Mark of the Flesh Market

More than 10,000 of 12,500 market crosses were destroyed in Britain. Why? Mon 07 June 2021

Wayside cross, St Buryan, Cornwall. Source

St Buryan is a popular Cornish tourist spot noted for its small stone 'crosses'. The cross outside St Buriana church and the former King's Arms pub is among the most well-known:

Not a lot of cross, but quite a lot of 'planter'. St Buryan. Source

The 'planter' is visible bottom centre of this satellite image:

St Buryan cross base satellite view. Source: Google Maps

From Wikipedia - St Buriyan:

an important regional religious centre during the Middle Ages

the importance of the parish to the district faded with the onset the industrial revolution. This was in part due to the destruction of the collegiate buildings during The Protectorate period after the civil war.

And in other part due to...?

From Sleaford and the wapentakes of Flaxwell and Aswardhurn in the county of Lincoln, Edward Trollope, 1872, describing Sleaford marketplace on p169:

a Market Cross stood here nearly opposite to the north west door of the church. It consisted, as usual, of several steps, a base, on the sides of which were carved shields... with the date 1575, and a shaft springing from it. This cross was removed about 70 years ago, when for a time the base was preserved in the church, but has now disappeared. Near to it strangely stood the Stocks and Whipping Post.


There was nothing at all strange about the cross, the stocks and the pillory - the skinning post and later whipping post - being near each other. As Edward well knew, they were part of the Gilds' toolbox.

18th century antiquarians carefully noted the locations, remains, and histories of market crosses destroyed in the 17th Century 'English Civil War'.

From Itinerarum Curiosum, William Stukeley, 1766 edition, p23, at Holbeach, Lincolnshire:

The old cross in the market place was pulled down in 1683. Thomas de Multon, lord Egremont, obtained a market and fair to Holbech, 31 October, 37 Hen. III. (meaning: 31 October 1363) at Windsor, and probably built that cross.

Keywords: cross, market, fair...

In The Torrington Diaries (Abridged Selected), p364, Byng describes the 'hermitage' garden built by Rev. William 'Wolley' Jolland next to the rectory across the road from St James church in Louth, Lincolnshire:

... but not one cross; probably he might fear to give offence.

Keywords: cross, offence...

Why would a cross cause offence?

Why did so-called 'iconoclasts' destroy 10,000 or so of Britain's 12,500 market crosses?

From The Francis Frith Collection on the cross at Deeping St James village, Lincolnshire:

At its heart is this curious structure in medieval stone. The former village cross, it was built in the 15th century, but in 1819 the cross shaft was removed and the base, quite extraordinarily, was converted into the village lock-up.

Built into the walls of the cell are three seats complete with chain rings. The lock-up's barred window is easy to see:

Barred door of Deeping St James cross. Source

Keywords: cross, lock-up...

But it's likely Deeping St James cross was already a lock-up before its cross was removed. Because cross plus lock-up was a common combination:

Market cross. Boston, Lincolnshire. Approx 1700. Source: Itinerarium Curiosum, p33.

Stukeley's description of Boston market cross suggests this is only the top of it.

From Tunnels Under Newark - Do they really exist?:

In the centre [of Newark marketplace] formerly stood a Cross: also the common gaol (jail) 1; under it was a vault, used as a dungeon and place of security for prisoners. It has frequently been affirmed, that this was only another portion of the great subterraneous (sic) vault which formed the communication between the Church and Castle

Keywords: cross, lock-up, tunnel...

At a crossroads on the Cambridgeshire/Hertfordshire border is Royston. In 1742-08, builders found a bottle-shaped cave beneath the town's butter market structure. The market stood on the crossroads of Ermine Street and Icknield Way.

The cave's purpose is allegedly unknown.

From a 1610 survey of Royston's parishes:

in the myddest of Icknell Street aforesaid, and at the west end of the same street, there is a 'Fayr House or Crosse - buylded up by the Lorde of the said manor, and the whole Township for a Clock House, and a Prison House, for the use and benefit of the whole Parish'

'By the syde-of it is wrote, The Clock Howse, Crosse, & Prison Howse in Icknell streete, for the whole Parishe.'

However, its wall carvings showed images of death and dismemberment. Severed arms, crucifixions and mass lynchings. People apparently hanged in batches of eight or more at a time 2:

South west wall carvings per Beldam's Plate II. Source: The Origins and Use of the Royston Cave, 3rd Ed, Joseph Beldam, 1884

Another section - now obliterated - seems to show 20 people hanging from a long gallows. Some sketches show a gap between feet and ground; some sketches don't. One early sketch shows longer ropes.

Summarising, carvings on the wall of a cave dug beneath a former market cross show between 27 and 47 people hanging from gallows.

However you count the carcasses, it's a lot of 'justice'.

The ages of the hanged cannot be determined. But other than its carvings of officials, Royston Cave's carvings seem to depict children.

And individuals suffering from post-traumatic butchery disorder:

Yet another severed forelimb from Royston Cave. Source: Royston Cave - A Mystery beneath the Streets

Royston Cave's evidence for human processing is analysed in detail starting at Location Analysis: Royston Cave - Part Three. Its carvings also reveal much about market day technology. Some of that is covered in Gas Stations of the Past - Part Six.

Keywords: cross, lock-up, market, cave...

A tunnel also runs under the former market cross in Fowlmere village, Cambridgeshire:

Route of Fowlmere tunnel per Michael Behrend's 1960s map. Source

Fowlmere, by the way, is another place whose earthwork excavation reports were never published.

As at Deeping St James, small seats were built into niches beneath Fowlmere's market cross. They are close to two post holes, possibly the remains of supports for a trapdoor cover or a scaffold. Behrend mapped the niches and the post holes:

Fowlmere tunnel niches and post-holes per Behrend. Source

Fowlmere's tunnel ran in two directions from under the market cross. To the Swan inn and to the Old Manor House, as shown on Behrend's first map. The Swan Inn is now a restaurant and houses. The cross has long been converted into a war memorial.

For more on Fowlmere tunnel, Subterranea Britannica inspected it in December 1974, describing it in the August 1975 edition of Subterranea Britannica bulletin.

Keywords: cross, market, tunnel...

An odd bricked-over square sits next to the former market cross in Swinstead, Lincolnshire. At its centre is a manhole cover. The bricked-over square is not protected by a preservation order but the ground beneath it is.

Swinstead market cross stump with bricked-over vault cover in foreground.

As with St Buryan's 'planter', the square next to Swinstead cross is easy to see in satellite images:

Swinstead cross satellite view. Source: Google Maps

Village folklore claims that beneath the cross is a vault with its own freshwater spring.

Keywords: cross, market, vault, water...

From Baldock:

Baldock was founded by the Knights Templar... as a medieval market town in the 1140s.

From the 1770s until 2008 the high street was very wide, a typical feature of medieval market places where more than one row of buildings used to stand. In the case of Baldock, the bottom of the High Street had three such rows, until Butcher's Row was demolished by the Turnpike authorities in the 1770s.

From Prison History:

.. anyone caught committing an offence in the small market town of Baldock could expect to be interned in the town cage. Located on a piece of land named Middle Row, the cage had been built by the local church wardens in 1787 and measured 8ft 9ins by 9ft. It was rendered redundant in 1847...

Keywords: market, gaol (jail), Knights Templar

From Penhill Templars Preceptory:

A 20 metre square earthwork is interpreted as the footings for a tower - a feature of all Templar preceptories.

From Penhill Templars Preceptory:

House of the Knights Templars at Penhill founded by Roger Mowbray circa 1142...

Another 'warrior monks' complex of farm and food-production was - and still is - based around Leicestershire's Burton Lazars and Melton Mowbray.

You've already met 'Mowbray'. 'Melton' means 'honey town' - as in 'sweetmeats'. Melton Mowbray - once the site of six market crosses - is still famous for manufacturing pork pies and - less famously - dog food. It is less famous for its military-owned animal research site.

Whether processing of humans continues around Melton Mowbray is unknown. Though there may be circumstantial evidence.

Over to the east, enigmatic child-size tunnels link old houses in Lavenham, Suffolk. Lavenham was founded on cordwaining. That is, on the production of leather products: vellum, parchment, clothing and shoes.

Keywords: tunnels, water, leather-workers...

Further north:

From The Local Historian's Table Book, of Remarkable Occurrences, Connected with the Counties of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Northumberland, and Durham. Historical Division, p376, at Alnwick, Co. Durham, 1731:

A large cross which stood at the bottom of the Flesh market, near St. Nicholas' church 3 in Newcastle, was this year pulled down. It had a leaden cistern at the top of it to hold the water, called the new water. Near this cross stood the cordwainers' 4 meeting-house.

Keywords: cross, market, water, leather-workers...

Flailing of skin depicted as a falling robe. Source

Note the cordwainer collecting blood in a bowl. He is wearing soft leather shoes - the cordwainer's symbol.

Tombstone of a cordwainer: Xanthippos. Source

Here again, the soft robe on the child symbolises soft, pliable leather. The leather we call 'kid'.

Today, the patron saint of cordwainers is St Crispin. Whose associations with human leather are discussed here.

In March, Cambridgeshire:

The Stone Cross in March - or the base of it that remains - sits at the corner of The Avenue and Causeway Close, possibly marking the site of an ancient market in the original village

children were told that, if they walked twelve times around the topmost step of the cross base, they would hear the Devil 'sharpening his knives' 5

From Atlas Obscura on the suppression of Temple Bruer's Knights Templar:

the Templars were arrested and taken to Lincoln Castle, accused of devil worship, infanticide and many other transgressions.

Situated between Sleaford and Lincoln, Temple Bruer was the second wealthiest Templar site in England. The 'soldier monks' of the Knights Templar were established to protect pilgrimage routes and Temple Bruer was their 'military' training centre.

From The Torrington Diaries (Abridged 1954 edition), John Byng, p339, describing his journey from Lincoln past Temple Bruer and Sleaford to Folkingham, 10 miles south of Sleaford on 1791-06-24:

numberless are the remains of crosses, as the steps, and shafts ;

About the time Byng visited Folkingham, this former town's reputation was being sanitised. The crosses are remnants of the butchery and entertainment trades around the soke of Folkingham - Wikipedia.

To better appreciate that elite survivors of Lincolnshire's former elite (Templars/Holy Romans) tried to make a new living near their former homes, see Location Analysis: Royston - Part Three - Who Put the 'Ick' into Icknield Way. and Location Analysis: Clothall and Therfield Heath, Hertfordshire.

From History of the Holy Trinity Guild, at Sleaford, with an Account of Its Miracle Plays, Religious Mysteries and Shows, Rev. George Oliver, 1837, p42:

There are many stump crosses in the neighbourhood of Sleaford besides those which are found in the church-yards. Some were situated in the streets; others in the fields and highways; and these according to their locality, were market crosses 6

From History of the Holy Trinity Guild at Sleaford, p25, footnote 57:

Royal charters were obtained for a weekly market, which was held first on a Thursday, and subsequently on Wednesday ; and an annual fair in the month of May. (Rot. Chart. 43 Hen. III. m. 4. (meaning: 1259), for "manor mercat' et feria.")

'Manor' means 'Männer' - the German word for 'men'. Its Dutch variant is mannen. Männer is the first fast-food: Manna from Heaven.

The phrase "manor mercat' et feria." means: "[a fair for] for men, merchandise and utensils."

To better understand 'Soke', see Dating the Intelligent Pig.

Oliver describes how some crosses stood at road junctions linking Temple Bruer with neighbouring towns. Besides markets, he says, fairs, saints day celebrations, miracle and mystery plays took place around crosses.

In The Pagan Origin of Fairs, 1932, Thomas Francis George Dexter wrote:

There is no doubt whatever that fairs were once held in churchyards, and the Statutes of Winchester, a.d. 1285, and of the 13th year of Edward I., forbidding the holding of markets and fairs in churchyards, may be taken as evidence that the custom was common.

Even when Sunday fairs in churchyards were discontinued, fairs on weekdays in churchyards went on, the efforts of the Church notwithstanding, and until modern times fairs were held in the churchyards of All Saints’, Northampton, and of Laughton-en-le-Morthen, Yorkshire.

The remains of a cross still stand on the village green at Caston, Norfolk. Local folklore has two explanations for its inexplicably large stump:

  • A tunnel links it to Caston's Holy Cross church and to the former pilgrim dining hall ('refectory') at Church Farm.
  • A cell beneath the cross hides 'Catholic treasure'.

And from Village Cross: A Scheduled Monument in Caston, Norfolk:

Many of the wayside crosses in Norfolk are situated along the pilgrimage routes to Walsingham. The discovery of burials in the area around the cross give it additional interest.

Caston is one of several village crosses around which skeletons have been uncovered - even though Caston's Holy Cross churchyard is just 100m (300ft) away.

Seven miles away from Caston is the Norfolk market town of Attleborough.

From: Attleborough Town Council

...a great part of the town being destroyed by fire in 1559. It was during that period that the Griffin Hotel was built, and it was in the cellars of the Griffin that prisoners on their way to the March Assizes in Thetford were confined overnight, tethered by chains to rings in the wall.

The arrival of the prisoners aroused a great deal of public interest, and eventually traders set up a fair whenever they came. This became known as Attleborough Rogues Fair and was held on the Market Place on the last Thursday in March. Also on the market place festivities took place on Midsummer Day, when the annual guild was held. It appears that there has been the right to hold a weekly Thursday Market in the town since 1285.

Spielberg - like George Orwell in Animal Farm - did try to tell us. Source: A.I. Artificial Intelligence

Again from History of the Holy Trinity Guild, at Sleaford, with an Account of Its Miracle Plays, Religious Mysteries and Shows, Rev. George Oliver, 1837, p126:

the Pageants... which from their bulk were necessarily stationary, with scenic edifices, furnished with living performers, generally children. This latter kind appears to have originated from the Towers, which, in the earlier instances were erected round the crosses and conduits that studded the centre of all the wide streets.

Like the Pageants, these popular entertainments, before theatres yet existed, were performed on scaffolds in the open street

Quoting a M. Sismondi, who described a mystery play seen in Florence, Italy, Oliver says:

all the sufferings of hell were placed before the eyes of the people, at a horrible representation appointed for a festival day ;

... and all the variety of torments which the imagination of monks or of the poet had invented, streams of boiling pitch, flames, ice, serpents, were inflicted on real persons, whose cries and groans rendered the illusion complete to the spectators.

Stephen Spielberg's film A.I. Artificial Intelligence contains scenes apparently modelled on medieval fairs:

Streams of boiling oil at the The Flesh Fair. Source: A.I. Artificial Intelligence, 2001

Presumably the monks who invented those torments in market towns like Royston.

From Europe’s Hypocritical History of Cannibalism:

References to acts of cannibalism are sprinkled throughout many religious and historical documents, such as reports of cooked human flesh being sold in 11th-century English markets during times of famine.

From Pillory:

A permanent small tower, the upper floor of which had a ring made of wood or iron with holes for the victim's head and arms, which was often on a turntable to expose the condemned to all parts of the crowd.

And to throw morsels into the crowd. It's how you get the bidding started.


In 1924, James Henry Breasted described finds from the eastern end of European civilisation - at Dura-Europos, Mesopotamia.

From Oriental Forerunners of Byzantine Painting, James Henry Breasted, 1924, p4:

The necropolis lay outside the city beyond the west wall and contained.a large number of burial caves originally surmounted by circular or rectangular superstructures.

And he noted how Roman dining culture had jumped from the first century to the 16th.

From Oriental Forerunners of Byzantine Painting, p44:

To most of the leading figures in the scene the artist has appended their names, from which we learn the identity of these forgotten worthies of the Euphrates world who died eighteen centuries ago. It is a curiously unexpected fact that, in the first century of our era, a family of renown in such a remote provincial city should have had themselves thus depicted on the walls of the sanctuary, precisely as noble families fifteen centuries later were wont to do in the Christian churches of Europe, as so commonly at Florence.

Indeed. It's curiously unexpected.

Unless 1,000 years have been inserted into history to distance us from these events. Which is probably the real reason mystery plays were suppressed in the 17th Century. And why early 19th century photographers were so keen to record live children willingly standing near market crosses:

Children at Deeping St James lock-up, Lincolnshire. Source: DBC

Children by new cross at Swineshead, Lincolnshire. Source: Swineshead History

The worn base of an older structure can be seen in the background.

These kids knew the real meaning of 'stock' for outcasts and babies born on manor farms:

Stocks next to the remains of Swineshead's old market cross. Source: Swineshead History

Keywords: cross, market, stock.

Locations discussed in this research

© All rights reserved. The original author retains ownership and rights.

  1. A "very anomalous pronunciation of g soft before other vowels" may suggest 'gaol' is related to 'gel' and/or 'jelly'. Ie emulsified fat products. 

  2. Similar imagery was found in Bürgstein/Sjovkov bottle cave in the Czech Republic. 

  3. For English speakers, St Nicholas was rewritten into a fat, jolly Christmas gift-giver. In central and eastern Europe, St Nicholas collected disobedient children and ate them. 

  4. Cordwainers = shoemakers. Cordwainers make new shoes from new leather. As opposed to cobblers, who repair used shoes. 

  5. Miss L. Morton of March: letter in the East Anglian Magazine, Vol.12, No.5, March 1953 

  6. Oliver also summarised evidence that peasants despised Temple Bruer's Knights Templar. Some of this evidence is included in Burghers in the Priors' Ovens

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