Headington history: Miscellaneous

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Headington Cross

Headington Cross

Headington Cross in 2016
Left: Copper engraving by George Hollis
of his drawing of Headington Cross in 1813

Above: a similar view in 2016

The quatrefoil frieze base of the cross probably dates from the fifteenth century, but the shaft has been restored. The present sundial at the top is dated 1961.

According to Nina Morgan & Philip Powell, The Geology of Oxford gravestones (2015), which examines the geology of this cross in detail in the section relating to St Andrew's churchyard, the stones used are as follows.

  • The three plinths forming the stepped base are made of Headington Hardstone.
  • The replaced shaft is made of Doulting Stone, which comes from quarries in Doulting, Somerset.
  • The carved section below the shaft is made of Headington Freestone.
  • The replaced top of the structure was too high for the authors to examine, but is another type of limestone.

Another engraving of Headington Cross.

Alfred Rimmer, in Ancient Stone Crosses of England (1875), p. 74 wrote:

The date of Headington Cross is uncertain; but it is indisputable that in the fifteenth century the kings of England had a chapel in the royal manor of Headington, and equally certain that the cross was standing then. The head of the cross is modern [since replaced again], and simply a kind of rude tabernacle-work. It belongs to the same class of heads as that of Henley, in Warwickshire, which was probably a contemporaneous structure, and another at Delamere, which has only recently been exhumed.

The Gentleman's Magazine for 1899 (p. 90) included the following article by W. Henry Jewitt, a wood engraver who lived in Old Headington and who was the brother of Orlando Jewitt:

Headington Cross, Oxfordshire

This ancient cross, standing near the south porch of the church, is apparently, so far as the lower portion is concerned, of the fifteenth century, and consists (or, rather, did consist) of a tapering octagonal column, having at the angles small slender shafts with base mouldings, and placed upon a pedestal, also octagonal, raised on three steps, and ornamented on each side by a quatrefoil within a square panel. The head, unfortunately blown down in one of the gales of last winter (1898–1899), is of later date, being a restoration either of Philip and Mary [reigned 1516–1558], or of the Laudian revival [1590–1642]. It was formerly surmounted by a small cross, and had on the western face, here shown [on the drawing by Jewitt accompanying the article], a crucifix with the letters INRI above, and on either side the sun and moon, the whole enclosed in a square panel. I have heard that on the eastern face there was a figure of the Blessed Virgin, but I cannot say that I ever saw it; the crucifix I remember right well, and it was some seven or eight years ago distinctly traceable. The whole structure is now, as shown in the sketch, very much decayed and defaced, but a slightly restored representation is given in Parker's Architectural Antiquities in the Neighbourhood of Oxford, published in 1846.

This is, I think, the only ancient churchyard cross remaining in the immediate vicinity….

Over eighty years earlier, the Gentleman's Magazine for 1816, Vol. 86, pt 1, had as its frontispiece an engraving of Headington Cross, and on pp. 9–10 the Oxford architect John Chessell Buckler (1793–1894) gave the following description of the cross:

The Church-yard Cross of Headington … is an elegant and perfect specimen. It stands on the South side, about midway between the entrance to the church-yard and the porch of the church. The original termination, and probably part of the shaft, or pillar, was destroyed; and at a subsequent period, the heavy and rude one, substituted on the lower part which remained. There are but few examples of the reparation, or restoration of Crosses; and very few that have escaped the hand of destruction, and retain their original character and decorations. They generally terminated with niches, containing figures of the Virgin and Child, and the Crucifixion, an ornamental Cross of stone, or a pinnacle surmounted by an Iron Cross, all of which were indiscriminately demolished. The bases, and tottering stones of broken shafts, are common in most country church-yards, and frequently in the street….

Below: (1) Headington Cross photographed by Henry Taunt in 1918; (2) Headington Cross in 1903

Cross by Taunt

© Stephanie Jenkins

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