Leeds nostalgia: The turbulent history of the Leeds Saxon Cross

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The much celebrated old stone cross - also known as ‘the sculptered pillar’ or Saxon Cross - in Leeds Minster, has, by all accounts, had an interesting and varied history.

To shed light on one aspect of the story associated with it, we turn our attention to a book of which there were only 350 copies every made.

History of the Parish Church of St Peter’s at Leeds was published in 1896. Largely researched and written by James Rusby, who died before the book was published but was said to have “industriously accumulated” much of its content. Born in Leeds inh 1830, he was a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society with a keen interest in the antiquities, publishing histories of the church in 1881, 1882 and 1883.

One aspect of his research relates to the old stone cross, which now resides in Leeds Minster but, it seems, as much through luck as the perseverence of those who desired its return to the city whence it was found.

According to the book, the cross was discovered “in pieces”, built into the tower and some of the other walls of the church which stood on the site prior to it being rebuilt, circa 1838.

The book notes that many of the pieces of ancient stone, some of which date back to the Seventh Century, were carted off before anyone realised their worth. The architect of the new church, Mr Chantrell, exercised his right to claim all “old material”. The cross went with him from Leeds to London and ended up in a grocer’s shop in Rottingdean, near Brighton. When Dr Gott, Vicar of Leeds, tried to buy it in 1869, the owner demanded £100 and threatened to break it into stones for road-building if anyone began a legal case against him. In the end, Dr Gott talked the man down to £25 and the cross, and its history, came back to Leeds.