The sanctuary crosses, of which three survive, marked the 2 mile radius from the Minster which indicated the beginning of the area of protection for fugitives.
The remains of the three surviving sanctuary crosses need individual description. 1. The Hessle Cross, is on the roadside between Beverley and Cottingham; 2. near the traffic lights on the road to Walkington and 3. at Killingwoldgraves near the by-pass roundabout towards Bishop Burton (see above). The Hessle ‘Stump’ Cross (1) on the road leading from the Humber would have marked the route for travellers using the ferry, probably en route from London or Lincoln and has been the least noticed of the crosses. It can now be seen clearly a little to the south of the bridge which crosses the south east by-pass. It was found ‘in a hedgerow of the road leading to Hessle’ and among a row of trees.
These trees and hawthorn hedging were removed by the by-pass constructors and the stone was lifted up the steep bank in 1982 and placed on a firm base with a strong surrounding fence. John Spret was a ‘Gentleman of Barton-upon-Humber’ and may well have used this route to ‘ask for the liberties of St John of Beverley for the death of John Welton, a husbandman with a dagger’ on one 15th day of August. This road was also the route to Cottingham and that ancient village may have provided stopover comfort to many fugitives as they journeyed between the great contemporary churches of Lincoln and Beverley.
Near Walkington the area described as South Burton, now Bishop Burton, has the remains of a stone cross (2) easily available to walkers along the footpath. It is similar in size to the Hessle Cross but the base is flat and there are only shallow bevelled shoulders. Fugitives from the west and south west would pass this marker.
The stone at Killingwoldgraves (3) has been the cause of some conjecture. Poulson suggested that this stone was on the site of ‘an old hospital at Killingwoldgraves’ but research by Mortimer showed that the hospital of St Mary Magdalene (a female only institution) was nearer to the village of Bishop Burton.
The central column of this stone is taller than on the other two crosses, is almost square in section, and has clearly defined vertical grooves. It probably had its surmounting cross in the reign of Elizabeth I when it was referred to as an example of the boundaries and liberties of the town of Beverley. The base is 3 feet square and some 25 inches high and appears to have had an inscription in ‘square text’ which was deciphered by a Mr Topham of Hatfield in 1773 as:
‘Orate pro anima magistri Willielmi de Walthon.’ (Pray for the soul of William Waltham).
William of Waltham was a Canon of York and Beverley who died in 1416 leaving £40 for the construction of the Minster east window which now contains all the remaining fragments of medieval glass. This glass is among the oldest in the country and was carefully removed during World War II, stored and replaced in 1945. The inscription on the cross may have been placed there by grateful church authorities delighted to be completing the Minster in its last phase from 1360 – 1400. There had been a lull in building from 1349 when the Black Death was at its peak in Beverley.
In 1827 the Lord of Bishop Burton Manor was Richard Watt. With the aid of the vicar, Revd. William Taylor, he had the stones taken up to look for the bones of William Waltham or the bones of an executed man who, according to legend, was buried beneath. Although they found neither tomb nor bones they did verify the inscription. Today there is no inscription but weathered marks on the field side may be the remains of lettering. An attractive print from Poulson’s Beverlac shows lettering as it may have appeared to Richard Watt.
This stone is not at the roadside like the two others. No doubt the road line has altered, placing the stone further into the field, but the 1853 Ordnance Survey maps show that there was a prominent north-south enclosure bank here and the marker may have been deliberately placed on a high vantage point easily visible to fugitives approaching from the city of York. There are sufficient similarities between this stone and the others to conclude that it is an original sanctuary cross and its position in the field may have contributed to its better state of preservation than the two others.