A fragment of the long-lost ancient cross at Radcliffe, Bury, has been rediscovered – in the local library’s cellar. Local historian Carol Kemp, who was born in the town and lived in the Top O’ Cross area of Radcliffe as a child, has been looking for the cross for years. The trail involved hunting through newspapers, council minutes, and old documents. The location was shown on the Ordnance Survey six inch map for the area in 1850 at Top O’ Cross, although by the 1890s the next map described it as just the ‘site of’. An article in The Radcliffe Times from December 1938 recorded the donation of the cross to Radcliffe Borough Council, and gave a detailed description of the stone – two feet high and 16 inches across with a cross carved on one side. This description was crucial in relocating the stone, for during one of her many visits to Radcliffe Library Carol fell into conversation with librarian Julie Taylor, who mentioned that there was a stone in the basement of the building with a carved cross on it. Further investigation revealed that the stone was the same dimensions at the Radcliffe Times report and matched a further description in the Council minutes also from 1938.
Initial study of the stone has shown that the design (the upper part of a cross shaft with short arms and scallop-style edging decoration all
carved in relief on one face only) and the tooling on the other sides of the stone were consistent with a late medieval date for the object. This is not the complete cross, but rather a single panel from a larger composite structure. Precisely what happed to the rest of the cross structure between 1850 and 1938 is unclear – although local oral tradition suggests that part of the monument was incorporated into the garden walls of the houses around Top O’ Cross. It also seems likely that the cross fragment was stored in the Library cellar during the Second World War and was forgotten during this period.
The rediscovery comes at a time when there is a heightened awareness of Radcliffe’s history and archaeology due to the Radcliffe Heritage Project, an HLF funded scheme to improve Close Park and excavate and display Radcliffe Tower. The final resting place for the Radcliffe Cross fragment is unclear, although for the moment it is on display in the library.