Historic Scotland

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History

Departed greatness

Preston Market Cross lay at the heart of Preston, or Salt Preston, from 1617. But in time, the emergence of the nearby industrial town of Prestonpans reduced Preston’s importance, and also the role of the cross.

By 1839, the parish minister wrote the cross had become a ‘monument of departed greatness’.

‘Annually at the beginning of July, it is the scene of a little innocent merry-making. As if at the summons of some ancient wizard, in a mood of mirth and gentleness, a numerous company unexpectedly encircle the solitary pillar, and … interchange many pleasant and friendly salutations, in commemoration, doubtless, of important transactions which happened long ago.’

Today Preston’s importance has receded, but the cross retains its beauty. It’s the only monument of its type to stand on its original site.

A sight to behold

The market cross comprises two levels. At its base is a drum of masonry, about 4m wide. It features:

  • eight external panels, two of which contain doorways
  • a dome-vaulted unlit chamber inside, which would have served as the town gaol
  • a narrow stair leading to the upper platform

Proclamations and the like would have been read to the local people from the cross’s upper platform.

From the upper platform rises the 6m shaft, topped by a unicorn crowned at the throat and supporting a cartouche carved with a lion rampart.

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