At the centre of the oldest part of Leyland stands the town cross and well. The cross shaft and steps are probably medieval and the well would have been a useful water source in the early days of the settlement. Leyland is one of the Lancashire Hundreds, which are large administrative areas set up in late Saxon times. (The other hundreds are Blackburn, Amounderness, Londsale, West Derby, Newton and Salford. It’s disputed as to what a hundred refers to. Some sources claim it is an area that could provide a hundred men-at-arms, others say it represents a hundred households, or perhaps a hundred hides (each hide being 120 acres- enough to feed a large family).
The original function of the cross is not clear- it could be the market cross or an early preaching cross, or perhaps both. The town stocks and whipping post were also here until the end of Victorian times.
It’s not known when the top part of the cross was broken off, with some historical sources claiming it may have been done by puritans. A drawing from 1769 shows the cross to already be broken by then. Damage to crosses such as these was common across the country and many market and church crosses were attacked during the turbulent times in power struggles between factions of the Christian Church. Here in Lancashire many of our crosses have been knocked down, hidden and reused before finally being reinstated. This was the fate of the Whalley Crosses, Foldy’s Cross, and Doffcocker Cross.
In the late Victorian times the Leyland cross shaft had twin street gas lamps mounted on top of it. The well had a large iron pump connected to it and a stone trough next to it. For Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee it was decided that the cross and well should be restored. The gas lamps were removed and a new cross head was placed on top of the medieval shaft, bringing it presumably to somewhere near its original height. The cross has only two flights of its original steps on view, although there are another two flights hidden under the ground level. The pump and trough were removed and a new drinking fountain was installed over the well. This states on one face “Erected in commemoration of the Jubilee of Queen Victoria 1887”. A portrait of the queen appears on the opposite side.
The restoration of the cross did not mark the end to its troubles. Dr. David Hunt, the curator of Leyland’s local history museum, notes that it has been damaged in the twentieth century by cars, vandals and even World War 2 tanks ! Today the cross and well fountain still have traffic travelling both sides of them, as they lie in the centre of a busy route through the town. After viewing them visitors can proceed along to the nearby medieval St Andrew’s Church and Leyland’s Tudor Grammar School which houses the excellent South Ribble Museum.
Site visited by A. and S. Bowden 2017
Leyland Town Cross and Well are open access on the corner where Church Road meets Towngate. There are pay and display car parks in the centre of Leyland and the large Tesco car park is very near to the cross and well.
Nearby, just a few steps away Leyland’s Tudor Grammar School and South Ribble Museum.
The History of Leyland and District, David Hunt (1990) Carnegie Press
The Ancient Crosses and Holy Wells of Lancashire: A Revised Version: Volume VI: Leyland Hundred, J.A. Hilton, A.J. Noble, M. Panikkar, W.A. Varney (2007) North West Catholic History Society
Leyland Cross Conservation Area Appraisal and Management Plan (Revised February 2014) South Ribble Borough Council