The site of Hob Cross would have dated back to Medieval times, and even possibly before. Hob is a word to describe a type of supernatural being that lived in the more remote areas of the countryside. In Lancashire a similar term might be a boggart, and we see that name still in our present day places, for example Boggart Hole Clough in Blackley near Manchester. However, Westwood and Simpson in their huge book of English folklore The Lore of the Land note that in the North of England and Midlands the preferred name seems to be hob, with the alternatives of hobthrusts, hobmen and hobbits (this last one they point out was in existence before Tolkien ever used it). These beings were not clearly distinguished from boggarts or brownies. They note that a hob was usually associated with a named location, be that a cave, a prehistoric burial mound or in this case, a wayside cross.
Aidan Turner-Bishop in his chapter on fairy and boggart sites in Lancashire’s Sacred Landscape notes that Simpson and Westwood list Lancashire, Northumberland and Derbyshire to have the most fairy sites of all the English counties (a fairy here being a catch all term for any supernatural human-like being). This may well be due to the remote moorland aspect of so much of these three counties.
When Henry Taylor conducted his epic survey in the early 1900s of all the crosses and holy wells in Lancashire, he noted that only the pedestal, or base of the Hob Cross remained. Record show that it was still in place in 1957 but is now long disappeared. This has been the fate of many of our wayside crosses in Lancashire, where all we have for evidence of what once was there is the marking on a map of ‘site of cross’. However, in 2011 local councilors gathered to see the newly reinstated Hob Cross, one of a pair, the other being Priory Cross at nearby Blythe Lane. Both are made from recycled stone gate posts and look built to last. The money came from the District Council and from an anonymous donor, with the reinstatement being part of a scheme to highlight the historic aspects of Lathom. We cannot always preserve the past, as in this case where the original cross has disappeared, but we can make sure it is not forgotten by continuing to mark and honour the county’s ancient traditions. Crosses marked boundaries, procession routes, functioned as guide posts and meeting points. With so many in our landscape now gone, it’s heartening to see these two replacements.
Site visited by A. and S. Bowden 2018
Access Hob Cross is on Hobcross Lane, near the Ring of Bells, Lathom. There is no pull in point directly by the cross (although you can drive right next to it). You’ll need to look for a pull in space a little away from it, so do park carefully.
The Lore of the Land: A guide to England’s Legends, J.Westwood and J.Simpson (2005) Penguin
Lancashire’s Sacred Landscape, edited by Linda Sever (2010) The History Press
Historic England Pastcape website entry on Hob Cross