In Cross Street,
Moretonhampstead, near the South entrance to the church.
O/S Grid Ref: SX/75507/86044 Longitude/Latitude (Degrees+/-): -3.76272/50.66072
Map location: Click here to view map.
Purpose: Village Cross.
Size: 1 foot 11 inches (0.58 metres) tall. 2 feet 3 inches (0.69 metres) across the arms.
Information: The cross is situated in a large octagonal pedestal, with the width of each side of the pedestal varying between three and four feet and about 2 feet 6 inches in height.
There have, to our knowledge, been three trees planted within the pedestal to accompany the cross. The original tree was an elm, known as ‘The Dancing Tree’. It got this name from the fact that it was pollarded in such a way that a platform could be built on top of the trunk, which was used by the villagers for dancing and other entertainment. There were railings around the outside of the platform and it was reached by a flight of steps leading up from a nearby garden.
The tree was badly damaged in during a storm in 1891 when most of the upper part of it fell down, together with a large piece of the trunk. Although most of the trunk was found to be hollow, it was able to be put back and fastened into place. Although it continued to survive for a good many years thereafter, it was eventually replaced by a Copper Beech (photo on left). This second tree was removed in the early months of 2012 and has now been replaced by a new sapling.
Only the head and a short length of the original shaft of the cross now remain in position. The outside face of the cross has an incised shape of a capital ‘T’, with a rectangular recess being incised on the inner face. An oval shaped cavity, with a moulding around it, is set into the top of the head. It is thought that this was either intended to hold holy water in connection with the church or was the base of a further decoration set on top of the cross.
One of Moretonhampstead’s claims to fame is as the birthplace of the mathematician and civil engineer George Bidder in 1806. He was the son of local Stonemason William Bidder and his wife Elizabeth. He attended Edinburgh University, where he was found to be a brilliant mathematician and, during the course of his studies, he met the engineer, Robert Stephenson. On leaving university he had a short spell as an insurance clerk, before teaming up with Stephenson to design and build the London and Birmingham Railway.
He later became the chief engineer on the Norwich & Lowestoft line and, in the course of this project, became the first person to design a swing bridge for a railway line. However, his most important work was the survey and plans he drew up for the Victoria Docks in London. Other notable achievements were the publishing of the ‘Bidder Tables’ to calculate the volume of earth to be moved for an embankment or cutting, he was a co-founder of the Electric Telegraph Company and, together with Stephenson, visited Switzerland to assist with the plans for the Swiss Federal Railway System.
In later years he retired to the Dartmouth area, where he was a founder of the Dart Yacht Club and was responsible for acquiring its Royal Warrant. He died in 1878 and is buried in the churchyard at Stoke Fleming. He was survived by his wife, Georgina, together with their eight children and twenty-eight grandchildren.