Chris Morrison, proprietor of the Grian Press, recently sent me some photos of the Arthurlie Cross, an early medieval monument situated in a residential area of Barrhead in East Renfrewshire. Although only the broken shaft of the cross survives, the clarity of the interlace patterns makes this one of the finest examples of sculptural art from the old kingdom of Strathclyde. The carvings are in the distinctive style of the ‘Govan School’ and enable the monument to be dated to the 9th-11th centuries AD.
I visited the Arthurlie Cross in 2010 and included three images of it in my book The Men of the North: the Britons of Southern Scotland, published in the same year. Readers of the book will recognize the illustration shown below, an excellent drawing of the cross by John Romilly Allen (1847-1907).
For the past couple of years I’ve been working sporadically on a ‘biography’ of the Arthurlie Cross, tracing its thousand-year history as a public monument and exploring the folklore that grew around it. During the 18th and 19th centuries it was used in a more practical way, first as a footbridge over a stream and, later, as a gatepost. The damage it suffered is visible today, most notably on one side where the carvings have been worn almost smooth by the passage of countless feet. In the 21st century we might feel tempted to roll our eyes at such heedless disregard of an ancient monument, until we remind ourselves that it is an integral part of the story. If the cross had played no useful role in the daily life of the local community, it might have been broken up as masonry for buildings.
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The Arthurlie Cross is located at the junction of Springhill Road and Carnock Crescent in Barrhead, East Renfrewshire.
I am grateful to Chris Morrison for the photographs. Take a look at the Grian Press website to see a good selection of books on Scottish local history, including reprints of older works. Chris also posts interesting historical info at the Hidden Renfrewshire Facebook page.
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