Standing proudly on Stockton High Street is the only Scheduled Ancient Monument in the town, the Market Cross. This scheduling, Historic England’s highest grade, is given only to the most important heritage assets in the country. This cross is particularly special because it was used for a wide-range of purposes such as a place for proclamations to be made, a set of stocks, and was even the site of the Battle of Stockton!

The Cross and the Town Hall

The cross we can see standing on Stockton High Street today was built c.1768 and replaced an existing cross. This newer cross is listed as Grade II* and stands on the site of the original cross which is scheduled. This newer cross is an example of the importance these monuments held during the 18th century. Market crosses were erected and used for a variety of reasons. These included being a place for preaching, making public announcements or even to mark a boundary between one settlement and another. In more modern times, these crosses have increasingly become places of commemoration and remembrance for wars and battles. In the case of Stockton Market Cross, it was not built solely as a religious symbol, but rather a place for civic transactions. The cross was used to give sales a greater authenticity. It was also used as a place for public announcements, as so many of them were, as I mentioned earlier.

The Stockton Market Cross is a focal point on the High Street. Perhaps it was for this reason that John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was said to have preached from the steps of the cross. All could see him as they made their way to the market and all would hear. The Cross was also the site of the local stocks. Like Wesley, the authorities recognised the importance of the location of the cross and decided this was the best public place to punish miscreants.

A builder leaving their 'business card'!

The Market Cross has also been a site of conflict. On 10th September 1933, it was the spot where Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts clashed with members of the Labour Party and local Communist supporters in the ‘Battle of Stockton’. The British Union of Fascists (BUF) was trying to garner support in the most hard-hit areas of the country following the Great Depression. The BUF were trying to emulate the Nazi Party by starting their movement in smaller areas. Their plans were disrupted however, as around 2,000 anti-Fascist protestors interrupted the rally and conflict ensued. People used sticks, staves, and according to some accounts, razor-blade potatoes! Astonishingly, no-one was arrested during this skirmish and only 20 were injured.

Thankfully, the Market Cross doesn’t see violence like this anymore. It now sees the more mundane and everyday life of commuters and shoppers heading to the High Street. On a sunny day you can see people relaxing by the fountains and visiting the local market. Next time you are there, why not stop and take a look at this symbol of trade, religion, punishment and remembrance, and see just why the Market Cross is so importantly protected by its scheduled status.