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Wednesday 20 February 2008

Wooden crosses

Located in a number of churches in the south and east of the county are large oak crosses with brass plaques bearing the names of the dead, normally of both world wars, and occassionally of later conflicts. The example at Old Hutton is shown here.

Their limited dispersal and uniformity intrigues me. Who made them, and why the distribution? There are clues. At Crossthwaite a short history associated with the cross states that it was made from village oak and was until 1998 outside the church. A press report from the early '20s further indicates that the example at Skelsmergh was in the lych gate. A faculty for the placement of Heversham cross in the church was granted in May 1920. Their origin was suggested to me after I delivered a short paper at a study day for the Centre for North West Regional Studies. A member of the audience said that they were made at the Sedgewick Gunpowder Works at Gatebeck, Kendal under the auspices of Colonel Weston of Enyeat, the MP for (I think) Westmorland.

Thus it appears likely, though unproven, that these crosses were initiated by Colonel Weston about 1916 for parishes within his constituency, perhaps using oak provided by individual communities. Most, if not all, were placed in the open and served as memorials for the dead until more substantial memorials were erected when they were generally moved into the church. Some were mounted on the wall and others were furnished with rather elegant bases and frames, as at Crosscrake, above.

The individual brasses are also informative. The style of lettering is not always uniform suggesting that they were probably added as the men died. Documents from Holme suggest that the brasses there were made by W Middleton of Kendal and paid for by the families of the dead, the cost being reimbursed from the village's Patriotic fund around the same time as the memorial was created in 1923.

At Milnethorpe the cross serves as a focus for what is to all intents a small memorial chapel or shrine with the village roll above and places for flags, probably originally union flags but now only a standard of the Royal British Legion.

Unusually the Trench Art vases, that were commonly provided for memorials and rolls, remain unstolen.

I have documented crosses at Witherslack, Crossthwaite, Crosscrake, Heversham, Holme, Preston Patrick, Skelsmergh, Old Hutton. Kirkby Stephen, Milnethorpe. There is a smaller cross at New Hutton and the brasses from a former cross at All Hallows, Kendal were recorded in the early 1990s before the church closed, but I have not traced them. There are certainly others and I would like to know of them.

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