Ian Gregory has been digging deep into Buxton Museum’s archive once again and discovers a postcard of an unassuming stone structure which he identifies as a relic of Derbyshire’s turbulent past:
In the churchyard of All Saints, Bakewell, stands the shaft of a stone cross. It is shown on a postcard in our collection at Buxton Museum. Swirling patterns are carved into it. We believe that it dates from Anglo-Saxon times, when Derbyshire was part of a kingdom called Mercia. This cross Is known as the Beeley Cross as it was uncovered at a village of that name, which is near Bakewell.
When Christian missionaries came among pagan Saxons, they often set up a cross in the open air and preached at its base. Later, as numbers of converts increased, a church would be built on the spot. The first church at Bakewell dates from c. 920, but little, if any, of the present building is that old. When the Normans came to Britain, they often demolished Saxon buildings and put up their own on the same sites. This was a statement of power, and perhaps a deliberate attempt to erase the memory of the native culture. The invaders had to justify killing the Saxon king and dispossessing his people. This they did by claiming they were bringing ‘civilisation’ to barbarians. Evidence of culture before then had to be supressed. Some would argue for a parallel with later imperialists and their subjects, not only in the British Empire but in others across the planet.
During the 19th century, excavations in Bakewell uncovered other stone carvings beside the Beeley Cross. These included coffins and another cross not shown on our postcard. By now, having Anglo-Saxon roots was a source of pride – it was the heritage of the first industrial superpower of the mightiest nation on Earth!
Of course, the Saxon legacy goes deeper than carvings in stone. The English language has changed radically since those times, but many of its words and features can be traced back to the culture of those long-dead carvers. Today it has spread across the globe and is the tongue of millions. Writers using it have created some of the best-known literature on Earth. What would the Normans have thought of that? I think they would have been surprised and disappointed as well. It means that their attempt at suppressing another culture wasn’t an unqualified success.