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Fire & Crosses

Image of Lower cross

What was the Great Fire of Hagbourne?

After the Norman conquest West Hagbourne was given to a local man who had supported William, and East Hagbourne was given as a reward to William’s chancellor, so they must have been substantial villages then. Both villages are in the Doomsday book, each with it’s own mill. In 1659 an extensive fire destroyed many houses in East Hagbourne. The fire fighting efforts involved firehooks from St Andrew’s and Blewbury churches, used to pull down burning thatch. St Andrew’s Church remained undamaged.

A proclamation of 6th November 1661 was sent out by Charles II to all churches in England to be read out to the congregation to request aid for the villagers, which referred to:

“the great impoverishment of the poor inhabitants of our town of Hagbourne…”

Alms were received by the villagers following this, including a sum from London. Five years later, the villagers carried out a reciprocal act of charity when they raised funds for the relief of Londoners following their own Great Fire.

What are the Upper and Lower Crosses?

It is thought that there were three crosses marking an area of refuge within the village.

The Upper Cross stands at one end of the village close to St Andrew’s church. The original cross was probably destroyed in the time of Cromwell’s rule of England as Lord Protector.

The replacement square capital has three sundials (the fourth side has an inscription, now much faded) and was used as a meeting place and for worship. There is a slot on the side facing the church, which may have held the Communion Host on Palm Sunday services.

There is another alcove on the ten foot shaft of the Cross, which is reputed to have contained vinegar to disinfect coins during times of plague.

At the other end of the village, at the start of the Blewbury Road is the Lower Cross (now a stump) and now a War Memorial. There is also another stump of a cross at Coscote on the road to West Hagbourne. Both crosses were damaged during the Civil War. The door knocker on the north door of St Andrew’s is the final sanctuary marker in the triangle.


In the Middle Ages, those accused of a crime (except sacrilege or high treason) could claim the privilege of sanctuary in a church and be given protection for up to forty days, during which time they could not be harmed or forcibly removed.

Those claiming sanctuary had to stay in the church – they were not allowed more than fifty paces from the door. The accused could then confess his crimes to the local coroner and “abjure the realm”, forfeiting all his possessions. The criminal would swear before the coroner to leave England by a stated port.

The penalty for deviating from the direct route or for later returning to kingdom was death. The right to claim sanctuary was not abolished until 1623.