This post covers what maybe is Dartmoor’s oldest moorland route, the Maltern Way, which may date as far back as the 11th century. This probable historic route follows the ‘moorland’ section of a Monastic route between the two great Abbeys at Buckfast (Buckfestre), which dates from at least 1018AD and Tavistock, which dates from at least 981AD . A great article on the Maltern Way appeared in the Dartmoor Magazine in 1998 (Summer edition) was written by Dr Tom Greeves, where he supposed the Maltern Way was likely to have lead from near Holne Moor Gate in the east to enclosed land near Burrator Reservoir (which maybe at Cockle’s Gate or possibly one or two miles to the west).
The Maltern Way route appears to be significant in the fact that along its route there are 12 carefully spaced moorland crosses which would have acted as waymarkers and traversed the narrowest possible moorland tract which does not entail crossing too many major rivers, all of which point to it being of great age. These medieval granite crosses along the route suggest pre-Catholic origin and would date track prior to the 16th century. Another indication of the age of any route would be any bridges. It is known that first bridges to span the Dart were built sometime between AD1306 (Donnebrugge – Dunnabridge) and AD1413 (Holne Bridge re-built) which again might point for the track being at least a medieval origin or earlier. Notwithstanding the above, the oldest waymarkers on the Maltern Way route are Childe’s Tomb (though not in its current guise with a cross) and Sywards Cross both possibly dating from the 11th century thus possibly dating the route from that earlier time. In modern times, the Dartmoor Rescue Group have organised a fund raising walk following much of the Maltern Way and named it “12 Across and 2 Down”.
So why might this route be called the Maltern Way? In the Dartmoor Magazine article, a 17th century reference is made to a Richard Stuckey of Broadclyst who was a shareholder in several tin mines amongst which was one at Wenford (modern day Venford). Recorded in the Ashburton Stannary Court were the following four names; “Wenford, Hobbehole by Wenford, Maltern Waie above Wenford and Lower Maltern Waie.” This certainly seems to point to the name of the track called Maltern Waie (Maltern Way). It is speculated by Dr Greeves that name ‘Maltern’ may have connections with Barley (widely grown on Dartmoor farms) and the ‘way’ indicating the route for carrying barley seed or by-products. This is pure speculation but makes for a great story and mystery.
This post covers a total of 22 crosses (20 still extant) which lie on or near the route of the Maltern Way. The location of these crosses are from Horn’s Cross on the east to Welltown Crosses in the west and cover around 1000 years of history. These include the 12 granite crosses previously mentioned.
Greeves, T 1998 The Maltern Way, Dartmoor Magazine No.51, Quay Pub. Brixham
Dartmoor Crosses (http://www.dartmoor-crosses.org.uk)
Crossing, W. 1987 The Ancient Stone Crosses of Dartmoor, Devon Books, Exeter
Masson Phillips, E. N., 1937, The Ancient Stone Crosses of Devon
Sandles, T. 1997 A Pilgrimage to Dartmoor’s Crosses, Forest Pub., Liverton
Starkey, F. H. 1989 Dartmoor Crosses, Starkey, Exeter
Hemery, E. 1986 Walking Dartmoor’s Ancient Tracks B
utler, J., 1993, Dartmoor Atlas of Antiquities: Volume Four – The South-East,
Sketch map of the 22 crosses covered in this post on the Maltern Way (or near the route of the ancient track). To the east there are (or were) three more crosses enroute to Buckfast on the monastic (non-moorland) route namely: Hawson’s Cross, Play Cross and Two Thorn’s Cross. To the west there are (or were) at least five more crosses enroute to Tavistock, on the monastic (non-moorland) route, namely: Walkhampton Church Cross, Huckworthy Cross, Warren’s Cross, Pixie’s Cross and Green Lane Cross.
Horn’s Cross. This cross is mentioned by F.H. Starkey in his publication ‘Dartmoor Crosses & some ancient tracks’. On page 33 Starkey mentions that the cross is erected at a place locally known as ‘Stacombe’s Telling-Place, the name originating from a local farmer, who used to pasture his sheep in the area, round the up here on a regular basis for the purpose of Counting or ‘Telling’ them. Interestingly Starkey states that Stacombe lived at a nearby farm called Staddiscombe. Other sources suggest the farmer was called Staddicombe (Dartmoor-crosses.org.uk). The cross comprises a very old ‘mutilated’ head on a modern shaft with an iron clamp connecting the two pieces. The socket stone and the head and arms are original, the crude shaft was added sometime after 1800. The shaft bears traces of tare and feather working (ref: English Heritage)
A little recorded cross near the Maltern way was the ‘O Brook Cross’, shown in the picture with the author circa 1990. It was located near Dry Lake above the O Brook and Horse Ford. It was similar to Northmore’s Cross (on Hand Hill) in size and is believed to be no longer extant! The author can’t remember the precise location but hasn’t heard of anyone finding it in recent times.
Down Ridge Cross (also known as Horse Ford Cross) is not in its original site as recorded by Eric Hemery , in the 1986 Walking Dartmoor’s Ancient Tracks. He states that originally it was located lower down the hill nearer Horse Ford (hence its likely alternative name). It was erected in its current position by Hexworthy moormen at the instigation of William Crossing having been found being recumbent by a local labourer in the summer of 1884. The Dartmoor-Crosses.co.org add to the story stating when it was found it “was partly buried in the turf and heather and was hardly recognisable as a cross”. The shaft has been repaired, with the aid of an iron clamp on each face, and the cross erected on the spot at which it was found. It would seem that not all of the shaft could be found which has resulted with the current cross being a lot shorter than the original. The cross had to be once again re-erected in 1972 (work carried out by Dartmoor National Park).
Skir or Skaur Ford Cross (sometimes referred to as the ‘cross near Skir Ford’). Starkey records that the cross went missing for many years and was rediscovered in 1884 (dates vary from different references and some state it was rediscovered in 1883). It was restored and re-erected by William Crossing and Samuel Smith (a farmer at Hexworthy) in 1885, who clamped it as can be seen in the photograph. It was set on a mound and since has been cemented onto a boulder.
The two crosses on Ter Hill were known as ‘Terrill Posts’ by the moormen. The eastern most of the two crosses as shown in the picture, was briefly removed as, in the 17 th Century, it is recorded that a Mr Coaker of Sherburton had removed this cross and had set it up in the courtyard of his farm. He was ordered by the Duchy ordered him to return it ! Apparently, Coaker complied but his not erect it, which was left to the Dartmoor Preservation Society in 1885. It appears to have been sited with the arms in line with the path instead of across it. (Ref: http://www.dartmoor-crosses.org.uk/ter_hill_ne.htm)
The western of the two crosses (‘Terrill Posts’) on Ter Hill. This cross is not the original and dates only to 1994, being dedicated to Tom Gant, a well known Dartmoor enthusiast and author. The original cross was relocated to the Jack Wigmore memorial at the High Moorland Visitor centre in Princetown, where it was moved to for its own protection (having been a rubbing post by cattle). The original was one of a few crosses re-erected by the Dartmoor Preservation Society in 1885. The shaft had been found to have been broken in several places.
Mount Misery Cross is located at the corner of Fox Tor Newtake. Mount Misery is the local name for this location, said to be so called due to the harsh conditions encountered here. The cross was recumbent when found by William Crossing in 1878 and had been re-erected by 1879. It had to be re-erected again in 1885, this time by the Dartmoor Preservation Society who were assisted by William Crossing. (Ref: http://www.dartmoor-crosses.org.uk/mount_misery.htm)
E.N Masson Phillips in 1937, recorded that Childe’s Tomb “consisted of a kistvaen surrounded by the remains of a retaining circle and surmounted by a rough pedestal bearing a modern cross”. The cross is believed to have been erected around 1910. Originally the kistvaen was covered by a pedestal of three square steps (of which the present stones are the remains) and on which stood the ancient socket-stone bearing a cross of rectangular section. The folklore surrounding the cross has been well recorded and allegedly commemorates Childe, a local character who was caught in a blizzard and supposedly sacrificed his horse before freezing to death himself. This tale is recorded as being during the reign of Edward III (1327-1377) and was first recorded by Tristram Risdon in the early 20th century. In medieval times the name ‘Childe’ was a ‘title of honour’ and some (Finsberg) suggested that Childe was actually Ordulf II, a great landowner from mid-11th century, who was buried in Tavistock against his wishes as he wanted to be buried at Horton in Dorset. Finsberg stated: “it is a beautiful example of the way popular tradition may at once preserve and disguise matter of authentic fact”. It is suggested that an alternative story is that Childe (Ordulf II) rather than randomly hunting was in fact travelling on the Maltern Way, when he got caught in a Winter storm. (ref: Tom Greeves, 1998, The Maltern Way, Dartmoor Magazine No.51 (page 7). If the Orfulf II story holds true then the cross is a postumus, not a contemporary, memorial and the so-called tomb was in fact a cenotaph.
Of interest is that a broken socket-stone lies just a few metres from the tomb, which has been referred to by the Royal Commission of Historic Monuments England on the Heritage Gateway, viz : “It has been suggested by Crossing (1887) and by some recent writers that the head of the original cross on Childe’s Tomb might be that which for a time, lay at the foot of the standing cross in Fox Tor Newtake. It later disappeared but photographs show it to have been of the usual Dartmoor type of roughly rectangular section, and consequently of an earlier period then the surviving fragment of the original socket-stone which lies near the restored monument”. Another observation on Childe’s Tomb comes from Jeremy Butler in Dartmoor Atlas of Antiquities, Volume 4 (South East),where he states: “The cross stood undisturbed until about 1812 when the stones were appropriated for use as door stops and a bridge for Fox Tor farm. The cross itself has disappeared and its present replacement was manufactured in 1885 and clumsily perched over the cist”.
The remains of this cross were found by Lt. Malcolm Goldsmith R.N. in 1903, when apparently he was out on his favourite walk whilst on leave from serving on HMS Imperial. Goldsmith informed William Crossing of his find but he was sceptical. Consequently, Goldsmith arranged for it to be repaired and re-erected by sailors from his ship. Crossing had, by 1909 (in his Guide to Dartmoor) conceded that Goldsmith had, indeed found an ancient cross. Since then the cross has borne the name, Goldsmith. (Ref: http://www.dartmoor-crosses.org.uk/goldsmith’s.htm)
Headless Cross (in reality a pillar), is sometimes called Whealam Bottom Cross. The author has read two suggestions as to why it is here, viz: 1. It is a boundary marker for the Southern and Western quarters of the Forest of Dartmoor and 2. Starkey suggests that this cross originally occupied another cross-base (next to the Abbot’s Way) and that the cross was removed here to mark the boundary of tin-workings. The pillar has an incised cross near the top of its northern face.
A very modern cross (possibly from 2022 or 2023) located between the Headless Cross and Northmore’s Cross in Whealam Bottom. It is inscribed “BH” and “10 Tors”. The author understands that Brian Harrison did a lot of work for the Ten Tors but has been unable to find anymore information.
The original Northmore’s Cross was erected in its current position, in 1980, by a Mr Bill Northmore. Since 1980, the author is aware that the latest cross is at least the third iteration of the cross due to vandalism. The original cross was erected by Bill in gratitude for a lifetime of enjoyment from living and working on the moor. Dartmoor-Crosses.or.uk record that : “Mr Northmore was born at Lovaton, near Meavy, where he spent his working life as a farmer. His passion for Dartmoor is such that, on retirement, he is happy to spend hours on end passing on his knowledge and anecdotes to those who are privileged to know him. The original skilfully crafted brass cross was fashioned out of the propeller of an old ship”. The author regularly visits the cross including night walks and it brings a feeling a ‘well being’ when there looking across Fox Tor mire.
Syward’s Cross is more commonly known as Nun’s Cross. This cross was documented in 1240 as a boundmark of the Forest of Dartmoor during the perambulation ordered by Henry III in that year. The western face is inscribed ‘BOC /LOND’ which is assumed to refer to Buckland Abbey (suggesting the inscription post dates 1278, when the abbey was founded). That said, ‘Buckland’ means ‘estate granted by charter’ and may be related to the ‘SYWARD’ inscription on the eastern face. It is suggested that Siward (Syward) owned land to the east of the cross. There are two candidates as to who Siward was, namely; 1. Mid 12th century man whose son Edric, was the father of Bendedict who was granted land near Cornwood or 2. 11th century (pre 1066) man who held estates at Willsworthy and who (according to William Crossing) was the Earl of Northumberland. It seems most probable that the SYWARD inscription was on the cross in 1240 as the perambulators (12 knights of Henry III) refer to the cross as being ‘Syward’s Cross’.
Hutchinson’s Cross is inscribed with ‘SLH 1887-1966’ and was erected by Lt. Commander B. Hutchinson R.N as a memorial to his mother. It is set into a socket which is cut into a large boulder alongside Devonport Leat. The socket in the boulder is believed to have been used for a cross which was located here at a much earlier date which had disappeared.
Newleycombe Cross (also known as Willabeam Cross – Ref Tom Greeves) was re-erected in 1915 by Rev. H. Hugh Breton (who lived in Sheepstor between 1907 and 1922). Only the head, arms and upper part are original. The Dartmoor National Park undertook repairs in 1989 and more recently it was dismantled by them once again and reset on 24th May 2023.
A little recorded cross near the Maltern way was ‘Heidi’s Cross’, shown in the picture. It is thought to have been a memorial but was very conspicuous which is probably why it was removed. It was located to the east of Claziwell Cross is believed to be no longer extant! The author can’t remember the precise location but hasn’t heard of anyone finding it in recent times (last 20+ years)
Claziwell Cross (also known as Crazywell Cross) comprises an original head and arms with a relatively modern shaft. It was another cross re-erected by Rev. H. Hugh Breton in 1915, having possibly once stood on the banks of the nearby Crazywell Pool. . The head has the appearance of a Maltese Cross.
Cross Gate Cross is another re-erected by Rev. H. Hugh Breton in 1915. It is conjectured that it was the old Lether (Leather) Tor Cross mentioned in parochial records for Walkhampton dated c1750.
The Leather Tor Cross is a Celtic design. It has the name ‘BUNTY’ engraved across the arms. The author believes this cross has been in situ for 10 years (+). Its history or significance is unknown.
Yennadon Cross is located next to B3212 and its junction with a minor road which leads to Burrator Reservoir via Yennadon Down. It was once built into a wall at Burnham Farm (as recorded by William Crossing), prior to the end of the 19th century and was moved to its present site in 1974, arranged by Mr Masson Phillips (Ref: Sandles, T. 1997 A Pilgrimage to Dartmoor’s Crosses and Dartmoor-Crosses.org.uk). There is one arm missing and there is evidence that it may have once been used as a gatepost. Burham Farm is located midway between the junction where the cross now stands and Walkhampton.
Welltown Cross No 1 is one of two crosses located in the hamlet of Welltown and is located to the north west of Yennadon Down and close to Walkhampton. This cross was in a nearby farm building and erected at its current site by the Dartmoor National Park Authority. The cross does not have any head and arms and it seems they were removed when the cross was being used as a gatepost. (Ref: http://www.dartmoor-crosses.org.uk/welltown_1.htm)
Welltown Cross No 2 is the second of two crosses located in the hamlet of Welltown. It lies next to the Black Brook between the hamlet and the crossroads where Yennadon Cross is located. Unusually this granite post has a deeply incised cross on top. The stone was erected by the same person and at the same time as two gateposts at the entrance to the nearby Walkhampton Churchyard. (Source: http://www.dartmoor-crosses.org.uk/welltown_2.htm)
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