the Eastbourne Cross
The Eastbourne Cross
The Eastbourne Cross, which now stands in a corner of St. Mary's churchyard is variously known as the Priddy or Prideaux Cross. It was carved from grey elvan, a hard Cornish granite-like rock some time in the early 10th century. In common with most early Cornish crosses, its decoration is quite crudely executed. Its obviously phallic shape, and the fact that its disc face does not actually bear the image of a conventional cross suggest that it was carved by a Pagan craftsman, or at least someone with sympathies towards the old religion.
By the time the cross was carved, Paganism and Celtic Christianity had coexisted for centuries, with mutual antagonism, yet also with considerable mingling of traditions; the Pelagian heresy which originated in dark age Wales and for two centuries threatened to usurp the established church of Rome in its popularity, has been interpreted as nothing less than an attempt to revive Druidic philosophy and practice in a Christian context; many of the Cornish saints performed the function of guardians at sacred wells, stones and caves, just as Druid priests must have done for a millennium or more. Even when the mission to convert the Saxons, initiated by St. Augustine was finally complete, when Cornwall was conquered in 925 the old traditions still lingered; as late as 959 King Edgar felt it necessary to pass laws forbidding well worship, necromancy, divination and rituals at trees and stones.
In 1975 a survey of the cross was carried out by Colin Murray of The Golden Section Order Society. In the rather curious document that resulted, he describes how its dimensions coincide with the megalithic yard (32.64 inches), this being the vertical diameter of the slightly oval shaped head, and half the height of the shaft. He interpreted the two T shaped motifs on either face as being the character Aim, or Ailim, the first of the vowels in Ogham script as described in the 15th century Druidic Book of Ballymote. He referred to the cross as 'a megalithic measuring stone with explanations of much knowledge'.
At the end of the 18th century Mary Ann Gilbert, an only child and heiress married Davies Giddy, whose family resided at Tredrea near St Erth, in Cornwall. He adopted the name of Gilbert and settled in Eastbourne at the Manor House, now the Towner Art Gallery and Local Museum. He was a distinguished man of science, at one time the president of the Royal Society and a keen antiquarian, whose books included a four volume work entitled 'The Parochial History of Cornwall'. The story of how the cross came to be in Eastbourne is told in this entry in his pocket book dated December 10th 1817:
'The Cross. - I had observed a cross near Truro, on the road to Redruth, degraded to the situation of a gatepost, and for many years I thought of rescuing it and removing the relic to Tredrea, but since my connection with East Bourne I determined in getting it there. Mr John Giddy obtained it for me on the easy condition of providing a common gatepost in its room. It was shipped at Truro for London, from whence it came to Hastings by sea, and from thence here by land. It was this day fixed in its place over the archway, under which the footpath used to pass till I turned it. We used the Artillery Triangle Fall Block kindly lent me by Col. Ellicombe. The whole was effected without injury to the cross itself or any Person or thing.'
Davies Gilbert's enthusiasm for ancient relics is also illustrated by the miniature dolmens (recently vandalised) which can be found in the Manor Gardens where his pet dogs are buried, and the splendid burial mound which he created as a monument to his favourite horse, 'Granite', while the nearby sunken garden with its massive blocks of recumbent sarcen stone has something of the atmosphere of a ruined megalithic site.
On a humorous note in the 19th Century the Rev. Canon Hockin, of Phillack recorded Mr. Davies reply on being asked why he carried off a Cornish Cross and re-erected it in Eastbourne:
'it was in order to show the poor,
ignorant folk that there was something bigger in the world than a flint!'
Photograph of the Eastbourne Cross (at far right) by Michael - 1980