Square, Leighton Buzzard
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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.
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 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
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
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.
the neighbouring Town Hall. Under the foundation stone, Colonel
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:-
|Col. Hanmer, K. H., Lord of the Manor
Mr. F. Bassett
Mr. Joseph Proctor
Mr. C. Ridgway
Mr. E. Lawford
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,
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
During the Commonwealth period 1650 to 1660, Acts
of Parliament were passed which took marriages out of the hands
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,
daughter of Thomas Edwards, of Langford, county Bedford, by
Samuel Bedford, Esq., their contract having been published
on three market daies, February 21st and 28th, and March 7th,
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.
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
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
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.