We had spotted the cross on our way to Rudston, but as time was getting on and we still had a long way to go, we decided against stopping. Although it was an unusually fine and ornate example, we have seen many such crosses and they are usually Victorian or later, erected, more often than not, to the glory of the local gentry or as a mark of civic pride.
They are called Eleanor Crosses, but there were only ever twelve true Eleanor Crosses, erected by her husband, King Edward I, to mark the places where the body of Eleanor of Castile, Queen Consort of England, rested each night as it was brought from Harby in Nottinghamshire to Westminster Abbey in 1290.
In the end, after catching sight of yet another strange monument on our way through the village, we took note of the name… Sledmere… and determined to return that way and stop to take a look and we were glad that we did, for the Sledmere Cross is now more than a civic folly, it has become a war memorial for the village.
Inspired by the octagonal design of the Hardingstone Eleanor Cross, which is still standing, the Sledmere Cross was designed by the architect Temple Moore as a ‘simple’ village cross. Commissioned by Sir Tatton Sykes and erected in the last years of the nineteenth century, it served no real purpose other than as a display of the landowner’s wealth and social standing.
It was his eldest son, Sir Mark Sykes, who would give the ‘folly’ a new purpose. Sykes was a traveller, politician and served as a diplomatic advisor in the Middle east during the First World War. It was as a result of the conflict that he transformed the cross into a memorial, fitting brass effigies akin to the ones used on medieval tombs, and listing the names of those fallen in battle. The cross now stands and a permanent memorial to the men of the 5th Batallion Yorkshire Regiment and others from the estate who served and fell in the Great War. Sir Mark himself is included, his portrait recently renewed, attired as a Knight Templar. He died in 1919.
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