INDEPENDENT STONE MASON CONCERNED AT STATE OF NORTHAMPTON ELEANOR CROSS

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Workers seen cutting grass around the Eleanor Cross on 26 April.
[Copyright:  Mike Ingram, Northampton Battlefield Society]

 

With Northampton Borough Council still refusing to acknowledge that it owns the nationally important Eleanor Cross on London Road Northampton, expert stone mason Bryn Garrett has warned that the nationally important scheduled monument shows clear signs of neglect and plant damage which needs to be stopped urgently, or the cross could suffer further serious deterioration.  Based on an examination of the detailed photographs of the monument taken in the last few days, Mr Garrett told Northampton campaigners who are attempting to get the Borough Council to address the issue,

“The majority of the damage appears to be caused by the lack of maintenance the stonework has received, one of the most common causes of damage with this type of stone is caused by frost. When the pointing is left to deteriorate water is then allowed to get in the joints and core of the structure and saturate the stones, when followed by a heavy frost the stone crumbles and laminates. The job of maintaining the pointing is a relatively simple task and will prevent much bigger problems occurring in the near future.”

Mr Garett added that,

 

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Plants growing on the Northampton Eleanor Cross potentially causing serious damage through root action.
[Copyright:  Mike Ingram Northampton Battlefield Society]

 

“The amount of weeds and plants really concerns me as well, for every day the weeds are left to grow they damage more pointing and the roots get deeper into the stonework, if more substantial plants like ivy are allowed to take root in the building they will cause serious damage that will eventually lead to the cross needing to be dismantled.”

Some reports suggest that the monument may have been repaired with inappropriate modern cement mortar and it is also reported that there is evidence of cracking and flaking of the delicate stonework, possibly cause by freeze thaw action during cold weather.  Damage which increases if cracks and damaged mortar are not repaired or replaced promptly. 

Yesterday, within hours of the story leading on BBC Radio Northampton’s breakfast show hosted by Stuart Linnell, local people reported that individuals, who appeared to be council workers or contractors, appeared to be tidying up the area at the base of the cross which had been reported as unkempt and covered with dog excrement.  Although it is not clear if this was a response to the news story.  It is also reported that local Councillors were also seen inspecting the state of the monument.

News has also emerged that the issue of the state of repair of the Eleanor Cross was raised at the Northampton Parks Committee by historian Mr Mike Ingram of the Northampton Battlefield Society at least as early as July 2016 and was raised again at subsequent meetings, while Northampton’s  Town Conservation Advisory Group also raised concerns about the cross with Councillor Tim Hadland several months ago.  It was Councillor Hadland, the Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Enterprise and Planning on the ruling Conservative group, who was quoted directly in a previous statement to the BBC denying that the Borough owned the cross.

This morning [27 April 2017],  the BBC reported further evidence that it was the Borough Council which owned the Eleanor Cross, citing a spreadsheet listing Borough assets, which had been published on the Council’s own website and which described the Eleanor Cross as a monument where the Borough was owner occupier.  However, in spite of this, and in the face of multiple documents published on Social Media some going back to the 1960’s, all of which stated that the Borough owned the monument and had carried out work on the cross in the past, a spokesperson for the Council issued the following statement to the media,

“We are aware of the many references to the cross on our website and sadly whilst this seems contradictory we still believe this isn’t proof of our ownership of the cross, however we have carried out extensive maintenance on the cross in the past we now intend to carry out further work to tidy up what is undoubtedly a fantastic monument of national importance”

Meanwhile Helen Woodhouse of Historic England, the organisation which monitors England’s scheduled monuments like the Eleanor Cross, told campaigners by e-mail,

“Thank you for your email which has been passed to me by my colleague Tim Allen as I am the Inspector of Ancient Monuments for Northamptonshire. I can confirm that Historic England is aware of the situation with the Eleanor Cross as you mention and we are currently working hard to find a resolution to its condition to ensure that this nationally important monument is secured for our own and future generations.

Thank you for your concern and for taking the time to raise this issue with us.”

Damaged stone with apparent fresh break

Apparently fresh damage to the Northampton Eleanor Cross
[Copyright:  Mike Ingram Northampton Battlefield Society]

 

 

As of this evening, while it seems clear that the Northampton Eleanor Cross is in a poor state of repair, is deteriorating and that Northampton Borough Council almost certainly owns it, campaigners are concerned that nobody involved at Borough level, at the County Council or even at Historic England, seems prepared to make a decision to undertake the urgent remedial work which Mr Garrett indicates seems to be required, let alone what is likely to turn out to be a full and expensive, restoration.  A restoration which might not have been necessary if the cross had been maintained properly in the first place.

There are also concerns that a quick remedial job could make matters worse.  It has also been commented that damaged pieces of stone which appear to have fallen from the cross were being removed from the site.  If these are not being kept for analysis as part of any conservation programme this could be in breach of Scheduled Monument legislation.  Any changes to a Scheduled Monument, which the Eleanor Cross is, requires Scheduled Monument Consent and no work, even cleaning, should be undertaken without it and without advice from specialist conservators.

Meanwhile, Northampton wits have suggested another solution.  With an eye to what happened to the Crown Jewel of the Borough’s museum collection, the internationally important statue of Sekhemka, it has been suggested that the Council solves the problem by selling the the cross to someone in America.