2.7.4 Market crosses

From the foundation of Scotland’s burghs in the 12th century, market (mercat) crosses were erected or reconstructed as iconic expressions of the social and economic status of a town and its inhabitants (Figure 62). Found across Europe, the Scottish ones are distinctive in their architectural composition, style and iconography, which normally included religious and heraldic emblems. Not only were these symbols of a burgh’s right to trade, and where they did this, they became places used for a variety of community events, ranging from making public announcements, festivities and dispensing of law.

Black and whit photo of stone column on top of stepped base with a unicorn sculture on top set in a square surrounded by historic houses

Figure 62: The restored late-medieval market cross at Culross, Fife. Crown Copyright: Historic Environment Scotland

Until the recent PhD (and associated popular account) of L Thomson (2000; 2004), there has been little serious academic study of market crosses, or the related crosses found in graveyards, some of which became market crosses or fulfilled some similar functions (e.g. McCulloch 1857; Drummond 1861a; 1861b; Small 1900; Black 1928; Mair 1988). According to Thomson, only about 20 Scottish later medieval examples survive, with the majority dating to the 16th to 18th centuries, and some 19th-century reconstructions. Many were destroyed or are now fragmented. Most of the survivors, some of which have moved, are vulnerable to weathering and a host of human activities that possess the potential to damage the crosses or their setting. Their archaeological context has scarcely been considered (this parallels the tendency to list rather than schedule them in terms of designation). Thomsons’ research, which is available online, begins with a valuable literature review that addresses the historical context, architectural characteristics and survival of Scottish market crosses, in the context of such monuments elsewhere in Europe. It also reviews the effects and mechanisms of stone weathering and soiling, stone conservation practice and policy, techniques for recording and mapping stone condition and risk assessment methods. The focus of her original research, however, is on the development of a risk assessment model, i.e. addressing conservation needs.

For further reading, download the Section 10.7 pdf ( 306kb)

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