Vetusta Monumenta: Ancient Monuments, a Digital Edition

Plate 2.10: Doncaster Cross

Plate: Engraved by George Vertue (1684-1756) after a painting of c. 1630, made available to Society of Antiquaries of London (SAL) by the Leeds antiquary Thomas Wilson (c. 1702-1761). Plate 2.10 shows the Doncaster Cross, located at the southeastern end of Doncaster. The cross is framed on either side by dense text that provides information on its history. This background information was drawn from an undated manuscript fragment, as well as from antiquarian literature such as William Dugdale’s Monasticum Anglicanum. Also shown are two men in eighteenth-century dress: one of them is examining the cross, while the other one is mounted on a horse. Two small section drawings of the monument’s central column, shafts, and surmounting crosses are also included.

Object: Doncaster Cross consisted of a large cylindrical column with four engaged shafts, some 18 feet (5.5 meters) in height and 11 ½ feet (3.5 meters) in circumference, with a socle of five concentric circular steps rising from a hexagonal plinth. Prior to its partial destruction in 1644, the cross was topped by five iron crosses as shown on Vertue’s engraving. The original cross was fully demolished in 1792, but a slightly altered reconstruction was erected at Hobcross Hill (now Hall Cross Hill) in 1793.


Left side:
This draught of DONCASTER CROSS was taken from an old painting, formerly in the collection of the learned antiquary, Ralph Thoresby of Leedes esquire, who mentions it among his curiosities, and has printed the inscription round the pillar in his Museum, p. 489. His father, alderman Thoresby of Leedes, in the year 1672 purchased the collection of coins, paintings, and other curiosities of the Lord Fairfax and his son Sr. Thomas, among which was this painting. It is now in the hands of Dr. Richard Rawlinson, a member of this Society; together with a fragment in manuscript relating to it, which also belonged to the alderman, & contains the following account of the cross. “This is the fashion of the cross, as it was first built; which was defaced in the year of our Lord 1644, by the earl of Manchester’s army, coming out of the south to the siege of York; and was after beautified with four dials, ball, and fane, by William Paterson, mayor of Doncaster; 1678. And the said earl of Manchester’s men; endeavouring to pull the whole shank down, got a smith’s forge hammer, and broke off the four corner crosses, and then fastened ropes to the middle cross, which was stronger & higher, thinking by that to pull the whole shank down; but a stone breaking off, and falling upon one of the mens leggs, which was nearest it, and broke his leg: so they troubled themselves no more about it.” As there is no date, nor name, to this paper; it is not certain when, or by whom, it was written. Tho by what the writer sais, it is plain, that he remember’d the cross, before the damage it received by the soldiers; and that the painting truly represents it in its former state. Our historians leave us in the dark, with regard both to ye  time and occasion of erecting this cross. Leland does not so much as mention it, nor any edition of Camden, except the last by Bp. Gibson, which has likewise the inscription, writen in the antient Norman language, in the same manner and form of words, in which it is here copied from the area of the painting. ICEST : EST : LA CRVICE : OTE : D : TILLIAKI : ALME : DEV : EN : FACE : MERCI : AM. But there is a mistake of the artist, in joining together the letter TILLIAKI, for the latter name of the person, as if the whole was one word. Whereas

Right side:
Mr. Thoresby very justly separates them in different words, TILLI : A KI. With this emendation the whole inscription may be thus rendered in English: This is the Cross of Ote de Tilli, to whose soul God shew mercy. Amen. The words KI whose, and ALME soul, are so spelt in several Mss. of our old statutes; and the rest are attended with no difficulty.
The present inscription, which differs in some of the words, being modern, can be of no moment in this inquiry, and therefore need not be recited. As to this Ote de Tilli, who built ye  cross, it appears, that Otto or Ote de Tilli was senescallus comitis de Conibroc, and witness to a grant of Hamelin earl of Warren, Monast. Angl. V.1.p.406. He was likewise a witness to the charter of the foundation of Kirkstal abbey, 17. Steph. AD.1152, Ibid.p.857. And he afterwards attested two grants, made by Henry de Lacy to the same abbey, Ibid.p.862. His name also appears to several other grants, and writings of different kinds, during the two following reigns; which are too many to be here enumerated. So that this Ote de Tilli must have lived to an advanced age, and very probably was the same person, who erected the cross; as he was steward to the earl of Conisborough, and witness to several grants of lands not far from Doncaster. Since it was customary for such writings to be attested by the neighbouring inhabitants, and generally by those who were nearest of kin. The cross stands at the south end of the town, in the road towards London, so that carriages may pass on either side of it. It is composed of five columns, a large one in the middle, and four small ones around it, answering pretty nearly to the cardinal points. The numeral figures in the area, on the right side of the cross, near the top, seem to have been placed there in the painting to shew the hours, when the sun shon upon the south face of it. The circumference of the column is eleven feet seven inches, and its height 18 feet. The two human figures, with the horse and dog, are not in the painting; nor the sections on each side the cross.

North prospect.

G. Vertue sculpsit.
Published July 5th. 1753 according to Act of Parliament.
Sumptu Societat Antiquar. Lond. 1752

Commentary by Achim Timmermann: George Vertue’s engraving of the Doncaster Cross was based on a painting in the possession of the Leeds-based antiquary and member of the SAL Thomas Wilson. After the death of another well-connected Leeds antiquary, Ralph Thoresby (1658-1725), Wilson acquired a substantial number of manuscripts, charters, and objects that had formed part of Thoresby’s collection, the so-called Musaeum Thoresbyanum. Among these items was a painting of Doncaster Cross from c. 1630, which Wilson described for the members of the SAL in a letter read during a meeting on 28 May 1752. Wilson suggested that since “the Society hath published so many old Crosses” (SAL Minutes VII.21r), they might be interested in engraving Doncaster Cross as well. At this point, Vertue had already engraved Waltham Cross (Plate 1.7), Winchester Cross (Plate 1.61), and Chicester Cross (Plate 1.64). Wilson proposed that Doncaster Cross would make a valuable addition to the crosses already published, not least because it was more ancient than the other crosses. The minutes contain a long extract from Wilson’s letter, dealing with the history of the cross. Wilson had not been able to find information on the identity of “Ote de Tilly,” whose name is mentioned in the inscription on the cross, but his letter discusses events that are also mentioned in the text that appears on the plate, such as the cross’s partial demolition in 1644 and its reconstruction by William Paterson, the Mayor of Doncaster, in 1678 (VII.21r-21v). It is unclear why an important piece of information mentioned in Wilson’s letter was not included in the text given on the plate: Wilson states that the cross was erected in 1112 “as by a date formerly upon it, but now Defaced” (VII.21r). Wilson sent the painting to another member of the SAL, Richard Rawlinson (1690-1755), who exhibited it at a meeting on 18 June 1752 (VII.23r).

The decision to engrave the Doncaster Cross was made by ballot during a meeting of the Society of Antiquaries of London (SAL) on 25 June 1752 (SAL Minutes VII.23). Vertue’s proof print of the plate was approved during a meeting on 28 June 1753 (66), but at the next meeting (69) he was asked to add the bottom line signaling the Society’s copyright ("Published . . . according to Act of Parliament"), which appears here for the second time and soon became customary. The minutes specify a two-part justification for this addition: “to get their Property therein Secured, according to an Act of Parliament and as by our former Order 14th May 1752” (66). This policy sheds light on the new importance attached to the Society's publications after they received their royal charter in 1751 (20) and may also reflect the turbulence of this period in the history of copyright law.

Now replaced ex-situ by a partial replica erected in 1793, the Doncaster Cross (also known as the Hall Cross) originally stood at the southeastern end of Doncaster, near Hallgate, on the old London road. The dense text that frames Vertue’s engraving of the cross states that the painting on which the engraving is based was formerly in the collection of Lord Fairfax, who sold it in 1672 to the aforementioned Leeds antiquary, the Alderman Thoresby. The painting was apparently accompanied by an ancient manuscript fragment, which recorded all that was known about the history of the monument. The original cross bore on the shaft, about a third way up, an inscription in Anglo-Norman French stating that “this is the cross of Ote [or Otho] de Tilli [or Tilly], on whose soul God may have mercy. Amen” (“Icest est la crucie Ote de Tilli a ki alme Deu en face merci Amen”).

Originating from the village of Tilly in Calvados (Normandy), Otho de Tilly (c. 1121-88) first appears in the historical record during the reign of Stephen of Blois (d. 1154), for instance, as witness to the charter of foundation of Kirkstall Abbey in 1152. He subsequently served as senescallus comitis de Conibroc (seneschal or land steward to the count of Conisborough), Hamelin de Warenne (1129-1202), the illegitimate half-brother of Henry II, who first came into possession of Conisborough Castle in 1163 and extensively rebuilt it – with the addition of a new polygonal stone keep – between 1180 and 1190. Given that Conisborough is located just under six miles down the road from Doncaster, it is likely that the cross that bore Otho’s name was erected sometime during his tenure as seneschal to the Warennes—probably between the mid-1160s and Otho’s death in 1188. The exact purpose of Otho’s cross is unknown, though the monument certainly perpetuated his memoria while at the same time also contributing to the devotional infrastructure of the region at large.

As depicted and described in Vertue’s engraving, the monument consisted of a large cylindrical column with four engaged shafts, some 18 feet (5.5 meters) in height and 11 ½ feet (3.5 meters) in circumference, with a socle of five concentric circular steps rising from a hexagonal plinth. Probably informed by the painting on which it is based, the engraving reproduces the state of the monument prior to its defacement in 1644 by troops under the command of the Earl of Manchester, during which all five surmounting iron crosses were lost. To make up for the deficiency – so the text accompanying the engraving tells us – the mayor of Doncaster in 1678 erected four dials, a ball, and a vane on top of the cross.

The cluster of iron crosses – four smaller ones on each of the engaged shafts, a larger one on the central column – was in all likelihood a post-medieval addition, probably replacing a cruciform or disk-shaped cross-head, perhaps with the image of the Crucified on one (or both) of its principal sides. With its monumental simplicity and muscular austerity, Otho’s monument stands in marked contrast to the Anglo-Saxon crosses erected in the North of England during the previous centuries, which were usually characterized by four-sided shafts and a superabundance of surface ornament and imagery. The artistic inspiration for the edifice may ultimately have come from Normandy, where several Romanesque crosses with compound-pier shafts still stand today, for example at Grisy-sur-Seine, in Otho’s native region of Calvados. Otho’s monument may in turn have stimulated the construction of other late twelfth- and thirteenth-century “compound-pier crosses” in Yorkshire, for instance at Aldborough or at Braithwell, the latter being just 7 miles south of Doncaster.

Otho’s cross was finally demolished in 1792 during road improvement work, some thirty-nine years after the publication of Vertue’s engraving. The sources are unclear about whether or not fragments of it were incorporated into a partial – though much taller – copy of the cross, erected in 1793 at Hobcross Hill (now Hall Cross Hill), a little further east, as part of a development of new Georgian houses.

Works Cited: 

Armitage, Ella S. 1905. Key to English Antiquities, With Special Reference to the Sheffield and Rotherham Districts. London: J. M. Dent.

Miller, Edward. 1804. The History and Antiquities of Doncaster and Its Vicinity. Doncaster: W. Sheardown.

Smith, Henry Ecroyd. 1878. Annals of Smith of Cantley, Balby, and Doncaster, County York. Sunderland: Hills.

------. 1887. The History of Conisborough Castle, With Glimpses of Ivanhoe-Land. Worksop: Robert White.

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

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

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