The Silent Sentinel
Holsworthy's Market Cross
There stands in the centre of the Square a stone edifice – imposing, but somewhat inartistic, clumsy and disproportionate in its design. The obelisk, memorial, monument (I have heard it called all those names) - reveals no clues to its age, nor to its past significance, in fact the two most noteworthy elements of its design have long since disappeared. Little has been written about it and there are but a handful of references to it, yet it has borne witness to over 150 years of our town’s history. Its origins can be traced back over 500 years, when the Square looked very different than today, with, at its centre, raised upon brick pillars, the town’s original Market House. Dating back to the mid 1500’s, the building acted as the town’s meeting place and court room, providing a covered area beneath for vendors as well as the town’s corn and wheat market. Against its southern wall was placed a water pump – the original well of which had been paid for by public subscription - not, as one might assume, to provide drinking water, but to ensure a ready supply of water in the event of fire. Inconveniently small, and in a state of dilapidation, the old Market House was finally demolished in 1857, when it was replaced with the building we see today.
This rebuilding marked a change of fortune for the town, which since the turn of the century had seen nothing but hardship and decline. To mark this new period of prosperity, one notable Holsworthy patron chose to bestow upon the town a gift of a new Market Cross - long-since absent from the town’s Square. The generous benefactor was one John Vowler Esq. (1787-1877), of Parnacott, Devon Magistrate and Chairman of the Holsworthy Board of Guardians (both positions held for well over fifty years). Possessor of considerable landed estates in the county, he had, amongst other things, been instrumental in the opening of Holsworthy’s first lending library in 1849 as well as in the building of the town’s Church School in 1846 (a cause which he supported and took an active part in until his death in 1877). Respected by all in life, on his death it was said that “no man in the whole county achieved a higher or more deserved position, which was due to his singular amiability of character and to a piety and purity of life, which was beyond all question”.
Historically symbolising the right to trade - and usually located centrally in the market place - Holsworthy had been devoid of its original cross for many years, possibly having originally stood on the site of the old Market House. On the removal of the old hall, the old well offered the ideal location for the new structure, combining the cross with a new, much needed pump.
The initial plan depicted a far prettier and artistic structure than that finally constructed and unveiled in December 1859 - causing much disappointment to the townspeople, many pouring scorn and sarcasm upon both architect and monument. In addition, the long-awaited pump refused to give forth any water – caused in no small part to the entire structure rapidly developing a pronounced lean towards the newly-built Market Hall, caused by the foundations being dug far too shallow. Much remedial work over the ensuing two years corrected the lean, followed by yet more to produce anything close to an acceptable flow of water.
Regardless of its faults, the Cross and pump were to become an important feature to the people of Holsworthy, visited by hundreds daily, with many thousands of gallons of water passing through its lead pipes over the next fifty years or so – though throughout the summer months the arm of the pump was often removed or chained up, unlocked for only a few hours each day, (as were all of the other public pumps in the town) at which point a long line of townsfolk – weighed down with bottles, buckets and the like - would appear from nowhere to snake around the square, patiently waiting to refill their empty receptacles. Mains water was not to reach the town (from the newly constructed Eastcombe reservoir) until 1910 (though many houses were not to be connected for years), and the public wells around the town were officially closed just prior to the First World War (although a few continued to give forth water into living memory).
From that time forward, the Market Cross and pump were to loose all importance and purpose. The small cross which originally sat atop the structure had been broken off and lost many years ago (there are a few 19th Century photographs which show it in place). The pump was removed, and the well head capped years since, and the wooden door set into its south wall removed and bricked over. There are many who remember the telephone box which stood in its shadow, there are some who can recall the small wooden door once set into its south side, but, for most, the once grand – if not striking – sentinel is little more than an ornate lamp standard, a convenient place from which to suspend hanging baskets during the summer, and from which to secure our Christmas lights in winter. So, next time you pass by, spare a moment to acknowledge its past magnitude, and remember that however insignificant it may seem to us today, it will still be standing – watching over the comings and goings of generation after generation - long after we are gone...
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