Malmesbury Market Cross

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Coordinates: 51°35′02″N 2°05′53″W / 51.58385°N 2.0980403°W / 51.58385; -2.0980403

The Market Cross
Interior view through one of the two doorway arches, showing the central bench, and two benched arches.

In the centre of Malmesbury, Wiltshire, stands the market cross, built c.1490,[1] possibly using limestone salvaged from the recently ruined part of Malmesbury Abbey, which then began just across the market square from the cross. An elaborately carved octagonal structure of the Perpendicular Period, it is recognised as one of the best preserved of its kind in England, and was made a Grade I listed building in 1949. A carving in relief of the Crucifixion (visible right of centre in the illustration) and figures of several saints have survived the Reformation on the open lantern, although the lower niches for figures are now empty. Inside there is a lierne vaulted roof with carved bosses, springing from a central column with stone seating around it.[2] There is a low wall or bench across all the outside arches except two. The building is over 40 ft. high,[3] and today is nicknamed "the Birdcage", because of its appearance, and still serves to shelter market traders by day and as a meeting point at night.[4]

It was described by John Leland, who visited Malmesbury in 1542, as follows:[5][6]

Malmesbyre hath a good quik [lively] market kept every Saturday. There is a right fair and costeley peace of worke in the market-place made all of stone, and curiously voultid for poore market folks to stand dry when rayne commeth. Ther be 8 greta pillers, and 8 open arches; and the work is 8 square; one great piller in ther[clarification needed] middle berith up the volute. The men of the towne made this peace of work in hominum memoria [within living memory].

It was renovated in about 1800 at the expense of the Earl of Suffolk,[7] and subsequently repaired in 1909-12 and 1949-50.[2] In its third year of existence, 1879–80, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings sent two council members who drew up a report of the repairs needed for Lord Northwick, who owned the cross, but it is not clear what was done.[8] One pinnacle knocked off by a heavy goods vehicle in recent years is in the Athelstan Museum in the town. An even more elaborate covered market cross in a similar style is the Chichester Cross; Ipswich once had another, in a lighter Renaissance style, but this survives only in old prints.[9]


  1. ^ Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society (1881), The Wiltshire archaeological and natural history magazine, 19, Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society, p. 147, ISSN 0084-0335, OCLC 1745018  English Heritage say "Late C15/early C16"
  2. ^ a b Historic England. "Details from listed building database (1269291)". National Heritage List for England (NHLE). Retrieved 28 June 2012. 
  3. ^ Norwich, John Julius (1985), The architecture of southern England, Macmillan London, p. 668, ISBN 9780333220375 
  4. ^ Robert Andrews (2004), Rough Guide to England, Rough Guides, p. 380, ISBN 9781843532491 
  5. ^ "Malmesbury Market Cross". Athelstan Museum. 2012-06-01. Retrieved 2012-06-29. 
  6. ^ Sears, Robert (1847), A new and popular pictorial description of England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and the British islands, R. Sears, p. 167, OCLC 478853 
  7. ^ and Lady Northwick, according to Rimmer
  8. ^ Morris, William, Art and Architecture: Essays 1870–1884, 2003, ISBN 1592240364 (that section reprinted from the SPAB's 3rd Annual Report, printed in The Times in 1880.), google books
  9. ^ Rimmer, Alfred (1997) [1875], Ancient Stone Crosses of England (reprint ed.), Kessinger Publishing, pp. 60–65 (also see preceding pages for Malmesbury), ISBN 9781564598172 

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