[Image: Courtesy of Northampton Battlefield Society]
On the Anniversary of the Battle of Northampton, which was fought on 10 July 1460, Graham Evans, editor of the Northampton Battlefield Society newsletter, “the Wild Rat”*, provides an update on a more modern battle. The efforts of the Society to preserve Northampton’s heritage, and most recently, the Society’s successful campaign to ensure that Northampton Borough Council repairs and maintains properly the town’s rare, scheduled Eleanor Cross.
In this modern day and age social media is so much quicker at sending round the news than traditional print media, even print media that is distributed electronically.
Almost the last comment in the last Wild Rat noted the Committee’s concerns about the state of the Eleanor Cross.
Since then the Society has launched the very successful “Save our Eleanor Cross” campaign spearheaded by our Chairman, Mike Ingram. This campaign has taught us that appearing on the radio and making a fuss just before an election focuses the minds of our locally elected representatives wonderfully.
The aims of the committee have been two fold:
1) Get the Eleanor Cross repaired
2) Ensure its long term preservation.
These are not necessarily as straight forward as they appear. As the Cross is hundreds of years old and we hope it will be around for many more hundreds of years a short term solution is not ideal. A major part of the problem is that with a Monument that is listed and under the protection of Historic England you just can’t go and pull the weeds out and slap on some Polyfilla. And although it is under HE’s protection, they don’t own it.
And that’s the other issue. Someone, given the way the world now works, has to own it and be responsible for it.
How times have changed. In Victorian times a group of concerned citizens “took up a subscription” (a very Victorian thing to do) for its restoration, forming a committee and employing stone masons etc. If you tried this today even if you raised the money you’d have problems finding someone prepared to work on a Historic Monument without proper approvals.
So, having formed the “Save our Eleanor Cross” campaign much as the offers of financial help from the general public were appreciated they weren’t addressing the main problem, which was getting one of our local elected bodies, either the Borough or the County, to take responsibility.
The evidence points strongly towards the Borough. They did the last restoration in the 1980s, it appears on their asset register, it formed part of the Conservation Management Plan they produced and the County say they have documentary proof that it was transferred to the Borough in 1965 and provided with funding for its upkeep.
The water is slightly muddied as the last restoration did use the County Archaeologist, but as archaeology is a county provided service used by all authorities at a lower level within the county this is no surprise and doesn’t denote ownership.
So the situation we now have is that the Borough have agreed to do the work but don’t currently accept they own the Cross. That’s a start, but isn’t where we’d like to end up. What is needed is an on-going commitment that is included in the Borough’s budget and procedures that ensures that the Cross is routinely inspected and maintained as a matter of course.
In terms of the progress on the work after the initial fuss some workmen turned up to do some basic tidying up as you can see from the picture at the top of the page. More extensive work requires the approval of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport as the Cross is under the protection of Historic England.
In the interests of fairness there have been some people who have criticised the Borough for dragging their feet on the repairs. Whilst there are many things we might want to criticise the Borough for, in this case once they accepted that they were going to do the work they have followed the process correctly and they do need to get the correct approvals before they can start work. Luckily we still have plenty of time for the work to be done before the winter comes and frost and ice increase the damage. However we can’t be complacent as we are at that time of the year when plants are growing at their most vigorous and they are the the “clear and present danger”.
The Borough Council were given approval to undertake the work in the last week of June. We can only hope now that Councillor Hadland (not “Hedland”, as reported in the Northampton Chronicle and Echo newspaper) the Council Cabinet member for regeneration, enterprise and planning will get the work done in time. All we have so far is a promise to do it “as soon as practicable”, a phrase pregnant with many possibilities and excuses.
On the positive side Northampton Battlefield Society Chairman Mike Ingram is forging a strong relationship with Council Leader Jonathan Nunn to help develop a more beneficial attitude to the Town’s heritage, so we are on the front foot.
The original version of is article first appeared as an editorial in the Summer 2017 issue of “The Wild Rat”: the Newsletter of the Northamptonshire Battlefields Society. Minor changes have been made for publication in thePipeLine.
*The Wild Rat was the banner under which the Northampton militia fought.
UPDATE from thePipeLine: Northampton Battlefield Society chair Mike Ingram has reported that Historic England have completed their part of the Scheduled Monument Consent process, including completing a condition report for the Northampton Eleanor Cross. It is now up to Northampton Borough Council to ensure the necessary remedial and repair work is completed in a timely manner.