Local History

Sturminster Newton’s Market Cross | Then and Now

It’s been home to a pump, a horse trough, market stalls and parked cars, but now the roadside spot at Sturminster Newton’s Market Cross has begun a new incarnation.

It’s latest life as a street café began in June in response to the government’s lockdown call to encourage the takeaway food and drink trade.

From the Barry Cuff Collection

It now looks likely to stay that way providing the town council agrees to manage it.

In the old picture, dating from the early 1900s, a boy with a toy rifle stands to attention before the pump as a camera-shy dog looks the other way.

The location caught the eye of royal surgeon-cum-travel writer Sir Frederick Treves when he passed through Sturminster in 1906.

‘In the centre of the town,’ he wrote with his usual caustic humour, ‘is the semblance of a square to which all roads lead.

‘Here an officious gas standard carrying aloft the latest pattern of lamp, the stump of an ancient stone cross, and the town pump.

‘The latter is of wood, is small, black and vixenish. On it is a notice spitefully warning the passer-by that he will be prosecuted if he does it hurt and adding further that no children must use the exclusive structure.

‘There is a sourness in this, for all children delight to play with pumps.’

Treves failed to add that the steps of the cross have been warn down by generations of Sturminster bottoms, including mine.

Behind the stump, alone on its island, is Market House, then home to draper and costumier C S Draper and for much of the 20th century to fellow draper Alex J Hicks.

The White Hart to the left has changed little in a century and carries the date 1708, suggesting that it survived the fire that swept through the town centre in 1729.

A few years after Treves’ visit, the pump gave way to an ornamental drinking fountain and horse trough erected in memory of long-serving GP Dr John Comyns Leach, who died in 1907, and his surgeon son E Comyns Leach, who died in Sierra Leone aged 33 in 1902.

The trough later became a flower box until demolished when a motorist lost control in 2018.

Council staff salvaged the pieces and there are plans to re-erect it.

Roger Guttridge

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