Vetusta Monumenta: Ancient Monuments, a Digital Edition

Plate 2.8: Gloucester Cross

Plate: Engraved by George Vertue (1684-1756) after a drawing by Thomas Ricketts (fl. 1750s). Plate 2.18 shows the Gloucester Cross, located in the center of Gloucester, as well as the town hall, another tall building that houses a shop on the ground floor, and three streets meeting at the cross: Southgate Street, Northgate Street and Westgate Street. The plate also features three staffage figures and a small dog eyeing the wares of the shop. The view of the cross is framed on either side with images of the sculptures of English kings and queens that were inserted into the niches of the cross’s second story. To the right, from top to bottom, pictured are statues of King John, Queen Eleanor, Richard II, and Elizabeth I. To the left, from top to bottom, pictured are statues of Henry III, Edward III, Richard III, and Charles I.

Object: Gloucester Cross was a turriform, eight-sided market cross formerly located at the center of Gloucester


An east view of GLOCESTER CROSS, situated in the center of the city, where the four principal streets meet each other. It is not certain, when it was built; but it has been thought as antient at least, as the time of K. RICHARD III; who was himself Duke of GLOCESTER, and a great benefactor to the city. And as his statue was one of the eight, it is scarce probable, that should have been placed there after his death, under any reign of the TUDOR family. For as to the statues of Q. ELIZABETH and K. CHARLES I, they were erected for particular reasons in later times;1) and very probably in the room of others, which were either decayed, or removed to make way for them. This draught of it was made in the year 1750, in order to preserve its memory. For a act of parliament having passed the preceding year, for taking down several buildings, and inlarging the streets and market places, within the city of GLOCESTER; to answer the intention of this act the corporation found it necessary, that the cross should likewise be taken down, which has now been done accordingly.

1) See Sr. Rob. Atkyns’s Hist. of Glocestershire, pag. 190.

Tho, Ricketts, Glocester. delineavit.

A. The Tholfel or Town Hall.    B. A house and shop, now taken down.
C. South-gate street.    D. North-gate street.    E. West-gate street.

G. Vertue sculp.
Sumpt. Ant. Societ. Lond. 1751.


Drawn by Thomas Ricketts of Gloucester.

Engraved by George Vertue.

Published by the Society of Antiquaries of London, 1751.

Commentary by Achim Timmermann: As the minutes of Society of Antiquaries of London (SAL) record, the decision to engrave Gloucester Cross was made when Andrew Coltee Ducarel (1713-1785) notified the SAL per letter to George Vertue that the cross – “being a great inconvenience to Coaches, & other Cariages” – was to be taken down by Act of Parliament (SAL Minutes VI.36). At the meeting on 5 April 1750, the SAL agreed that a draftsman from Gloucester, who had been recommended to Ducarel, should be paid the fee of two guineas for preparing a drawing of the cross. Thomas Ricketts is named as the draftsman on the plate. This drawing was discussed at a SAL meeting that took place on 18 October 1750: it was then that the decision was made that the engraving should feature the eight statues of the kings and queens done separately and to a larger scale (SAL Minutes VI.55). The proof print was discussed and approved at the meeting on 26 March 1752 (SAL Minutes VII.11).

Formerly rising on elevated ground at the meeting of Northgate, Southgate, and Westgate Streets, and replacing a predecessor from the mid-thirteenth century, the turriform cross functioned as one of Gloucester’s civic pivots for more than four hundred years, from its erection in c. 1310–20 to its demolition in 1751, just one month after the execution of Thomas Ricketts’s drawing (on which the engraving is based). Eight-sided and developing in a succession of three principal stories, the imposing structure stood nearly 35 feet or 10.6 meters tall. Civic crosses like that of Gloucester made visible a range of ancient municipal and market rights while also symbolizing the Peace of the King; mayors and other public officials were elected, sworn into office and succeeded one another here; courts could sit in session around their bases and prosecute offenders whose actions had harmed the civic polity; appropriate punishments were meted out here or sometimes commuted to symbolic restitutions; while elsewhere their stepped socles were used as platforms for proclamations of Acts of Parliament and local notifications such as marriage banns, or helped dramatize the performance of Corpus Christi and other mystery plays, and served as assembly points for the processions of guilds, confraternities and town councilors.

At least by 1455, when the monument was first sketched in a rental of all the houses in Gloucester compiled by Robert Cole, a canon at Llanthony Priory, the Gloucester Cross – or Alta Crux, as it is called here – also served as a public fountain, with spouts emerging from each of the sides of the lowest story providing water to the civic populace. Supplied by water from Robinswood Hill to the south of the city, the cross was one of several public water conduits in late medieval Gloucester. Similar such high cross-fountains also furnished the nearby cities of Wells, Glastonbury, and Bristol (St. Peter’s Cross) with a year-round supply of potable water.

Like many of its counterparts, the Gloucester Cross underwent a series of modifications during its long life, reflecting different forms of use, the advent of new artistic fashions, and changing attitudes toward the function of public monuments. The cross is said to have been restored in the reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII; in 1635 it was repaired and railed off at the instigation of Bishop Godfrey Goodman who donated £20 toward the cost, and it was again repaired and re-gilded in 1694 and 1712. As sketched by Ricketts on the eve of its demolition, the cross still retained many of its fourteenth-century forms, but also bore testimony to a series of later alterations. While the two lowest stories, with their blind crocketed arches and elaborate trefoiled and crocketed niches, bear all the marks of the English Decorated style, the top stage, with its castellations and girouettes, appears to be seventeenth-century work, which replaced the original cone-shaped and cross-topped steeple shown in the 1455 drawing by Robert Cole. When exactly the figures of the eight English sovereigns were inserted into the niches of the second story, whether some antedated others, or whether they were conceived as a single coherent group, cannot be answered on the basis of Vertue’s engraving or other surviving primary sources. As identified by the local historian and topographer, Robert Atkyns, in c. 1710, the statue series depicted King John, Henry III and his wife Eleanor of Provence, Edward III, Richard II, Richard III, Elizabeth I and Charles I. The original statue of the last sovereign was taken down from the cross in 1650 or 1651 after some of Cromwell’s soldiers had defaced it, and replaced by a new one during the Restoration. The choice of John, Henry III, Richard II, and Richard III may well have been dictated by charters of liberties granted to Gloucester by those kings, while the image of Queen Eleanor might have been intended to reflect her tenure of the lordship of the borough during her widowhood.

Swept away in the wake of the civic corporation’s Improvement Act of 1750 – one of the very first of its kind – the Gloucester Cross, like many of its peers, is all but a very distant memory now. Vertue’s engraving indicates that it was of considerable art historical significance, for its design appears to have been partially based on the famous Eleanor Crosses of Edward I, a series of twelve microarchitectural cenotaphs erected between 1291 and 1294 that marked the overnight resting places of Queen Eleanor of Castile’s funeral cort├Ęge from Lincoln to London in 1290. Though not nearly as elaborate as the Eleanor Crosses (see Plate 1.7, Plates 3.12-3.17), which had cost Edward a staggering £2,000, the Gloucester Cross likewise presents itself as a polygonal, multi-stage miniature tower orchestrating a program of statuary in its second tier. In the early fourteenth century this type of public monument was still a relatively rare sight, especially in the West Country of England. With its gabled, blind arcading encircling the first story and its gabled statue niches adorned with hanging, curtain-like tracery, the Gloucester Cross comes particularly close to the design of the Hardingstone Cross near Northampton (Plates 3.12 and 3.13 of the 3.12-3.17 series), begun in 1291 by John of Battle, and one of only three Eleanor Crosses still in existence today. While the concepteurs of Gloucester’s Alta Crux obviously lacked the kind of financial wherewithal that Edward I could throw behind the artistic commemoration of his beloved queen, they nevertheless managed to create an edifice that was both au fait with the latest microarchitectural trends and that transplanted a type of monument hitherto associated with royal patronage into the public sphere and visual discourse of the late medieval city.

Works Cited: 

Aston, Margaret. 2016. Broken Idols of the English Reformation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Atkyns, Robert. 1712. The Ancient and Present State of Glostershire. Gloucester: Robert Gosling.

Brooks, Alan and David Verrey. 2002. Gloucestershire 2: The Vale and the Forest of Dean. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Dancey, C.H. 1901. “The High Cross at Gloucester.” Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Historical Society 24: 293-308.

Herbert, N.M., ed. 1988. A History of the County of Gloucester, 4: The City of Gloucester. London: Victoria County History.

Pooley, Charles. 1868. Notes on the Old Crosses of Gloucestershire. London: Longmans, Green.

Scrase, Anthony John. 1999. Streets and Market Places in Towns of Southwest England: Encroachments and Improvements, Mellen Studies in Geography 2. Lewiston: Edwin Mellen.

Smith, Nicola. 2001. The Royal Image and the English People. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Timmermann, Achim. 2017. Memory and Redemption: Public Monuments and the Making of Late Medieval Landscape, Architectura Medii Aevi 8 Turnhout: Brepols.

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

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