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The Northampton Borough Council cabinet document which shows the council allocating money for work on the “Eleanor Cross” in July 2010.
The document was signed by Borough Chief Executive David Kennedy.


The curse of Sekhemka has struck again amid suggestions that the ruling Conservative group on Northampton Borough Council are becoming concerned increasingly that the title “Philistine of the Year”, awarded to former Council Leader, David Mackintosh MP by Private Eye magazine for his unethical sale of the statue of Sekhemka in 2014, may be about to become a hereditary honour within the Northampton Conservative Party.  The cause for the concern is the increasingly acrimonious and embarrassing row over who is actually responsible for repairs to the nationally important 13th century Eleanor Cross which stands on London Road at the edge of the East Midlands town.  Photographs released by local campaigners show that the medieval stone cross; which is one of just three surviving examples in England of the crosses erected by a grieving King Edward I to mark the resting places of the body of his Queen, Eleanor of Castile, as it was being taken to London from Lincoln; is showing signs of a marked deterioration.  Photographs published recently by the Northampton Battlefield Society show highly damaging Ivy and other plants growing on the monument.  Such growth has the potential to damage the stone structure and delicate carvings of the monument.

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Plants seen growing on the Eleanor Cross at London Road, Northampton in April 2017
[Image: Mike Ingram Northampton Battlefield Society]

Investigating the reports for the BBC reporter Chris Holland described the state of the cross on Monday [26 April 2017].

“Those steps that I mentioned are overrun with weeds and glancing further up this stone structure the figure of a woman is gradually being retaken by nature with an exceptionally large dandelion rising from her feet.” 

Mr Holland added that the welcome and  interpretation available to visitors to the scheduled monument also leaves something to be desired,

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“As I dodge the daisies and the dog poo  the only mention of this cross and its significance is set upon a pedestal just before me and it is facing away from the park.” 

Responding to a request to clarify who was actually responsible for the upkeep of the cross, Cllr Heather Smith, the Leader of Northamptonshire County Council told the Northampton Battlefield Society, which had raised the issue.

“I have forwarded all the information below and can confirm that Northampton Borough Council do own the monument and according to our archivist, it has been in their ownership since the 1960. I hate passing you back again to them so I have copied this to the Leader Cllr Jonathan Nunn as I do not know who told you it was the responsibility of the County Council.”

Cllr Smith added, that in her opinion it was a glorious monument which needed protecting.

In a statement issued to the BBC, a spokesperson for Northamptonshire County Council reiterated Cllr Smith’s message stating,

“We are certainly not aware that we had any responsibility for the cross since the sixties when we believe it  transferred to Borough Council responsibility.”

Adding to the evidence that the County Council is correct in its view that the Borough Council are responsible for the upkeep of the Eleanor Cross, Mr David Grindley, the Asset and Traffic Manager for Northamptonshire County Council, wrote this in an e-mail dated 24 April 2017 which has been seen by thePipeLine,

“The County Council, as the highway authority, is not normally responsible for monuments and the like within the boundary of the highway. 
I have found that Northampton Borough Council have a document “Conservation Plan Delapre Abbey, Northampton” in which is stated-
Also with the ownership of the Council is the Grade I Queen Eleanor Cross located on the London Road.
In the context of the report this means Northampton Borough Council is the owner.”

However, in spite of such evidence, anecdotal reports that workers employed by the Borough had worked on the cross since the 1960’s and the release of the report discussed in Cabinet on 28 July 2010 which was signed by current Borough Chief Executive David Kennedy and which contains a budget for work on the Eleanor Cross as part of the proposed programme to renovate Delapre Abbey, as recently as this morning [26 April] Northampton Borough Council were still denying they had responsibility for its repair.  In a statement issued to the BBC Cllr Tim Hadland, the borough council’s cabinet member for regeneration enterprise and planning said,

“The Queen Eleanor cross is a very important heritage asset for our town and nationally and it is likely to attract greater attention as Delapre Abbey opens for visitors. We will work with NCC who we believe are responsible for the cross, to ensure that it doesn’t deteriorate further.”

Faced with the apparent impasse concerned historians and archaeologists are expressing an increasing frustration at the situation facing the nationally important monument.

This morning, 26 April, Sara Cockerill, a historian and biographer of Eleanor of Castile, told the BBC,

 “I think it is just awful…The destructive power of the kind of ivy which is growing up around the images is terrible and it doesn’t take long for them to do serious damage.  It must be somebody’s responsibility.  It must be there in documents somewhere as to who is responsible.”  She concluded “Whoever it is they have got to do something quite soon, or they will have a serious responsibility on their hands.”

Supporting Ms Cockerill, Dr Marie Dickie of the Friends of Northampton Castle told the BBC’s Stuart Linnell,

“I am horrified, but not surprised.” Dr Dickie added “It is symptomatic of an attitude to history in this Town and this County which is absolutely destructive.”

She also expressed concern that Historic England, which might be expected to step in and force the issue but who have not commented on the issue so far, are short staffed and might also be susceptible to pressure from large local authorities.  At the end of the interview, asked if she was cross about the state of the cross Dr Dickie said bluntly,

“I’m bloody furious.” adding “I’m fed up with it. It’s really ridiculous.  A town like this which needs visitors needs tourists, which has absolutely little pearls which it could show off to the world, treats its history with such neglect.” 

With the row over who undertakes the repairs to Northampton’s Eleanor Cross showing every sign of becoming increasingly acrimonious, with neither council apparently able to tell the difference between their Borough arse and their County elbow, Northampton Borough Council Leader Jonathan Nunn will be concerned that the Philistine of the Year category in Private Eye’s annual Rotten Borough’s Awards will be sown up before the year is even half over.  At the very least the council faces the virtual certainty of a nomination for the award and perhaps the additional humiliation of seeing the Northampton Eleanor Cross placed on the Heritage At Risk register if no agreed solution to the impasse can be found in the near future.

In the short term Northamptonshire’s Conservatives will be even more concerned that this reminder of Northampton Borough Council’s apparently unrivalled ability to bring their town into disrepute by screwing up even the most of simple heritage issues, coming on top of the international scandal created by the sale of  Sekhemka, a botched redevelopment of Northampton’s bus station, reports of appalling air quality in Northampton town center and the small matter of a missing £10.25 million of council Tax payers money given to the developer of the town’s Sixfields stadium by David Mackintosh, which is currently the subject of a Police investigation, may have an effect at the ballot box in the local elections which take place on Thursday, 4 May.  Not to mention at the General Election which follows on 8 June.

thePipeLine has approached both Northampton Borough Council and Historic England for comment.

And somewhere in a private museum or warehouse in the USA the shade of Sekhemka is probably texting ROFLMAO.

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thePipeLine is an independent news publication that investigates the place that heritage, politics, and money meet.

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