The cross is listed Grade II and is a Scheduled Ancient Monument. The cross stands on a triangular island in the centre of the village, at the junction of the roads to Chetnole and Yetminster.
Leigh was a chapelry of the adjoining village of Yetminster until 1847 when a separate parish was created and the 15th century church was restored in 1854 (RCHM 1952, 130). The earliest reference to the cross is in the third edition of Hutchins’ history of Dorset (1861-73): ‘In the village are the remains of two ancient crosses, one in the churchyard, the other at the junction of the road leading to Yetminster and Chetnole’. It does not appear on the Tithe map of 1840, which is otherwise carefully detailed but it is shown on the first editions of the Ordnance Survey map and gave its name to the adjoining farm.
The Rev. Dicker (Vicar of Piddletrenthide) gave the following description of the cross in the church magazine of 1905:
‘From the single opportunity I have had of examining this most interesting relic, I should say that the base (closely resembling another on the S.E. side of the church) belonged to a typically English Cross of the 13th century. Upon this stands a shaft of Ham Hill stone 5ft high, bearing on top a modern Cross. This shaft is unique as far as my experience goes. It is richly carved on three sides, with canopy work at the top, presumably of the 14th century.
The sculptures (now considerably defaced) appear to have contained representations of (on the south side) St. Christopher carrying the Christ and on the east side of St. Michael slaying the dragon. I could make nothing of the work on the north side. The general appearance of this piece of stone and the fact that one side of it is left entirely free without ornament but shows marks of having been attached to some building by iron stays, suggests that it was not originally intended for its present use. It may very likely have been a part of a pinnacle surmounting a buttress or flanking a tower. I understand that the Cross as it now stands was erected by the Rev. G. Thompson, vicar from 1854-1884. The base is now bedded upon some rough masonry without steps.’
The cross stands on a plain rubble base surrounded by rough grass. This can also be seen in a picture of c.1900 showing a group of children; they were in general held responsible for wearing away the broach stops on the cross base by climbing over them.
It is clear that the cross has occupied its present position since at least the 1860s. The descriptions of 1905 and 1906 both agree that it was erected in its present position in the mid 19th century but attribute this to different vicars; either the Rev. G. Thompson, vicar from 1854, or by Rev Smith, the curate in charge from 1847. At this time Leigh became a separate parish from Yetminster and the church was restored in 1854. The cross may therefore have been erected to commemorate the creation of the new parish.
The previous location of the base and the shaft must remain speculative; they are however a separate structure to the cross base which is in the churchyard as the two bases are much the same size. The shaft was already very worn in 1905 and has evidence for at least one secondary use in the form of the paired dowel holes, the stone pieced-in to fill a rebate at the base and wear by possible foot traffic on one face. The stones were probably discovered as pieces of random rubble, perhaps during the renovation of the church or churchyard c.1850 and the decision taken to re-erect them as a village cross.
© Kirsty Rodwell BA FSA
9 Lime Grove Gardens
Bath BA2 4HE
Leigh Cross with Cross Farmhouse behind.
Leigh Cross, with Iles Farm behind.