A1-The Great North Road
When Eleanor, the Infante de Castile and wife of King Edward, died at Harby in November of 1290, shortly after giving birth to her 17th child, her body was first taken to the nearby St Catherine's Priory at Lincoln. Her viscera were buried at Lincoln Cathedral and her embalmed body taken by road to London for burial at Westminster Abbey. The route was unusually well recorded. A large stone cross was erected at each of the twelve places that the cortege made an overnight stop. Puritan sentiment of Cromwell's soldiers in the 1660s saw the destruction of all but three of them, only those at Geddington, Hardingstone and Waltham Cross, still remaining. A small piece of the first cross from St. Catherine's Priory can be seen within the grounds of Lincoln Castle. Her final journey took Queen Eleanor's body down the Great North Road but the crosses once erected at Grantham and at Stamford are lost. Here it seems the pilgrimage took a westerly turn for the next cross stands in Geddington, in Northamptonshire. The next cross, at Hardingstone, also remains but those at Stoney Stratford, Woburn, Dunstable and St. Albans are lost. The Great North Road is regained at Waltham Cross where stands the third remaining cross. There were other crosses at Cheapside and, made more famous for its railway station, Charing Cross.
Why did the procession not take the more direct route of the Great North Road all the way instead of leaving it for the scenic tour of Northamptonshire. It has been suggested that the Delapre Convent at Hardingstone was particularly significant in the Queen's life but I suspect the truth is more prosaic. This was late November or early December. The Great North Road south of Stamford, particularly where it crossed the Nene and Ouse valleys, was often impassable in wet weather, while the western diversion, though longer, kept to higher ground.
The Geddington Cross as it appeared in the 1930s. Both the photo and the water colour by Sydney R. Jones appeared in Humphrey Pakington's English Villages and Hamlets.
Geddington is a small village north-east of Kettering, where the Stamford to Northampton road (now the A43) crosses the River Ise, a tributary of the Nene. The Nene itself must have been crossed at Northampton for the next Eleanor Cross is at Hardingstone, just past the town on the south side of the river. It is quite possible that, in a wet medieval winter, Northampton was the lowest crossing place for a cart. Northampton was a Roman river crossing site and earlier for the prehistoric trackway known as Banbury Lane, part of the 'Jurassic Way' which may have stretched from the Avon to the Humber. Downstream of Northampton, the Nene meanders across a wide and frequently flooded flood plain. The other crossings, now made by the A509 at Wellingborough, the A6 at Irthlingborough, the A604 at Thrapston, the A605/A427 at Oundle and the A1 at Wansford, would all have been treacherous in winter. The King would certainly not have taken unnecessary risks with his beloved's corpse. Geddington's history records the visit of various Plantagenate kings, supposedly attracted by the good hunting in Rockingham forest, but perhaps because it was on the main road north in wet weather.
Sydney R. Jones was born in Birmingham in 1881, studied at the Birmingham School of Fine Arts and, until the outbreak of the Great War, worked for an architects' firm in Birmingham. During the war he served in Ireland during the 1916 uprising, and in France, on the Somme and Passchendale. Joness speciality was rustic England. He toured the country with his wife, Frances, recording in pencil drawings and water colours, English villages, cottages, and manor houses. His drawings have been published in several collections, most famously the post-war London Triumphant. He wrote a children's art book, How to Draw Houses. Jones died in 1966.
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©Biff Vernon 2003