Volume IX: Cheshire and Lancashire

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Current Display: Tarvin 1a-c, Cheshire Forward button Back button

National Grid Reference of Place of Discovery
Present Location
Chester Archaeology, Albion Street, Chester, awaiting conservation; to be displayed in St Andrew's church, Tarvin.
Evidence for Discovery
Found in 2006 in a seventeenth-century enclosure ditch, during archaeological excavations by Earthworks Archaeology, ahead of site development.
Church Dedication
Present Condition
All decorated fragments are heavily abraded. In addition to the three fragments of shaft carrying ornament there are a further eleven undecorated fragments, some squared, which came from the same deposit.

(a) Cross-head

A (broad): Fan-armed cross of type E11. At the centre is a flat boss, now standing 2 cm high, which was probably surrounded by a ring, carved in relief. Both arms carry traces of a roll-moulding border; in the lateral arm the mouldings which define the inner curve terminate in flat boss-like extensions at the tip of the fan (see head-type E9: Cramp 1991, fig. 2).

B and D (narrow): Lost

C (broad): Traces of a central boss remain along with border mouldings to the arms; the boss-like extensions to the mouldings on the lateral arm survive more clearly here than they do on face A.

E (top): On the top of the upper arm there is a 3 cm deep hole.

(b) Shaft fragment in two joining pieces

Parts of two adjacent faces survive, divided by a roll moulding.

A: There is a single curved moulding (? interlace strand) running across the face, with a border moulding to the right.

B: To the right is a moulding (possibly an arris) which runs diagonally towards the top of the surviving face.

(c) Shaft fragment

Parts of two adjacent faces survive, divided by a roll moulding. At the bottom of both faces there are traces of a raised horizontal border.

A: To the right is a V-shaped moulding.

D: There are traces of a vertical moulding at the right edge.


Though it is not entirely certain that the shaft fragments are part of the same monument as the head, the nature of the deposit suggests that the whole assemblage originally belonged together. The date of the ditch in which the stones were found would allow for destruction within the Commonwealth period; iconoclastic activity at Tarvin is recorded in 1614 when the Court of Star Chamber failed to secure a conviction against a group charged with destroying monuments (Crossley, F. 1940, 75–6). The church is 0.4 miles (0.65 km) from the site where the carving was excavated.

The cross must originally have been a substantial monument, with a lateral arm-span of some 60 cm (23.5 in); by contrast, the heads from St John's, Chester rarely exceed 45 cm (17.5 in). In shape its head can be grouped with the type defined by Collingwood variously as 'penannular' or 'fan-shaped' which is popular in the Pennine area to the east (see Chapter V, p. 33). Among this material the head from Burnsall offers a particularly close parallel to Tarvin in its squared — not pointed — tips to the arms (Collingwood 1915, 151; Coatsworth 2008, 111, ills. 105–8). It is perhaps significant also that many of these northern examples, again like Tarvin, lack any decoration on the head apart from bossing and also carry little ornament on the shaft.

What distinguishes Tarvin from the other northern fan-shaped heads is the additional flat boss-like extension to the tip of the arms. This motif is paralleled on tenth- or eleventh-century carvings at Rowsley in Derbyshire and Rolleston in Staffordshire (Routh 1937, pl. XVIII; Auden 1908). Further south it also appears on a tenth-century ring-head at Amesbury in Wiltshire (Cramp 2006, 199, ills. 386–7). Its use, however, in the early ninth century on the Iken cross in Suffolk and the 'Lechmere Stone' slab at Hanley Castle in Worcestershire, in combination with a fan head, shows that it was a decorative trick known in Anglo-Saxon England at an earlier date than these tenth-century examples (Plunkett 2005, 195; Kendrick 1938, 187, pl. LXXXI; Webster and Backhouse 1991, no. 210): Kendrick indeed suggested that it derived from ninth-century Italy, though it is equally possible that the spiralling volutes of manuscript art might have suggested this very distinctive ornamental elaboration. On balance, Tarvin's head is best seen as reflecting the fan-shaped form popular in the southern Pennine area in the tenth and eleventh centuries, and sharing with Rowsley and Rolleston a decorative extension probably established somewhat earlier in more southerly areas of the country.

The hole on the top of the (probable) upper arm may be secondary (Ill. 340). But there is a similar hole on the top of the late eighth-century Rothbury cross in Northumberland, along with holes on the upper surface of its lateral arms (Cramp 1984, pl. 212.1211). All could have held candles or some kind of metallic fixture: flaming candles on crosses are indicated by the spikes on a sixth-century processional cross from Sinai, and also represented on a wall-painting of late sixth/seventh-century date in the catacomb of Pontianus in Rome (Bailey 1996a, fig. 4; Weitzmann and Ševšenko1963).

Tenth or early eleventh century

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