Vetusta Monumenta: Ancient Monuments, a Digital Edition

Plate 1.7: Waltham Cross

Plate: Engraved by George Vertue (1684-1756) after a drawing by William Stukeley (1687-1765), dated 1721. The Minute Books of the Society of Antiquaries of London record that Stukeley “brought drawings of Waltham Cross” to the meeting on 8 February 1721 (SAL Minutes I.40). During the same meeting the Society agreed to have one of Stukeley’s drawings engraved by Vertue. On 24 July 1721, Stukeley “brought a new Drawing of Waltham Cross” (I.46) which he gifted to the society, and on 8 November 1721 Vertue “brought a proof of Waltham Cross which was approved of” (I.47). Vertue printed 150 impressions of which each member of the society received three. The engraving was later included in the first volume of Vetusta Monumenta.

Object: A hexagonal, spire-shaped gothic memorial built in three tiers and set on six stone steps. The lower part is decorated with arch and gable motifs; within the arches are Eleanor’s shields of arms (England, León, Castile and Ponthieu). The middle tier contains high niches that originally housed statues of Queen Eleanor. Three examples of these statues are shown in the upper left. Each statue stood with its back to the shaft of the cross, facing a different direction.  A man approaches the monument from the right and an ichnographic plan of the cross is shown in the upper right. Waltham Cross is one of twelve memorial monuments erected by Edward I between 1291-94 in memory of Queen Eleanor (Coldstream 1991; Vallance 1920, 94-112). The cross stands in the center of Waltham Cross, a small town nineteen kilometers north of London. It was built by the architect Roger of Crundale and the senior royal mason Richard of Crundale; the stone statues of Eleanor were carved by Alexander Abingdon. The original statues of Queen Eleanor were moved to the Victoria & Albert Museum and have been replaced by replicas.


Label, Left: Imagines Reginæ.

Label, Right: Sectio Ichnographica Medianæ.

Bottom: Crucem elegantissimam WALTHAMIÆ in memoriam ALEANORÆ Reginæ ab EDVARDO I. extructam, injuriâ temporum vindicavit et pristino nitori restituit Societas Antiquaria Londinensis, A.o 1721. W. Stukeley delin.


Label, Left: Images of the Queen

Label, Right: Ichnographic cross-section

Bottom: This most elegant cross at Waltham, erected by Edward I in memory of Queen Eleanor, has been protected against the ravages of time and restored to its original splendor by the Society of Antiquaries of London in the year 1721. Drawn by W. Stukeley.

Commentary by Katharina Boehm: Waltham Cross, like the other eleven crosses which Edward I ordered to be built between 1291 and 1294 to commemorate the deceased Queen Eleanor, was erected to mark the spot on which Eleanor’s coffin rested overnight when the funeral procession, proceeding in twelve stages from Lincoln to Westminster, passed through Waltham in 1290 (Steane 1985, 49-50). The Eleanor Crosses, only three of which survive today, had a significant influence on English sculpture: according to Colum Hourihane, they were “the prototypes for many crosses which were erected in the following centuries, particularly in market-places” and they continued to provide inspiration for new market crosses and war memorials well into the nineteenth century (Hourihane 2001, 337).

The drawing on which the engraving is based was made by William Stukeley, who was among the founding members of the revived Society of Antiquaries of London (SAL) and acted as the Society’s first secretary. George Vertue printed 150 impressions of his engraved version of Stukeley’s drawing. Each member of the SAL received three prints. Stukeley included a copper plate engraving based on another drawing of Waltham Cross in his Itinerarium Curiosum (1724), which discusses Waltham Cross, as well as the crosses at Geddington and Northampton, as part of the “Iter Oxoniense” (journey to Oxford). In December 1745, Stukeley instigated an excavation in Stamford that led to the discovery of the foundations of another Eleanor cross which is mentioned briefly in the expanded second edition of the Itinerarium (1776, 36). For Stukeley and many like-minded antiquaries, the Eleanor crosses, “demolished by the Fanatics in the beginning of the Great Rebellion” were a poignant reminder of the irrevocable damage that the Civil War had wrought on native antiquities (Stukeley 1745, 4).

The Society’s attempt to protect Waltham Cross against further damage can be seen to mark the (very modest) beginning of its effort physically to preserve historical monuments. As the Minute Books record of the meeting on 12 July 1721, Stukeley “brought in a bill of ten shillings which he paid by Order of the Society for setting down two oak posts to secure Waltham Cross from injury by Carriages, which was repaid by the Treasurer” (SAL Minutes I.46). More than three decades later, Stukeley found Waltham Cross in peril of sustaining further damage: he read a paper at an SAL meeting on 24 November 1757, reporting on the removal of the oak posts by turnpike commissioners and the current state of Waltham Cross (SAL Minutes VIII.30). Stukeley wrote to the lord of the local manor, John, 2nd Baron of Monson, who followed the SAL’s request to secure the base of the cross with brickwork and put up new posts. The SAL thanked him by sending him one of Vertue’s prints of Waltham Cross (Gough 1796, 13).

However, it is important to bear in mind that the Society’s actions to preserve Waltham Cross constitute something of an anomaly in the early history of the revived SAL. It was only at the end of the eighteenth century, when an intensified interest in national history had lastingly changed the cultural climate, that antiquarian debates about the need to preserve antiquities gained momentum. In the first half of the eighteenth century, efforts to conserve historical monuments were hampered both by the fact that virtually all historical monuments were the property of private persons or corporate bodies, who were at liberty to demolish or alter these monuments, and by the antiquaries’ deeply ambivalent attitude to the preservation of antiquities. As Rosemary Sweet notes, “[a]ntiquaries were primarily collectors . . . and sought above all to enrich their private collections by ransacking the past, often at the expense of the integrity or even survival of a larger monument” (2004, 278). Stukeley himself was no exception: he was the driving force behind the setting up of the wood posts to secure Waltham Cross, but he routinely took away mementos from other monuments, including a fragment of the upper pyramidal stone of the Eleanor Cross at Stamford (Smith 2013, 366). In his diary, Stukeley records that he “took up a carved stone belonging to the pinnacle-work at the top, adorned with roses.” He left this stone, “with many other fragments of [the] Queen’s cross” in the garden of his Barn Hill house at Stamford, which was laid out with great care and integrated many pieces of medieval salvage (Stukeley 1887, 3.171).

Until the late eighteenth century, the antiquaries’ preferred strategy for preservation consisted in translating the antique object into a pictorial representation that could be collected and circulated by the Society’s members. In recent scholarly debates about shifts in the aesthetics of eighteenth-century antiquarian illustrations, this engraving has played a prominent role, together with a later engraving of the same monument by James Basire (1739-1802) after Jacob Schnebbelie (1760-1792), produced for the third volume of Vetusta Monumenta in 1796 (Plate 3.16). Sweet suggests that a comparison between the two prints reveals larger changes undergone by antiquarian illustrations in the course of the century: a shift away from a mode of representation that isolates the monument from its surroundings and offers an idealizing reconstruction of the antiquity, towards a more “picturesque” rendition that emphasizes the decay of the structure and locates it within its immediate surroundings (2004, 448-49n94). In a similar vein, Maria Grazia Lolla argues that Vertue’s engraving and the other plates of the first volume of Vetusta Monumenta “render[s] the objects as immaterial,” eschewing “a trompe l’œil effect” and highlighting instead the act of representation that turns an object into a monument worthy of antiquarian attention (1999, 20).

It is possible, however, to see in Stukeley’s drawing a more complex engagement with the materiality of Waltham Cross than Sweet and Lolla concede. Stukeley’s drawing includes the figure of a man, possibly representing Stukeley himself, who approaches the cross from the right and, in doing so, moves through the landscape of plants, grass and stones in which the base of the cross is also located. By contrast, the upper sections of the cross are flanked by an ichnographic map on the upper right and three examples of the Queen’s statues on the upper left—in other words, by elements that point to a conceptual rather than illusionistic use of space. Stukeley pioneered proto-archaeological fieldwork methods and regarded the careful inspection of historical monuments in the context of their surrounding landscape as integral to the study of British antiquities. His Itinerarium curiosum contains countless prints that situate historical monuments—and the antiquaries who are portrayed in the process of investigating them—in the realistically drawn landscape that surrounds them. Stukeley’s drawing of Waltham Cross condenses in one image both the process by which antiquarian knowledge is initially produced through close examination of the object’s materiality in situ and the subsequent translation of the object’s materiality into forms of representation (a ground plot; atomized, exemplary parts) that enable the antiquary to continue his study elsewhere, to compare the object to similar monuments, and to put it in circulation through print.

Works Cited:

Coldstream, Nicola. 1991. “The Commissioning and Design of the Eleanor Crosses.” In Eleanor of Castile 1290-1990: Essays to Commemorate the 700th Anniversary of Her Death, 28 November 1290, edited by David Parsons, 55-68. Stamford: Watkins.

[Gough, Richard.] 1796. “Waltham Cross: Plates XVI. XVII.” In Vetusta Monumenta, Vol. 3. 13-14.

Hourihane, Colum. 2001. From Ireland Coming: Irish Art from the Early Christian to the Late Gothic Period and its European Context. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Lolla, Maria Grazia. 1999. “Ceci n’est pas un monument: Vetusta Monumenta and Antiquarian Aesthetics.” In Producing the Past: Aspects of Antiquarian Culture and Practice, 1700-1850, edited by Martin Myrone and Lucy Peltz, 15-34. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Smith, John F.H. 2013. “William Stukeley in Stamford: His Gardens and a Project for a Palladian Triumphal Arch over Barn Hill.” Antiquaries Journal 93: 353-400.

Society of Antiquaries of London. 1718-. Minutes of the Society’s Proceedings.

Steane, John. 1999. The Archaeology of the Medieval English Monarchy. London: Routledge.

Stukeley, William. 1745. “To Mr. Howgrave, &c.” Letter to the Editor of the Stamford Mercury. Stamford Mercury, 26 December 1745: 4.

------. (1724) 1776. Itinerarium Curiosum. 2nd ed. 2 vols. London: Baker and Leigh.

------. 1887. The Family Memoirs of the Rev. William Stukeley, M.D. and the Antiquarian and other Correspondence of William Stukeley, Roger & Samuel Gale, Etc. 3 vols. London: Andrews & Co.

Sweet, Rosemary. 2004. Antiquaries: The Discovery of the Past in Eighteenth-Century Britain. London: Hambledon and London.

Vallance, Aymer. 1920. Old Crosses and Lychgates. London: Batsford.

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