Tuesday, November 22, 2016
Shepton Mallet, Somerset
Regular readers of this blog will have noticed my liking for market buildings of all kinds, from medieval mutli-arched halls to the glass-roofed markets of the 19th century. I also like market crosses – the focal points of market activity that still stand in many towns, many of them medieval and elaborately carved.
Market crosses, like this one at Shepton Mallet, are partly shelters for stall holders, partly three-dimensional signs to indicate the site of the market, and partly religious buildings that reminded medieval traders and shoppers that their business took place under the eye of God – and probably that deals agreed under the cross had an oath-like and binding force.
Shepton’s handsome stone cross dates from the year 1500, although it has been much altered and the precise dates of its various parts aren’t entirely clear. The central shaft looks largely original (though it may have been restored in the Victorian period). The surrounding hexagonal structure with its shallow elliptical arches has a 17th-century appearance, so may replace an earlier set of arches, it being unlikely, though possible, that the shaft originally stood without the surrounding structure propping it up. Above the arches are six very Gothic-looking pinnacles that seem out of keeping with the Jacobean arches but very much in keeping with the central shaft: perhaps they date from the 19th-century restoration, when the outer structure was Gothicized, to make it more like the original cross. There is a lot more detail about the history of this building on the local Shepton Mallet website.*
Whatever the exact story, the market cross still forms a focus in the town square.† Shepton is, I think, no longer quite the bustling place it was – although I was last there on a quiet Sunday and it may well be busier during the rest of the week. But the town has obviously looked after this beautiful structure for over 500 years, and I hope it attracts more people to the town’s shops. I hope to be back soon on a weekday, when they’re open.
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* For example, the website gives evidence for work on the cross in 1841, with various accounts including one that says only the upper part of the cross was rebuilt at this time – though we are not told exactly what ‘rebuilt’ means in this context. However, this online account is itself a very shortened version of a much longer study. See the website for more details.
† One more thing hat adds to the historical interest of the market cross is an old iron road sign, attached to one corner, that shows distances to various towns and cities. I did a post about this sign some time ago, here.