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Market Cross

Market Cross, Leighton BuzzardLocation
Market Square, Leighton Buzzard

Photo Gallery - click here to see photos and pictures of the cross

The origins of the Market Cross in Leighton Buzzard are not certain, however, it is believed to date from the 15th century and was possibly organised and financed by Alice, Duchess of Suffolk, who was Lord of the Manor.

The Market Cross has a pentagonal shaped base and consists of two tiers rising to a height of 27 feet. The lower story rests upon five buttresses and a centre shaft with small shafts and caps at the angles internally. The cornice has gargoyles and grotesques and is surmounted by a pierced and embattled parapet.

The second storey contains five statues arranged as follows:- facing down the High Street, is the Virgin Mary with child; on her right is a Bishop; on her left is a crowned King; on the right of the Bishop, St. John the Baptist with the Agnus Dei and a book; and finally on the left of the King, the figure of Christ having risen from the tomb.

The five outer buttresses are affixed to the jambs by the tracery work, forming flying buttresses at the angles. The centre of the cross is a large crocketed pinnacle surmounted by a vane on top of which is a cross and crown.

In 1650 it was presented to the court leet that the cross was "in a ruinous state that it greatly endagered the lives of those persons who were passing near it" and as a result a tax was levied on the inhabitants of the town to pay for repair.

By 1852 the Market Cross was once again in a poor state of repair and after the raising of the necessary money restoration was commenced in November of that year and completed the following May under the direction of Mr. Cox, architect, of Leighton. This restoration was rather too thorough, involving the addition of a stone parapet, new steps and an iron palisade. It also included replacing the statues with new ones, which were executed by Mr. Cox. The old figures were placed around the neighbouring Town Hall. Under the foundation stone, Colonel Hanmer deposited the following inscription:



This ancient Gothic cross is said to have been erected A.D. 1350. Temp. Edward III.

A.D. 1620, it was repaired by a rate of fourpence levied upon each inhabitant, and it has since received several imperfect restorations.

At the present date, 1852, its very dilapidated state being much deplored, the Lord of the Manor, aided by some of the wealthier inhabitants of the town, raised the following liberal subscriptions:-

  £ s d
Col. Hanmer, K. H., Lord of the Manor
Mrs. Grant
Mr. Bassett
Mr. F. Bassett
Mr. Joseph Proctor
Mr. C. Ridgway
Mr. E. Lawford
£ 350 0 0

And it was restored to its former beauty and original state. An additional £75 was subscribed for a new iron palisade by Col. Hanmer and J. D. Bassett, Esq.

By 1900 the condition of the Market Cross necessitated yet another restoration. The old figures were placed back on the Cross replacing the newer figures which had decayed badly. Additionally, a new parapet with pinnacles at the corners and new steps were added. In 1910 the upper main pinnacle was restored. Also, around this period the iron palisade was taken down.

Being such a prominent landmark at the heart of the town, the Market Cross has acted as a focus for events over the centuries.

During the Commonwealth period 1650 to 1660, Acts of Parliament were passed which took marriages out of the hands of the clergy, and gave them as a responsibility to the Justices of the Peace. As such the Banns for marriage could be read out in the market place, and it is thought that the Market Cross would have been the obvious location for this. The Parish Registers bear witness to Banns having been read in the market place e.g.

Thomas Doggett, the son of Ralph Doggett of Laighton Beaudesert, was married to Elizabeth Edwards of Biggleswade, the daughter of Thomas Edwards, of Langford, county Bedford, by Samuel Bedford, Esq., their contract having been published in Leighton on three market daies, February 21st and 28th, and March 7th, 1653.

In 1751 a group of towns folk gathered around the Market Cross to denounce Jane Massey and Catherine Hawkes as witches, despite the fact that witchcraft laws had been repealed some sixteen years beforehand. The crowd intended to drag the victims to Luton to 'float' them in the river (the river at Leighton Buzzard not being deep enough). Fortunately, several local gentlemen intervened, to disuade and disperse the mob.

In 1863, the Market Cross became a spectacular centrepiece of the town's celebrations for the marriage of the Prince of Wales and Princess Alexandra of Denmark, and was described in detail in the Leighton Buzzard Observer on the 17th March 1863. Through the day of the Royal wedding, celebrations of every kind were held in both Leighton Buzzard and Linslade and continued well into the evening when the inhabitants of the town, one by one started to light up their premises with "rows and lines of gas, and cunningly devised devices" some of them not very professional and rather crude, but others having very elegant and attractive qualities. "The most striking, as well as that of the greatest dimensions was - The Cross - The design and success we are pleased to find is local talent, and it is fair to Mr. Sharp to mention that he justly earned all the encomiums awarded him officially by the committee..." "The whole of the outline, the arches, the columns and the spine were lit up with lines of gas from the base to the vane. It contained altogether 400 star and fir-tree jets, the stars containing nine sprays and the fir-tree jets 16 sprays making a total of 3344 sprays of light..." "The gas consumed was estimated at about 1500 feet per hour..." "The effect of this pentagonal and ancient structure, when viewed from the bottom of the town was exceedingly fine and impressive, and we should imagine, was excelled but by few towns, if any, in the kingdom..." "Upon nearer gaze the effect was more suggestive as the blaze threw a halo of brightness around the dolorous visages of the statues of a bishop, St. John, the Virgin & child and other mutilated figures."

In 1901 the Market Cross was used for the Proclamation of the Accession of King Edward VII and similarly again in 1910 for George V.

The Market Cross has also featured as part of one of the towns annual customs. On Rogation Monday, All Saints choir and the Trustees of the Wilkes' Charity process along the High Street and on to the Almshouses, where an extract of Wilke's will is read out whilst a member of the choir stands on their head. After the ceremony the custom was for the choir members to be treated to a drink (traditionally beer) and a current bun around the Market Cross.

When Princess Diana died in a tragic car accident in 1997, the townsfolk placed bunches of flowers and other tributes around the steps of Market Cross in her memory.

In recent times the town's annual Christmas carol concert has been held at the Market Cross.


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