St Andrew’s Cross is a name familiar to most Plymothians today as it is marked mainly by the large roundabout situated at the top of Royal Parade, near to Bretonside. But what of its older namesake?
The original St Andrew’s Cross stood on the site of the old churchyard of St Andrew’s Church – immediately outside the north porch and entrance.
Over the centuries the churchyard had been used almost continually for burials. Consequently the churchyard became heaped up high above the street level and it hid a good part of the north wall of the church. Under the auspices of ‘improvement’ the churchyard ‘mound’, as it had become known, presented an opportunity for change and civic improvement to the Plymouth Borough Council.
In May 1893, local man, James Hine submitted a plan for laying out St Andrew’s Churchyard to the Hoe and Recreation Ground Committee of Plymouth Borough Council. In his explanation, the Town Clerk explained that it was proposed to erect in the centre of the churchyard a cross to the memory of the old Plymothians buried there. He said that “the cross would be between 60 and 70 feet high, and would break the span of St Andrew’s Church roof which, as they were aware, was quite straight. The mound would be levelled to the level of the street, which would be widened, and paths in the form of a St Andrew’s cross would be cut through the ground, which would be enclosed and laid out with flower beds. The plan had been approved by the St Andrew’s Church authorities. The cost of the work would be £2,500, but the land given to the public would be of considerably greater value. The remains of the persons buried there would be re-interred in the Westwell Street burial ground, except in one instance in which the relatives had expressed a desire that their ancestors should be removed to the cemetery.”
Soon after the plan had been presented to the Borough Council a faculty for the removal of graves was submitted to the Diocese of Exeter by the Town Clerk, Mr. J. H. Ellis. This application resulted in an official enquiry, held on an order of the Bishop of Exeter.
The purpose of the enquiry was to “hear of any objections which might be made as to the alteration or removal of tombstones, &c., in connection with the widening of Bedford Street by the removal of the churchyard.”
At the enquiry the Town Clerk reported that 371 tombs were affected. The relatives of only ten of the persons interred however could be traced as there had been no burials there for some time. They [the Borough Council] had every assistance from the authorities of St Andrew’s Church, but were unable to find more than the number he had mentioned.
The Diocesan representative, clearly in agreement with the proposals is stated as replying saying, almost casually, “That shews how soon people pass out of knowledge”.
The Town Clerk continued in his report by saying that there had been burials at late as 1864 and one in 1890. The relatives of the last mentioned person, a Miss Webber, had been communicated with and they concurred the removal. He next produced the by-laws which prohibited the playing of any games on the open space to be provided. There was no opposition to the scheme to his knowledge.
In detailing the proposal further the Town Clerk said that the Borough Council proposed to level the mound outside the church to the street surface and to erect in the centre a handsome memorial cross, and to surround it by an ornamental railing of appropriate design. There would be gates which would be closed at night to keep people off the ground.
In a major amendment to the original plan, the Town Clerk reported that the removal of the bodied to the Westwell Street burial ground was undesirable on sanitary grounds, and therefore, instead of removing them, they proposed to make a proper receptacle below the surface of the ground in which to place the remains, expect in certain cases where it was desired that they should be removed to the Plymouth Cemetery. In those cases freehold graves or vaults would be purchased and given to the relatives. The surplus soil, the consecrated earth, would be removed to the consecrated ground in Westwell Street.
Surprisingly perhaps, there was very little public opposition to the removal of the churchyard and work on preparing the site for the new memorial began early in 1894 with a completion date for the project of 6 May 1895.
The Western Morning News of Saturday, 2 February 1895 offers us a glimpse towards the great progress made, as follows:
“The partial removal of the hoarding which for some months has hid from view the operations of the workmen engaged in removing the old burial mound opposite St Andrew’s Church, Plymouth, and converting it into an open space, has enabled the public to note the progress made with the work, and to form some idea of the extent and character of the improvement now approaching completion. The remains of some 1,500 bodies buried there have been reverently removed, some, at the request of relatives, re-interred at the Plymouth Cemetery, and the remainder in a large vault excavated below the original graves. The mound has also been lowered to the level of the adjacent streets, the consecrated earth having been removed to the Westwell Street Burial Ground, and the memorial cross erected in the centre of the ground is all but complete. Beyond the finishing touches to this work, all that remains to be done is the removal of the wall and railings which enclose the mound, and the laying out of the ground with intersecting paths in the form of a St Andrew’s Cross. A continuance of the severe wintry weather may cause delay, but it is expected that the work will be completed by Easter, when the latest addition to the open spaces of Plymouth will be dedicated to the public use with some appropriate ceremony, the details of which have yet to be arranged. Already it can be seen that the removal of the unsightly mound, besides enabling the roadway to be considerably widened, will open up a fine view of the handsome block of Guildhall buildings, as well as the ancient fabric of St Andrew’s Church, and effect a most desirable improvement in the centre of the town.”
By April the work of construction was completed with the installation of its finely sculptured figures. The Western Morning News of Tuesday, 23 April 1895 reported that “the memorial cross, which for many months has been in course of construction from the designs of Messrs. Hine and Odgers, is now approaching completion. The services of the sculptors engaged on the Guildhall nearly a quarter of a century ago were happily secured for the present work. The life-size figure representing Hope, by Mr Hems, of Exeter, and the figures emblematic of Charity and Peace, by Mr Trevenen, of Plymouth, were placed in their niches on Friday and Saturday. The figure of Faith, by Mr Bolton, of Cheltenham, will probably be fixed in the niche on the east side today. It is expected that the churchyard improvements will be publicly inaugurated in May.”
Once the final figure had been placed, the date for inauguration was set for Thursday 30 May 1895.
An article in the Western Morning News of Friday, 3 May 1895 reported that “Messrs. Hine and Odgers, of Plymouth, who designed the monument, are to be congratulated upon the production of a very beautiful piece of work. The cross stands on a broad base of polished Aberdeen granite, surrounded by steps laid octagonally, the upper plinth being of local limestone. Above this the whole of the structure is in Portland stone and Mitcheldean red freestone, nearly in alternate layers. The cross itself is in three stages. On each face of the first stage there is a moulded arch with double shafts and capitals. These arches enclose slabs of polished Aberdeen granite, on two of which are inscriptions. That on the northern side reads:
“To the Glory of God, and in memory of parishioners during many centuries buried near this cross.”
On the south side, facing the church, is inscribed:
“Erected Anno Domini 1894. Ven. Archdeacon Wilkinson, Vicar; John. P. Paige, T. G. Greek Wills, Churchwardens.”
The second, or central stage, which is much more elongated, has similar arches and columns. The higher portion of the arches is recessed, and in each of the niches is placed a large sculptured statue, resting on a pillar of polished Aberdeen granite with a carved and moulded capital and moulded base. The figures are carved in Portland stone and are seven feet in height. The one on the east side is emblematic of Faith, and is by Messrs. Bolton, of Cheltenham. On the south side is Hope, carved by Messrs. Hems and Sons, of Exeter, and on the west and north sides are Charity and Peace, the work of Mr Samuel Trevenen, of Plymouth. This stage of the structure is pedimented on each face, and the buttress at each angle terminates with a carved pinnacle. The top stage, which is of lesser width, has also diagonal buttresses, surmounted by smaller pinnacles and the whole terminates in a spiral form with a lofty cross of wrought copper. The structure is finely enriched with carving throughout.
The low boundary wall and railings will be completed by handsomely-designed and decorated wrought iron gates, the work of Messrs. Hardman and Powell, of Birmingham. The whole of the works have been carried out to the design and under the direction of Messrs. Hine and Odgers, the contractor being Mr J. Finch, of Plymouth.
To complete the dedication of the newly erected Cross, a hymn was specially written by the Borough Librarian, W. H. K. Wright and was set to music by the organist of St Andrew’s Church, Harry Moreton.
The completed Cross and gardens provided a beautiful space for relaxation and contemplation within the busy and rapidly expanding town centre until the dark days of World War Two.
During the second night of the Plymouth Blitz – Friday 21 March to the early morning of Saturday, 22 March 1941 St Andrew’s Church and the immediate vicinity scored direct hits by incendiary and high explosive bombs. The destruction of this night did great damage to St Andrew’s Cross – the story goes that a large land mine, or other high explosive bomb, fell just outside the north porch of the Church and close to the Cross. Although the detonation of the bomb didn’t destroy the Cross structure (or the church), the Cross was said to have been entirely lifted and dropped back to the ground – leaving the memorial unstable and unsafe. Its removal therefore became inevitable and it began being dismantled and removed in November 1941.
Happily however, we in Plymouth today can see something of the remains of the cross in a number of places. The wrought copper cross was salvaged and presented to St Andrew’s Church. This beautiful piece of metalwork is viewable to day inside the church towards the west of the north aisle.
The original site of St Andrew’s Cross, just outside the north porch, is marked by an original piece of the Cross structure. The marker, which is the original inscribed south panel of Aberdeen granite south panel reads (albeit now very faintly) –
ERECTED A.D. 1894
VEN ARCHDEACON WILKINSON, VICAR
JOHN. P. PAIGE [- CHURCHWARDEN]
T. G. GREEK WILLS [- CHURCHWARDEN]
ST ANDREW’S CROSS
WAS DESTROYED BY ENEMY ACTION
ON THE 21ST MARCH 1941
AND THIS GARDEN REDESIGNED
I wonder how many people walk over this piece of the original structure without even noticing its worn inscription?
Finally, two of the four statues from the original Cross structure survive and can be found close by at Plymouth Guildhall. One statue stands in the former main entrance to the Guildhall, as approached from Guildhall Square, now the carpark. This statue depicts Peace and was carved by Samuel Trevenen. It formerly stood in the north niche – facing over Bedford Street to Spooners Corner. It is a particularly beautiful statue and demands close attention.
The second statue to survive is also the work of Samuel Trevenen and depicts Charity holding a young child. This statue is often mistaken as the Madonna and Child – and as much as I love that idea, we know that isn’t factually correct. This statue once stood in the doorway on the north western side of the Guildhall – i.e. that side nearest Royal Parade and facing Dingles. It was moved afterwards beside the main west entrance to the Guildhall, facing the Civic Centre. In its former life, this statue stood in the western niche of the Cross structure. It’s really pleasing to know the work of Samuel Trevenen, of Plymouth survives.
Quite why the statues of Faith, by Messrs. Bolton, of Cheltenham and Hope by Harry Hems, of Exeter do not survive isn’t clear. Perhaps they were too badly damaged during the bombing raids of the Plymouth Blitz to be saved? Perhaps someone may find that missing piece of the jigsaw someday…
We have therefore some very important remains of the original St Andrew’s Cross in our midst today, whether many Plymothians realise it or not. Perhaps next time you are walking past St Andrew’s Minster Church, or the Guildhall, take a moment to remember the stories and people associated with those sacred spots. I know I will.
© Graham Naylor [archive images supplied courtesy of and copyright to Plymouth Library Services]