18 June 2012

Market Cross and Welsh Cross, High Street

Old/Market Cross 1702-1784.  Welsh Cross c.1705-1803.

Illustrations from Hutton's 'History of Birmingham', 1836

Throughout Medieval England it was common to have a religious cross elevated on a pole in the market place, it is unknown when the cross was originally erected in Birmingham's market, but the market itself had been registered since 1166. The cross building was built in 1702; it provided shelter for the market people and the room above provided a space for public meetings and the court leet.* Hutton believed that the Welsh Cross building had originally been the site of a direction post as it stood at the junction between Dale End, Bull Street and High Street. The building itself was built in the early 1700s for a Saturday market, but it was 'never heartily adopted',* though from 1768 a cheese market was held there.* The upper room was used as a military guard room securing prisoners, and punishments were dealt out below where there were a pillory, stocks and a whipping post. The pillory was similar to the stocks, with holes to support the hands and head, but was sometimes part of a more severe punishment as physical violence such as whipping or branding could be included. The stocks and the pillory were used mainly for public humiliation, and were placed in the market place so that the largest amount of people could see them. At the beginning of the nineteenth century these kinds of punishments became less acceptable and the pillory was abolished in 1837. Although the Welsh Cross was removed for street widening in 1803 the last use of the pillory was in 1813.*

Pillory in Charing Cross, London, c. 1808.

Please note that the image of the pillory being used is in London, so not specific to Birmingham.
* References on request.


  1. Playhouses or Play Rooms in the 18th century.
    "The cross building was built in 1702; it provided shelter for the market people and the room above provided a space for public meetings and the court leet."
    The upper rooms of these market houses also provided what were known as "Rooms" for professional play performances. These Rooms derived from a Classical Architecture notion, set out in the books of Palladio and Serlio, and providing the prime source for Merchant Adventurers rebuilding English cities and towns throughout the long eighteenth century. (Inigo Jones, of course, was the seventeenth-century architect for King James I and King Charles I, who Summerson regards as the chief source of this Classical revival).

  2. Thanks for the comment, it is always great to have some additional information.