Godley Lane Cross is a one of a number of historical monuments that stand on a small piece of land at the back of what was Burnley Grammar School. It would be easy to miss the cross when walking past on the pavement beside it, as it is partly hidden by the surrounding tree leaves. Henry Taylor, the surveyor of all the crosses and holy wells of Lancashire, writing in 1900 tells us “The Godley Lane Cross (or Cross of St Paulinus) stood just within the south-eastern boundary of Bank Hall Park, at a distance of three hundred yards in a north easterly direction from the old parish church, and abutting upon Godley Lane “. He states that because of some building work the cross had to be moved to a safe position, presumably this one.
Standing at 8 feet 9 inches, it is made of millstone grit sandstone and is blackened from industrial pollution. The shaft seems to show no carving or decoration. Its left and right side arms have been broken away many years ago, but its top is intact. This has a wide ‘spoke’ that connects onto a rounded rim. Presumably the other two arms would have looked the same, resembling a ‘wheel headed cross’, but with each arm remaining unjoined at the rim. There is a central ‘boss’ (a protruding dome shape) on both sides, and on one side this is surrounded by a ring. This is a key indicator of a pre-Norman design, so the cross was probably made in the late Saxon/ Viking age. Professor Richard Bailey puts it as 11th century, a short time before the Norman conquest of 1066.
However, not all historians agree on this. Some think it is the later medieval market cross, constructed in 1296. Most Saxon/late Viking crosses have decorated shafts, and this clearly does not. Nor has everyone been impressed by it . Two antiquarians, Redding and Taylor, travelling through Lancashire in 1842 wrote “We had heard of an old cross, and knowing that no few Catholics were still found in Burnley, we expected to find a choice relic of antiquity, but in this too we were destined to meet with disappointment. Something which was once a cross, a nearly unshapen stone eight feet in height, bearing marks of having stood much rough weather, was all that remained… unless indeed we add the stories we heard by its side, of bones being discovered and other evidence that we were standing on the site of an old catholic chapel“.
There is a local tradition that pushes the cross even further back in history, and that is the referral to it as a “Paulinus Cross”. This associates it with the preaching tours of St Paulinus in the seventh century, where he actively sought to convert the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity. Paulinus was a missionary from Rome, and became the first bishop of York. He died in 644 AD, which would give this cross a very early date. So which kind of cross is it then ? Early Paulinus, late Saxon/Viking or Medieval ? All this said, we’ll side with Professor Bailey who has examined all the Viking and Saxon sculpture of Lancashire, and put it in the late Saxon/Viking age of the early 11th century.
In this little triangle of land are a group of other antiquities. There is the base of one of Burnley’s later Market Crosses- probably dating from the 1600s. Just in front of it are the stone sides and base of the town stocks. There is also a stone plaque marking the site of the ‘Russians Guns’, but sadly no canons remain having been sent away for scrap metal during the Second World War.
The final interesting feature is the well head covering of what was Shorey Well, which sits just inside of the railings on Church Street. This unassuming set of stones was once located by the River Brun. Two pictures show how Shorey Well once looked: the first is on the Lancashire Lantern Website (once on the website, make sure you click on the black and white photo to enlarge it) here. The second photo is on the Briercliffe Society website and can be seen by clicking here.
Those two photographs show that the present wellhead is really a shadow of its former imposing structure. Shorey Well was one of the main sources of drinking water for Burnley in the 1800s. It was reached by travelling down Shorey Street or by crossing some stepping stones at the end of Dawson Square. Work to strengthen the banks of the Brun meant that the well was destroyed, but the well head structure was saved and moved to its present position.
There is free short stay parking available on School Street. Head down School Street and turn left onto Church Street. The antiquities are in a little triangle of land at the back of the old Grammar School (which more recently was Burnley College of Higher Education). They can all be seen from the street quite easily.
Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture, Volume IX, Cheshire and Lancashire, Richard N. Bailey, 2010, British Academy, Oxford University Press
The Ancient Crosses and Holy Wells of Lancashire (A Revised Version) Volume III Blackburn Hundred ,A.J. Noble (2004) North West Catholic History Society
St Peter’s Church Heritage Display interpretation boards, within the St Peter’s Church
Lancashire Historic Town Survey Programme, Burnley Historic Town Assessment Report (2005) Lancashire County Council and Egerton Lea Consultancy