Image Courtesy of Mike Ingram/The Northampton Battlefield Society
Increasingly beleaguered senior councilors and executives at Northampton Borough Council appear to have caved in tonight in the face of growing public pressure, issuing a statement confirming that the East Midlands council has met with officers at Historic England and is seeking specialist advice with a view to appointing conservators to work on the Northampton Eleanor Cross. The Cross, which marks one of the resting places of the body of Edward I’s Queen, Eleanor of Castile on her final journey from Lincoln to London in 1290, stands to the south of the town on the London Road, close to the historic Delapre Abbey. It is one of just three examples surviving in England and is a Scheduled Monument, the highest form of legal protection for a heritage site. The condition of the cross had been causing increasing concern to heritage experts and campaigners across the UK, with photographs of cracking, possible frost damage and potentially damaging plants growing on the stone structure published on social media.
The council’s statement, issued at 17.00 on Tuesday 2 May 2017, reads in full,
“We are moving ahead as quickly as possible to get the permission we need to carry out work on the Eleanor Cross.
“We have met with Historic England and taken their advice and have already approached three accredited restoration and conservation companies with the experience of working on such important monuments. Two have already responded and when we have heard from the third, we will appoint a contractor to carry out a condition survey, commission initial works and advise on what further work is needed going forward.
“We have formally made an application to work on a scheduled monument and once we have received the permission necessary from Historic England work will begin straight away. We are well aware of the importance of the Eleanor Cross and how our plans for Delapré Abbey will raise its profile even further.”
Until tonight’s announcement the council had claimed that it did not in fact own the Eleanor Cross and was therefore not responsible for its upkeep. However this stance became untenable when a succession of public statements and records, some from the council’s own website, indicated that the council did indeed carry responsibility for the monument.
In a post to the Save our Queen Eleanor’s Cross Facebook group, which was set up to act as an information point for campaigners, the campaign coordinator, Northampton based historian and Wars of the Roses expert Mike Ingram, told his fellow campaign members, who also included the biographer of Queen Eleanor of Castile, historian Sara Cockerill and another local group, the Friends of Northampton Castle,
“What this shows is that Northampton’s history is important to everyone – lets hope this is the start of something good for the town – and county! All of you have done something amazing. Thank you all of you. Be proud.”
Mr Ingram had first raised the plight of the cross with Northampton council formally almost a year ago and it was increasing frustration with the council’s lack of action which led to the recent high-profile and for the time being successful, campaign.
In making the U-turn turn councilors will no doubt hope that tonight’s announcement is enough to stave off potential damage to the Conservative vote at the forthcoming County Council and General Elections, not to mention a repeat presentation of Private Eye magazine’s prestigious “Philistine of the Year” accolade at the Rotten Boroughs Awards. The award was first given to former Council Leader and now former MP for Northampton South, David Mackintosh in 2014, because of his leading role in driving the unethical multi-million pound sale of the statue of Egyptian scribe Sekhemka to an anonymous collector in the USA. An act which infuriated the Egyptian Government and cost Northampton its Museum Accreditation and thus an untold sum in lost grant aid for heritage and museum projects. Like restoring the Eleanor Cross for example…