The Preaching Cross, sometimes known as The Village Cross, was the forerunner of village markets and churches. Priests would ride around the country on donkeys or horses calling at those villages that didn't have a church. The meeting point in the village was the Preaching Cross where the people would gather around to hear the priest preach the Gospels of God. The priest would also perform baptisms and marriages.
Small villages could not afford to build a church until a rich benefactor came along. (A benefactor is a person who gives financial support to a good cause.)
In Winthorpe, Roger Pocklington (1734 - 1810) who lived in Winthorpe Hall was a benefactor for All Saints' Church. (Church No. 2) The Rev. Edward Handley (1842 - 1904) was the main benefactor for the present All Saints' Church. (Church No. 3)
The Preaching Cross was very often on the highest spot in the village. This had the advantage that people could see and hear the priest, but in many cases they were on the village green. We know that the Preaching Cross in Winthorpe stood in the centre of the village in front of Winthorpe House, close to The Lord Nelson Public House. This can be seen on the Enclosure Map of 1775. There has been a suggestion in 1867 by Wake's book "History of Collingham" that the Cross may have been in the churchyard but this has not been proven.
The Preaching Cross in Winthorpe was a tall stone pillar, probably about six feet high and mounted on five steps. Bartholomew Howlett's (1767-1827) engraving of 1807 shows the pillar to have a round flat disk on the top. There may have been something else on top, but that, I do not know. Looking at pictures of Preaching Crosses that are scattered round the country shows them having crosses, balls or figures of Christ on top of the pillars.
What you see today is a piece of stone, the remains of a short section of that pillar mounted on the top step. The remainder of the four steps and Preaching Cross has been lost in time.
About 1860, the remains of the Preaching Cross were moved to the green in front of the Alms Houses, on Chapel Lane, and mounted onto a brick plinth. Over the years this brick plinth had fallen into ruin and has now been replaced by a new stone plinth.
At a ceremony held on the 6thNovember 2008 the Vicar of Winthorpe, the Rev. David Milner blessed the new plinth and Stone. Many of the village residents, along with the children from Winthorpe Primary School, attended the ceremony. To prevent damage to the plinth and Stone it has been moved about 3 yards to the left to escape fallen resin from the nearby trees.
A number of experts who have looked at this Stone are of the opinion that it is over 700 years old. The top step of which the Stone is set into is much younger. This leaves me to the conclusion that the Preaching Cross had originally had been set into the ground, then at a later date it was mounted onto a brick plinth of five stone steps.
This Preaching Cross is a vital piece of our village history and must be preserved.