [this cross] is said to be sinking further into the ground every year.
The second churchyard cross standing close to the main entrance is 8 foot high on its modern square-shaped base. It is a restored rectangular cross-shaft of what is referred to as “the Mercian type”. The carvings on the front face are a panel of interlacing and interlocking strands. However, on the other faces what is left of any decoration is badly worn away. This cross was found broken in three sections and has had to be restored to as good as can possibly be.
Inside the 13th century church at the north-west corner of the nave is a collection of Anglo-Saxon stones, the best of which is the so-called ‘Calvary Stone’ or ‘The Staff of Life Stone’. This 10th century lump of stone shows Christ carrying his cross, or perhaps it is a figure carrying a long sword or spear with which to kill the mythical serpent, this one looking like a long worm! The head of another serpent can be seen at the bottom of the stone. The carving could, in fact, be a depiction of ‘The Tree of Life’. On the edges of this stone there is some typical Saxon knotwork. There is also a large lump of nicely decorated cross-shaft, and also two other fragments that may have come from Saxon wheel-head crosses.
Pickford, Doug., Staffordshire Its Magic & Mystery, Sigma Press, Wilmslow, Cheshire, 1994.
Biddulph, Elizabeth Ann., Leek’s Forgotten Centuries – It’s Ancient History Unearthed, Spellcraft Books, Leek, Staffs, 1999.