The saga of the Nunney market cross

Nunney market cross

The discovery of a rare photo of the Nunney market cross in the vaults of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has rekindled a scandal that rocked Nunney in 1869.

Nunney Castle 1870
Nunney Castle c1870 (collection: Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam)

Photo album (collection: Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam)
Photo album of an English family c1860-c1873 (collection: Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (RP-F-F01018))
The collections of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam contain a photo of Nunney Castle, taken between 1860 and 1870. It is part of a private photo album that belonged to an English family.

The album was acquired by the museum in 1974. The name of the family that made the photos is not known, but the album contains photos of their travels, cricket matches and works of art.

The photo of Nunney Castle shows the north wall, which was damaged by a single cannon ball during the English Civil War siege in August or September 1645. The wall finally collapsed on Christmas Day 1910.

You can read the story of how Nunney Castle was subsequently saved for the nation in our article How Nunney Castle was saved.

Albumen printing

Nunney rectory, 1860
This tiny photograph of Nunney’s former rectory, taken around 1870, is an example of an albumen print.

The photos in the Rijksmuseum‘s family album were made using the albumen printing technique. The albumen print, also called albumen silver print, was published in January 1847 by Louis Désiré Blanquart-Evrard, and was the first commercially exploitable method of producing a photographic print on a paper base from a negative.

It used the albumen found in egg whites to bind the photographic chemicals to the paper and became the dominant form of photographic positives from 1855 to the turn of the 20th century, with a peak in the 1860-90 period.

During the mid-19th century, the carte de visite became one of the more popular uses of the albumen method. Visit Nunney has acquired three cartes de visite, made around the same time as the photos in the album, that show the church interior and exterior as well as the former rectory.

Because the image emerges as a direct result of exposure to light, without the aid of a developing solution, an albumen print may be said to be a printed rather than a developed photograph.

Market cross

The album contains a rare image of the Nunney cross outside Whatley House (left). It was returned to Nunney in 1959 (right).

The album that contains the photo of Nunney Castle also includes three photos of Whatley. These include a rare photo of the Grade II* listed so-called market cross that now stands by the duck flats in Nunney.

According to Historic England, the Nunney market cross dates from around 1100. Nunney’s first known parson was Thomas de Tornai, invested by Bishop Reginald of Wells around 1188.

We know very little about the earliest history of Nunney Church, other than that it predates the castle by at least 150 years and occupied the highest spot in the centre of the village.

The oldest parts of the current building date back to the 13th century. Both the stolen cross and the Norman font predate this; the original dedication to St Katherine also typically suggests that it was built on a site of pagan significance.


anglo saxon cross shaft nunney
This Anglo-Saxon cross shaft or ornamentation was stolen from Nunney Church in 2003.

This Saxon cross shaft or 12th century ornament was stolen from Nunney Church in 2003 and never recovered.
This Saxon cross shaft or 12th century ornament was stolen from Nunney Church in 2003 and never recovered.
As well as the relic know known as the Nunney market cross, a second and much better preserved Anglo-Saxon cross shaft found when digging a grave in the churchyard in 1931 was previously on display in the north sill of the chancel. It was stolen in 2003 and never recovered.

Measuring 35 cm (14 in) by 20 cm (7.75 in), it was very worn and damaged. This tapered cross shaft was decorated with birds and foliage on three sides. Stylistically the birds with craning necks were typical of the late 10th century.

The design of the stolen cross shaft closely resembled decorative borders in a manuscript now in the collection of Corpus Christi College in Cambridge, produced in Winchester in the early 10th century, and other manuscripts in the Bodleian Library in Oxford.

The birds were reminiscent of 10th century metalwork, such as the Canterbury and Thames censers. The carvings, both on churchyard crosses and decorations inside churches, were often brightly painted. Pigments still survive to this day on some Anglo-Saxon carvings.

The lost Nunney cross shaft consisted of Bradford stone, a coarse Oolite limestone rich in shell fragments that was quarried in the Avon vallley near Bradford-on-Avon. Doulting stone, found closer to Nunney outside the village of Doulting, was not used in the wider area until after 1174.

anglo saxon cross shaft nunney
Two birds with craning necks decorated the cross shaft stolen from Nunney Church in 2003.

Father Ethelbert Horne
Father Ethelbert Horne (collection Downside Abbey)
The Very Rev. Prior Ethelbert Horne of Downside Abbey, a prominent and knowledgeable expert on Somerset heritage, thought that this was probably part of the old Saxon churchyard cross now known as the Nunney market cross.

The term ‘market cross’ is itself almost certainly a misnomer, since it stood in the churchyard rather than the actual market place. Nunney’s royal market and fair charter wasn’t issued until 1260 either.

Little or no decoration remains on the Nunney market cross – and certainly nothing of the quality of the lost cross shaft. It is also possible that the stolen shaft was either originally or at a later date used as an ornament, such as a lintel, given that it was decorated only on three sides.

Interestingly, William of Malmesbury, who wrote in the 12th century, described how when St Aldhelm died in 709 AD in Doulting, stone crosses (biscopstane) were set up at each of the places his body rested overnight on its route to Malmesbury.

In Somerset, these crosses were set up in Doulting, Frome and Bath; but the one in Frome may be a replacement and no cross survived in Doulting.

There is no evidence that a St Aldhelm cross existing in Nunney, although the road from Doulting to Frome led down Horn Street down the ford (now the footbridge) onto Church Street.

But in any case the lost cross shaft suggests that there was almost certainly a church or chapel on the site now occupied by All Saints Church Nunney before the Norman conquest.

It is also possible that Nunney initially had a preaching cross rather than a churchyard cross, used by priests as a focal point for worship where no church existed.

Most crosses were erected as a focal point for gatherings and announcements.

Early mentions

A sketch of Nunney Castle made in 1644 by Richard Symonds, a Royalist officer. (collection: British Library)
A sketch of Nunney Castle made in 1644 by Richard Symonds, a Royalist officer. (collection: British Library)

There is only one mention of a cross in the Nunney churchyard in early descriptions of the village. The poet and antiquary John Leland visited in 1542, but doesn’t mention it.

Richard Symonds, a diarist who travelled with Charles I and his troops around the West Country in 1644, gives detailed descriptions of the castle, church and the stone house next to the castle (including the only known drawing of the castle before the 1645 siege) but doesn’t mention a cross either.

The only known mention of it is in the Rev. John Collinson’s The History and Antiquities of the County of Somerset, published in 1791. He wrote, “In the church-yard are the remains of an old stone cross.”

This describes neither its location in the churchyard nor whether at the time it consisted of anything more than a cross shaft. But “the remains” suggests that it was incomplete even then.

Collinson’s description also doesn’t make clear whether the old stone cross was Anglo-Saxon or High Medieval.

This was not unusual, however, because until the late 19th century there was very little understanding of the distinctive character of Anglo-Saxon monuments.


Braikenridge collection Nunney
All Saints Church, Nunney; drawing from the Braikenridge Collection, possibly by William Walter Wheatley (collection Somerset Heritage Centre)

The plot thickens when we look at a drawing of the southwest of Nunney Church, created in 1843 and now part of the Braikenridge collection of Somerset illustrations at the Somerset Heritage Centre in Taunton.

George Weare Braikenridge (1775–1856) was an antiquarian who was born in the Colony of Virginia, but lived for most of his life in Brislington, near Bristol.

He created a large collection of historical and topographical material on Bristol and later Somerset known as the Braikenridge Collection. It contains over 1400 drawings and watercolours of Bristol landscapes and buildings.

The Braikenridge Collection has become the most important historical record of Bristol’s appearance in the early 19th century, and makes Bristol one of the best documented English cities in this respect

He also commissioned a series of illustrations of Somerset historic structures, mainly churches but also crosses. He recorded several that were gone by the time Pooley was working on Old Stone Crosses of Somerset in the 1870s.

The illustrations of Somerset structures include a drawing of Nunney Church with a cross next to it. This seems to show a cross with one – perhaps two – dilapidated steps.

The socket stone is distinctly not round – as it currently is -, however, but polygonal, with a lip at the top – not unlike the one at the market cross at Cheddar, or the roadside cross at Croscombe.

Round sockets are incredibly rare in Somerset: Chilton Trinity near Bridgwater has one, as do Brympton near Yeovil, Carhampton (possibly) and Cheddon Fitzpaine near Taunton (but that’s ‘restored’) and Dunster churchyard, and they don’t seem common in our surrounding counties either.

The cross at Nunney does have a lip at the top, of course, but Braikenridge’s illustrators (mostly William Walter Wheatley) were usually pretty accurate.

This leaves something uncertain about the history of the current cross, but at least Braikenridge shows where the old one stood.

All Saints Church, Nunney; drawing from the Braikenridge Collection, possibly by William Walter Wheatley (collection Somerset Heritage Centre)
All Saints Church, Nunney; drawing from the Braikenridge Collection, possibly by William Walter Wheatley (collection Somerset Heritage Centre)


What we call the Nunney market cross was rebuilt on its current site in 1959 and has a commemorative plaque that wrongly dates the Nunney market charter to 1259. As Visit Nunney established, it was in fact signed in 1260.

The plaque explains how the Nunney market cross ended up in Whatley for almost a century:

Nunney Market Cross
A plaque was added to the drum base of the so-called Nunney market cross in 1959.
It formerly stood in Nunney churchyard. It was taken down in 1869 and disposed of in pieces.

Some years later, some parts of the cross were found in a builder’s yard and were acquired by Mr John Henry Shore of Whatley, for the sum of £2.

The cross was restored by Mr J. Foster, an architect, and stood for many years in Mr Shore’s grounds at Whatley House.

Hence the Whatley photo. It is possible that whoever took the photographs in the Rijksmuseum’s album knew the Shore family. John Henry Shore died on 12 September 1878 when he was 59 years old.

We certainly know that his only son, also called John Henry (born 1851), had an interest in photography. According to the Frome Times of December 1879, he treated the children at Nunney School to a magic lantern show. He was 28 at the time.


Shore family Whatley
John Henry Shore junior and his family, photographed at Whatley House.
It is even possible that Mr Shore took the photographs himself, although more research would need to be done into his foreign travels. But one of his daughters, Grace, was born in Andorra in 1880.

One of John Henry Shore’s other children, the later Major Linton Shore, owned Manor House Farm next to Nunney Castle. He died in 1947, ten years after the author and journalist Evelyn Waugh tried and failed to buy the house.

The reconstruction of the market cross “some years” after 1869 also suggests that the Whatley photos were taken in the late 1870s, rather than between 1860 and 1870.

The Bath Chronicle of August 1875 includes a reference to “a photograph of Nunney Cross, which was restored after the materials had been lying in the stonemason’s yard several years”. It is not clear whether this refers to the same photograph.

Vestry meeting

The Frome Times of Wednesday 4 August 1869 contained a report on a Vestry meeting that took place in Nunney. It sheds a surprisingly detailed light on a story that in previous histories of Nunney is little more than a footnote.

The Nunney cross had become, according to the reporter, “a matter which appears to have obtained considerable importance in the minds of a section of the parishioners”.

Notices appeared around the village and were distributed door to door, inviting local residents to a vestry meeting on Thursday 29 July 1869 to discuss taking back ownership of the Nunney cross, which by then had been restored and stood in Whatley.

The meeting was packed with the great and the good of Nunney. The Frome Times reporter appears baffled at the furore that ensued.

“The object of the meeting may not be easily understood,” he wrote. “Even by the light of the official notice, the following explanation will be necessary.”


Kingfisher Cottage Nunney
Glass negative of the view towards Nunney Church from the bridge, c1890.(collection: Visit Nunney)
“For many years there stood in the churchyard of Nunney a relic of apparent antiquity. It had the form of circular steps surmounted by a shaft; and we believe that the oldest inhabitant could not give a more literal description of the relic.”

“As decay, unfortunately, appears to be the normal state of Nunney – whether as regards its trade, its church (to say nothing of its grand old castle), so also decayed became this remnant of a more prosperous time.”

“When the churchyard was open, the youthful villagers made the spot the scene of their games, and Divine service was not infrequently interrupted by the mirth of boys and girls who should have been better taught than to disturb the worship of Almighty God.”

This is ironic, because – as said earlier – crosses were usually erected specifically as a focal point for gatherings.

“Time, the great destroyer, did its work, and gradually the fabric became a complete wreck.”


This survey map of Nunney was created by Dixon and Maitland in April 1838. It does not show the original position of the Nunney cross.
This survey map of Nunney was created by Dixon and Maitland in April 1838. It does not show the original position of the Nunney cross.

“About six years ago, the Churchwardens, with the sanction of the Rector, authorised the removal of the stones, and replaced them with turf. From all we can learn, the parishioners at this time made no objection to a measure, which, however ‘impolitic’ it might have been, was deemed to be an ‘improvement’.”

“Be that as it may, the ruin was removed, and for two years the stones which constituted the remnants of the village ornament remained, some of them, with the village builder, while many more were dispersed in ways from whence they cannot be recovered.”

Somehow the remaining stones at the builder’s yard were brought to the attention of John Henry Shore, a keen collector of old and interesting objects.

Importantly, this was the same Mr Shore on whose land the Roman villa at Whatley (now within Nunney parish boundaries) was discovered in August 1837.

Shore had built a corrugated roof over the site of the villa and its mosaic floors and regularly showed groups of up to 250 visitors at a time around the site.

A rare 1928 photo of the Whatley Roman pavement, showing a fish seen in the centre of the semi-circular top end of the above drawing (Source: Somerset Heritage Centre)
A rare 1928 photo of a detail of the Whatley Roman mosaic, showing a fish seen in the centre of a semi-circular top end. (Collection: Somerset Heritage Centre, Taunton)

New material

With what the Frome Times reporter calls “praiseworthy zeal for the preservation of things of the olden time”, he bought the fragments of the Nunney cross for just £2.

One of his relatives, Mr Pack, came up with the idea of restoring the materials to what he imagined their original form had been. Adding a very considerable amount of new material, he created a rather plausible medieval cross at Whatley House.

Whatley House had been rebuilt in 1861 on the site of an older mansion. Unfortunately, newspaper reports at the time only referred to Mr J. H. Shore and Mr Pack. Mr Shore senior married Elizabeth Pack of Flore House in Northampton in 1848, when her father Richard Pack had already died.

It is therefore likely that the Mr Pack who restored the cross was John Shore’s brother in law, 60-year-old John Pack who lived in with Mr Shore at Whatley House. Elizabeth had died by then; she died in May 1856 aged just 37, less than three months after giving birth to a baby girl.

But given that the junior John Henry Shore was just 17 or 18 by the time of the cross furore in 1869, it seems safe to conclude that it was his father and uncle who are the key people in this saga.

Better off without

The Frome Times reporter concludes, “It is not our province to discover whence came the desire to have the missing stones restored to their old place in Nunney churchyard; nor is it for us to say whether or not they were lawfully removed.”

“But this we may say, that we regret that so many years have been allowed to pass away ere any step has been taken in the matter of the desired restoration. And furthermore, that if the desire be since, the parishioners should gladly avail themselves of Mr Pack’s handsome offer to give back the restored cross at a nominal cost.”

Castlebrook House, Nunney
Castlebrook House (left) and the church rooms (right) were built in 1820.
The meeting started at 11am and was most likely held in the Church Rooms, then still in use as the village school. The room was full to bursting – easily the best-attended vestry meeting in many years.

The Rev. Thomas Theobald, Nunney’s 66-year-old Rector who had recently recovered from a long-term illness, chaired the meeting. He started by explaining why it been called and launched straight into a defense of his decision to remove the cross.

The village was better off without it, he said, because it has been a cause of nuisance to worshippers – especially during funerals. The crowd voiced its approval.

Second opinion

Mr Pack then asked permission speak, although he didn’t live in Nunney. He said that he accepted the Rev. Theobald’s reasons for removing the “instrument”, as he called it. But – and he assured his audience that he was happy to stand corrected – that wasn’t really the issues.

Some six years earlier the Rector and churchwardens had offered a local mason 30 shillings to remove the stones, which the mason said wouldn’t cover the cost of their disposal. For two years after that, the mason therefore had the stones in his yard.

In 1865 John Shore found out about them. He discovered them overgrown, bought them and had them moved to Whatley House.

And that’s where John Pack saw them. He thought the stones where old, but asked for a second opinion from a prominent architect, Mr Foster. This was most likely John Foster of Foster & Wood Architects in Bristol, who built Colston Hall and the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.

Detail of the c1760 map of the Manor of Nunney belonging to James Theobald Esq. (collection: Somerset Heritage Centre)
Detail of the c1760 map of the Manor of Nunney belonging to James Theobald Esq. The church is shown bottom right (striped), but the original location of the cross in the churchyard is not displayed. (collection: Somerset Heritage Centre)


To much laughter Mr Pack told how Mr Foster was of the opinion that to complete the original design more than a wagon-load of stones were missing.

“There could be little doubt that whatever the structure might have originally been, it was knocked down in the time of Cromwell, when their castle was destroyed,” Pack added.

He defied anyone to say what the structure originally had looked like, apart from that it had a shaft. And he could tell them that some of the stones used in the current structure were previously used as straddles (the mushroom-shaped stones used to raise granaries and barns off the ground).

Peck argued that it would therefore be impossible to “restore” some sort of original. Many in the room agreed.

Based on the thoughts and design proposals of Mr Foster, he had instructed builder James Hillier from Ridgeway near Nunney to create something new. And he hastened to add that Hillier had done a fine job too.

In fact, you could hardly tell what might have been lost of the original design. Everyone who had seen the new structure had loved it, Pack said – to more sounds of approval from the room.

Bolstered by the growing support from his audience, Pack even went so far as to point out that anyone who claimed to be serious about preserving Nunney’s heritage would surely have placed at least a railing around it – yet this had never been done.


James Theobald map of the manor of Nunney 1886 (detail; collection: Somerset Heritage Centre)
Detail of the estate map of Nunney created for James Theobald in 1786 (detail; collection: Somerset Heritage Centre)

To prove how utterly impossible it would be to replace the ancient structure, he pointed out that he only had 34 and a half stones in Whatley. He questioned why there was so much discussion over a few stones the churchwardens had neither been able to sell nor been bothered to pay for to dispose of.

Richard Pack held up copy of the invite for the meeting. “It says that you want to ‘replace and repair the stone cross which formerly stood in Nunney churchyard’,” he explained. “That’s completely impossible. The newsletter is dated the 22nd of July; you should have dated it the 1st of April.”

By now he had most of the audience on his side.

“You have all heard of the Crusaders and how they have fought for the cross. Well, the people of Nunney have been stirred up to fight for something without any evidence that it was ever a cross at all,” he concluded.

He offered to go and sit outside the meeting room to allow them an open discussion, but was persuaded to stay in case there were any questions.


The Bewcastle Cross is a 7th or 8th century Anglo-Saxon cross. It is still in its original position within the churchyard of St Cuthbert’s church at Bewcastle, in Cumbria. (photo: Doug Sim (CC))
A local man, Mr Charlton, reminded the chairman that no motion to discuss. He suggested: “That this meeting is of opinion that the old cross should not be replaced”. The audience roared its approval.

He reminded everyone that the dilapidated old structure had been a real nuisance for those attending church, because of the rowdy behaviour of teenage boys meeting around it. He also wondered why the people who now felt so strongly about it now had never previously raised the issue.

“And let me remind you,” he added, “that in fact they had cared so little about the stones that only he and one other Nunney resident had attended the annual vestry meeting when the decision was taken to remove the stones.”

The rector Theobald seconded his motion. John Hill, from Ridgeway, got up and said he greatly admired Mr Pack.

John Shore explained that he had bought the cross – or supposed cross – because he wouldn’t want to see a sacred relic to end up as common building material. But he did offer at the time to restore it in the churchyard, which was confirmed by churchwarden Joseph Croom of the Manor Farm.

“Give me the other stones and I will restore it at my own cost,” Richard Pack said. “I have offered before to put it up in Nunney, as long as you pay me what I have spent on it so far.”


Three 7th or 8th century Anglo-Saxon cross shafts formerly stood in the churchyard of All Saints Church in Ilkley, West Yorkshire. They were recently been moved inside the church, which also has two Saxon window arches of Roman origin.
Mr Hill admitted that he was behind the notices and invites for the meeting. “If any punishment should arise from that, I am prepared to feel the rod for it,” he assured everyone.

“I am a landowner in this parish – and a very considerable landowner too, thank God. But there have been times when I thought that would no longer be the case.”

“Luckily what I thought were major problems turned out not to be problems at all. But I have always felt a responsibility to preserve and maintain those stones and that cross, in the interest of everyone in Nunney, as a reminder of our Saviour.”

He stressed that he genuinely hoped that the old cross would be returned to Nunney in the near future.

Mr A. J. Marsh, also from Ridgeway, said that it was a pity that no one had objected to the removed of the cross – “or whatever it might be called” – at the time it was suggested.

Now that several years had passed, he thought it better to forget about it. He had also been at the meeting where the decision had been taken, and still stood by his support for removal.

Churchwarden Croom noted that there had in fact been one objection four years ago, from a Mr Bennett of Millard’s Hill (possibly the Miller’s House at the west end of Horn Street).

However, Mr Bennet had since moved to Frome and nothing more had been said or done. “We all know that the stones are and were all over the village,” he concluded.

Replacement structure

t Laurence’s Church in Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire, is one of very few surviving Anglo-Saxon churches in England that does not show later medieval alteration or rebuilding.

Mr Hill thought it would help his argument if he pointed out that he had admired the cross ever since he was a little boy.

But he then somewhat shot himself in the foot by suggesting that Mr Shore himself had – as rumour had it – valued the cross so much that he had paid £10 (equivalent of £1,200 in 2017) for the stones.

John Shore interrupted him, “I can’t allow you to say that. I did not pay £10 but £2 for the stones, although it’s quite true that I offered £10 for a replacement structure.”

Richard Pack asked permission to remind the audience that he and Mr Shore did not claim to own the stones. Mr Hill acknowledged this. “What we do claim,” Pack continued, “is that we have very skillfully created a new structure from which I challenge any man in England to restore them to the state in which we found the stones. It simply can’t be done – and therefore it is childish to talk about restoring and repairing what is clearly beyond restoration or repair.” The audience agreed.

But Mr Hill was still not willing to give up. “The skill of man is boundless,” he said. “I am prepared to travel to Italy, France or other foreign countries to find craftsmen skilled enough to restore the old cross.”

At this point, the Rector had heard enough. “But there is is no shred of evidence that any cross was ever attached to the structure,” he sighed.


Mr Russell agreed. “We have no evidence whatsoever that it was ever a cross in the first place,” he said. “All we know for sure is that teenage boys used it to create a right nuisance during church services and even funerals.”

The churchwardens were therefore absolutely right to have removed the cross, he added – to cheers from the crowd. “As far as I know no one can say that Nunney ever had a cross.”

The 11th century Stapleford Cross in Nottinghamshire has a ball on top, but this is an 18th century addition. (photo: Jeff Tomlinson)
Richard Pack explained that according to his research, the structure had most likely been a market cross. It was likely to have been destroyed during the English Civil War.

“I have not found any evidence that it was ever a cross at all,” he said. “For all we know, there may well have been a ball or something else on top of it.”

Mr Russells concluded that, if that was correct, Mr Hill was wrong to insist that that it should have stayed on consecrated soil. If nothing else, they would desecrate the churchyard by restoring it.

To add insult to injury, Mr Pack pointed out that there was no proof that it had ever stood on consecrated ground at all.

Mr Hill shook his head. “To me it is obvious that it was a cross,” he said. “What else would it have been? For me, it is sufficient to know that it had likely been a cross, a momento of the agonies of the dying Christ.”

His fervour raised eyebrows in the audience. “Do you believe in the adoration of the cross?” someone asked – a suggestion that Hill might harbour Catholic sympathies vehemently denied.

Rural Dean

Nunney village cross
The Nunney cross in April 1960, still outside the burned out remains of Whatley House (photo: Bristol Evening World).
By this stage the meeting was clearly going round in circles. Russell repeated that Mr Hill had given no evidence that there had been a cross at all. Hill paused for thought and replied, “For as long as I can remember, there were steps and a shaft. I have no doubt that it was a cross.”

Pack reminded him that Mr Foster, the architect, agreed that there had just as likely been a ball or a flower at the top as anything else. And on it went.

Then John Hill unexpectedly produced an extraordinary theatrical coup. He produced a letter from the Rural Dean, Henry Clutterbuck. The Rural Dean had forwarded copies of a letter from the Secretary of the Bishop of Bath and Wells, Mr Bernard, to both John Hill and Mr Croom.

In it, the Bishop’s Secretary roundly condemned the Rector and churchwardens for their decision to remove the Nunney cross. Copies were sent to John Hill and churchwarden Croom; the latter had clearly kept remarkably quiet about it.

Signed on 22 July 1869, it really is strong stuff – particularly since John Hill read it out in front of the Rev. Theobald and both churchwardens, who were fully aware of its content. The letter read:

“My dear Sir, There cannot be a doubt of the illegality of the sale and removal of the cross from Nunney churchyard, and I believe the churchwardens have by this act rendered themselves amenable to proceedings in the Spiritual Court, to require them to restore the cross at their own expense; the consent of the Rector or of the patron would avail them nothing.”

“You may remember a very recent case in this Diocese of a somewhat similar character. One of the churchwardens of Chew Magna lowered the gradient of one of the paths of the churchyard, and carried away the superfluous earth. Proceedings were commenced against him in the Arches Court, and (despite the strong opinion that what he had done was an improvement) he was ordered to restore the soil and condemned in £100 costs (the equivalent of £10,400 today).”

Whatley c1870
This is one of three photos of Whatley in the family album held by the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. It shows Whatley House with unidentified individuals, possibly members of the Shore family. (collection: Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam)

Heated debate

Richard Pack pointed out that there had been no sale, and that the letter therefore wrongly referred to the sale as illegal. As for putting the structure back in the churchyard, that would not be possible without displacing dead bodies.

“The Chew Magna case was very different from this one,” he noted. “Mr Hill’s finest craftsmen in France and Italy would not be able to do the impossible; and it’s impossible to take a structure apart that has been joined using an iron pin and then soldered with lead. Whatever you say, it is physically impracticable to get back the original stones, even though there are very few of those left.”

By now the debate had become very heated indeed. The motion was seconded, amended and seconded again, until it eventually stated that, “The said remains be replaced in their original position in Nunney churchyard.”

“If it costs me a £100 fine, I will do it,” John Hill said defiantly. Pack replied that if Hill gave him £50 he could have the stones back immediately.

One man questioned what would be the worse plan: to remove the stones or to remove the bodies. “Hear, hear,” the audience groaned.


In the end a vote was taken by show of hands. John Hill’s proposal to return the stones to Nunney churchyard lost by 27 votes to 5. The churchwardens were asked to inform the Rural Dean accordingly.

Even in defeat, John Hill still wasn’t having any of it. Pack offered to sell him the restored monument for £25, but Hill replied that he couldn’t buy what was already his.

And with that, the meeting was closed. However, that wasn’t the end of the matter. The Frome Times received copies of a subsequent letter from John Hill to John Shore, dated two days after the vestry meeting:

“My dear Sir, allow me once more to ask you to give up the old stone cross. I faithfully tell you that in dspite of the numbers that held up their hands against my proposition, I do intend by the help of my God to persevere or to obtain it. Whatley unconsecrated land shall never bear it up if there is any law to prevent it.”

Mr Shore responded three days later, on 3 August 1869:

“Sir, In reply to your letter, I can only express my astonishment that you should desire me to give you the old stones after the decision of your fellow parishioners that they would rather not have them. Had the vestry expressed a wish for their restoration, I should have felt disposed to renew the offer I made four years ago, that is, to restore the stones and re-erect the structure – which they then refused. If you contemplate further proceedings it will doubtless be more prudent for you to put yourself in the hands of your legal adviser than to resort to violence as you intimated to me.”

Nunney Fair 1959 programme signed by Sir Stirling Moss
Nunney Fair 1959 programme signed by Sir Stirling Moss, who opened the event.
Nunney Fair 1959

And that, as far as we know, was that for almost a century. Long after John Henry Shore’s death in 1878 and a fire which destroyed his house, the cross was painstakingly dismantled and rebuilt on its present site in Nunney.

In June 1959 the village fair in Nunney was revived to commemorate 700 years since Nunney’s royal market and fair charter was signed. With money raised by the fair, the cross was at last returned to the village.

The Nunney Fair programme for 1959 describes the cross as “probably late 13th century” with a “modern head of an Irish Cross out of character with the general design”.

It sees the move almost as a rescue: “At the moment the cross is standing in the grounds of a derelict mansion in a neighbouring village.”

The Bristol Evening World of April 1960 also talks about the fact that “the ancient cross that should be standing in the market place is marooned in the grounds of a burnt-out mansion in another village”.

“Now the villagers of this historic West Country village are fighting determinedly to put the cross back where it belongs. They won’t be happy until it stands in the centre of the village.”

“But the old cross that went for £2 looks like costing more than £200 (equivalent to £4,280 in 2017) to bring back to the village. Already the village has that much in the kitty.”

And so the Nunney market cross was duly returned, a Victorian folly of a High Medieval cross incorporating broken bits of who-knows-what, unlikely to have any association with a Nunney market and too badly neglected to allow dating with any certainty.

But Nunney residents and visitors don’t love it any less for that.

We are indebted to Vince Russet for bringing the illustration from the Braikenridge Collection to our attention and for providing background information.