Butter Cross, Abbots Bromley

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The following has been compiled from information supplied by Philip Charles and Andrew King (Staffordshire County Council Estates).
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1836 drawing of Butter Cross (PC2)
1836 drawing of Butter Cross (PC2)

The oldest building in the village?

The Butter Cross is named after the produce sold under it. There is every reason to believe that the Butter Cross is the oldest remaining building in the village. Although it cannot be precisely dated, some claim it to date from the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries and it is reputed to be mentioned in records from as early as 1339. This line drawing by Thomas Peploe was made in 1836 and the original is in the William Salt Library.

However, Nikolaus Pevsner in The Buildings of England, Staffordshire gives a probable date of 17th century and this date is more in keeping with the general construction and condition of the timbers - although this may have been a re-construction of an earlier building on the same site.

The Buttercross is an open sided hexagonal building with an hexagonal post on a stone plinth at the centre, and similar posts to roof eaves level at each vertex. The central post is slightly smaller than the others and is continued up to the roof apex at reduced girth, forming a finial above the roof line.

1945 WA Green drawing of Butter Cross
1945 WA Green drawing of Butter Cross

The building is set on a sloping site, and the plinth stones are of varying heights to compensate for this. The roof is now plain tiled (replacing earlier stone slates) with exposed lead flashing to the hips and finial base, there is no guttering.

Over the years the Butter Cross has frequently been drawn, painted and photographed and it is an image that, perhaps more than any other, uniquely represents Abbots Bromley. The sketch shown here was made by W.A.Green in 1945 and is used by kind permission of Edwin Green. Fine quality prints of this (and other W.A.Green pictures) can be purchased from a web site dedicated to his work.

Donated and repaired in 1930s

The Butter Cross was given to the Parish Council by the Marquess of Anglesey's Estate in 1932. The Parish Council then gave it to Staffordshire County Council. Shortly after this it was re-roofed with tiles in place of the stone slates and the earth floor cobbled.

Pre-1930 photo of Butter Cross (PC5)
Pre-1930 photo of Butter Cross (PC5)

This work was completed by 1935. Some old photographs (such as the one shown here) appear to pre-date these changes and show large stone slates and an earthen floor, as well as evidence of earlier repairs to pillars and roof.

It appears that the building has been hit by vehicles in the past and the posts and braces nearest the road have had to be refixed to their original positions on the plinth stones, it is understood that the last repair of this nature was carried out in the 1980s. There is also evidence that tenons and pegs have been renewed to some joints, and wedge shaped cuts indicate that various posts have been temporarily braced and/or lifted in the past.

21st century adventures

Following vehicle impact in 2001, the Butter Cross was cordoned off for safety reasons while experts considered how to carry out the necessary repairs. Several months of waiting ensued until a scheme of works was agreed with English Heritage, approved by the Secretary of State and funds assigned.

At the same time as the required repairs were made, the opportunity was taken to address a number of other issues with the structure. The main programme of works was completed in time for Horn Dance day 2002. It included extensive work to the roof including replacement of all the leadwork and also repairs to some of the major constructional tenon joints at the tops of the pillars.

Fast food for Abbots Bromley? (112-1205)
Fast food for Abbots Bromley? (112-1205)

The wait for the repairs to start seemed to go on forever for those who lived nearby and were constantly confronted by the barriers that prevented access for safety reasons. Not everyone was amused when a sign appeared that indicated the site would be developed as a fast food outlet...

Still in regular use

Although butter is no longer traded in the Butter Cross, it continues to serve the community by acting as a bus shelter for those joining the morning school bus. There are also notice boards attached to the central pillar which provide information for residents and visitors. The netting installed in the roof prevents pigeons from roosting there and causing damage to the structure as well as a nuisance to users.