Bovey Tracey's Ancient Stone Crosses

Extracted from

The ancient stone crosses of Dartmoor and its borderland. (Rev.Ed.),
Exeter, James G. Commin, (1902), illus, maps, pp. xiv, 184.


William Crossing

Prepared by Michael Steer

William Crossing (1847-1928) was a prolific writer and chronicler of Dartmoor and the lives of its inhabitants. He lived successively at South Brent, Brentor and at Mary Tavy but died at Plymouth. The Dartmoor crosses are a series of stone crosses found in Dartmoor National Park. Many of them are old navigational aids, needed because of the remoteness of the moorland and its typically bad weather. Some mark medieval routes between abbeys. Other crosses were erected as memorials, for prayer, as town or market crosses, in churchyards, and as boundary markers. The crosses were erected over a long period of time, some as recently as 100 years ago, the earliest probably almost 1,000 years ago. This rare and much sought-after book was produced digitally by Google from a copy in the University of Michigan Library collection and can be downloaded from HathiTrust. Google has sponsored the digitisation of books from several libraries. These books, on which copyright has expired, are available for free educational and research use, both as individual books and as full collections to aid researchers.



Chapter XV: Crosses on the Bovey River, pp. 157-160

From Lustleigh we shall proceed to Bovey Tracey by the road connecting Moretonhampstead to that town, and just as we enter it shall notice the lower portion of the shaft of a cross, fixed in a base of granite and standing on some masonry several feet from the roadway. It is built partly into the wall of a garden belonging to Cross Cottage, and near to a lane leading to a farm called Higher Atway. Dr Croker, who has left us some geological notices of the district, as well as a brief account of the eastern part of Dartmoor, placed the cross where we see it now as the widening of the road many years since necessitated its removal from its original situation. Both the piece of shaft and the socket stone are of very plain workmanship and are much weathered. The former, which is thirty four inches high, is sixteen inches wide at the bottom, and its corners are slightly chamfered. The latter measures about four and a half feet across. There is a small incised cross on the shaft which, it is plainly to be seen is competitively modern. It is said to have been placed on it when the stone was built into the wall.

Formerly, the day on which the portreeve of Bovey is chosen was observed as a holiday, and was known as Mayor's Monday, as it well upon the first Monday after the 3rd of May. It was the practice in former times for the "Mayor of Bovey" on these festive occasions to ride round this cross and strike it with a stick.

The market cross of Bovey, which stands in the middle of the town, is a striking object, particularly when approached by the road leading from the bridge. It stands upon a base and pedestal of two steps, but previous to 1865 was not in its present situation. It, however, stood close by, and was moved to make room for a new Town Hall. The pedestal is raised upon a modern foundation, which forms, as it were, a lower stage, and consisting of blocks of cut granite, square at the bottom, but with the corners steeply sloped, so that its top is octagonal, which is the form the steps of the pedestal take. These steps are about eighteen inches in height, each having a moulding at the top, very much worn and broken, and the lower one a chamfered plinth. The base, or socket stone is three feet ten inches square at the bottom, and gathered into an octagon at the top. It is nineteen and a half inches high. Upon this is fixed the shaft, which like the socket stone is square at the bottom, but a short distance up, the angles are chamfered, and it becomes octagonal. It is of a tapering form and is about eight feet high. On this, as the original was missing, is fixed a head of modern workmanship, the gift of the Hon Canon Courtenay. The design is good and thoroughly in keeping with the old shaft. It was cut by a stonemason of the town named Treleaven.

From the Bovey Town Cross we shall pass up the hill to the outskirts of the town where the church is situated. Entering the churchyard by the south gate we shall perceive on our right a very handsome cross without which it is impossible to look without feelings of mingled regret and pleasure. Regret at noticing that but little of the original cross remains, and pleasure when we see what good results a careful and judicious "restoration' may effect. Though only the lower portion of the shaft and one of the arms of the old cross were to be found, so well has the work of supplying the parts that were deficient been executed, the we can feel confident we see in what has been produced a perfect counterpart of the old Bovey churchyard cross. The shaft being of a tapering form, and an arm existing, its proportions could, with the exercise of care, be accurately determined; this trouble was not grudged and the result is most happy.

The late Earl of Devon, when Lord Courtenay, discovered the fragments of the old cross serving the purpose of a step at the churchyard gate. They were removed and the cross was set up at the east end of the church. Being thrown down, it was again set up, but was once more overturned. Lord Courtenay then secured permission to remove it to Powderham as a trust, where it was repaired and fixed upon a pedestal. When the Hon Canon Courtenay became vicar of Bovey, the Earl of Devon mentioned the above circumstance to him, and the cross was then brought back and re-erected in the churchyard. This account of the recovery and "restoration" of Bovey churchyard cross was furnished to Mr Ormerod by Canon Courtenay.

The base on which the cross is set is one foot high, with chamfered angles, standing upon a pedestal of three low steps and octagonal in form. It is a Maltese cross, and the angles are chamfered. Its height is exactly six feet.

It will thus be seen that the little town of Bovey Tracey can boast of three erect crosses. Neither of them occupies precisely its original position, but at the same time has not lacked kindly aid to its preservation.

On each side of the south porch of Bovey Tracey Church is a large flat granite stone laid upon the low banl bordering the path to form a sort of coping. One is six and a half feet long, the other a little less, while in width they are two feet six inches. They have each a very large cross incised upon them in outline, with a rectangular base bearing lines cut in relief. Of these lines two cross diagonally, and intersect each other in the centre, while an upright line also cuts through the centre, so that the device bears a resemblance to the stripes of the national flag of the Royal navy. It is also similar to the lower half of the monogram known as the cross of Constantine.

The extensive plain of Bovey Heathfield lies to the south of the tow, and it is stated in Letters, Historical and Botanical, related to places in the Vale of Teign, by Dr Fraser Halle, which appeared in 1851, that tradition pointed to it as the spot where a conflict took place between the troops of Cromwell, who was there in person, and the royalist brigade under Lord Wentworth, resulting in the defeat of the latter. A granite pillar, which, when the Rev J P Jones wrote his History of Teignbridge (which has not yet been published) was used as a gate post, was said to mark the spot where one of the officers was buried, and to be the remains of an ancient cross.