In St James’s Churchyard, by the base of the church tower is a massive double socket stone, which once held two crosses. Dating from the 10-11th century, the crosses may well have had Viking design and motifs on them, as well as Saxon ones. These double socket stones are rare in Lancashire, but at Whalley Churchyard there is one, and the cross itself shows clear Viking influence. The name Haslingden is Old English (Saxon) in origin and means “valley of hazels”, but nearby Helmshore is Old Norse (Viking) meaning ” cattle shelter on steep slope”. Without the actual crosses to look at, it’s hard to establish their provenance, other than by dating the unusual socket stone.
The crosses may well have been refered to in a 1547 document of Edward VI’s time as “the cross in le churche pittes” and were presumably destroyed during the troubled times of the 1600s in conflicts between different Christian factions. This massive base, having no offending motifs or significance, and being very robust, has managed to survive and was discovered in 1856 in the churchyard during repairs to the south porch of the church.
Its position today by the church tower is obviously not its original one, but it presumably has not been moved far over the last thousand years. The church site itself is an impressive one, and the land around the churchyard drops away steeply to give good views of the surrounding countryside. Like many Lancashire old church sites, it is built on a natural high point, giving it an impressive appearance and dominating the landscape below. The church still catches the eye of many travelers along the modern day A56.
Site visited by A. and R. Bowden 2013
Parking: There is visitor parking next to the church
See the blog post about the Whalley churchyard double socket here
Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture, Volume IX, Cheshire and Lancashire, Richard N. Bailey, 2010, British Academy, Oxford University Press
Lancashire Historic Town Survey Programme: Haslingden: Historic Town Assessment Record, compiled by Suzanne Hartley, 2005, Lancashire County Council (available free as a pdf document from www.lancashire.gov.uk , click through to environment and archaeology pages)