The tiny parish of Todber (population 140) doesn’t have too many claims to fame but it does have something unique in Dorset – the county’s oldest stone cross.
The cross’s history is not straightforward, though, as revealed by Alfred Pope in The Old Stone Crosses of Dorset, published in 1906.
Pope includes a photograph of the complete cross standing proudly in the churchyard.
He explains that the shaft actually comprised two sculpted stones that were discovered in the churchyard by a former Rector of Stour Provost with Todber ‘some years since’.
‘It may at one time have formed parts of a Saxon cross and have been cut by Saxon monks,’ he says.
‘The cross in its present form is quite modern, having been made up and placed in its present position in 1889.’
Dr Colley March, an expert on Runic and Saxon sculpted designs, told Pope that the two fragments were ‘of early date, perhaps even of the eighth century, and that without doubt the carving represents the “true vine” that is Christ’.
Runic crosses are relatively common in Cornwall, Scotland and Ireland but Pope was unable to find another of this type in Dorset.
‘In the lower fragment one sees a repeated cross with vineal coils, and within the coils a vine leaf is discernible,’ he writes.
‘The upper fragment is of the same type and may have come from the side of the same cross, the reversing spiral being treated in the usual manner, as a vine.’
Today Todber’s cross is in two pieces once again. The cross itself and the top part of the shaft stand shyly against the church wall.
At the request of Dorset’s archaeological department, the more substantial lower sections have been inside the church since 1983 to protect the inscription from weathering.
Before being moved, specialist stonemasons were employed to clean the Saxon stones and insert suitable modern stones to replace the Victorian cement that was used to hold the pieces together in 1889.
Another cross that has rung the changes is at Crawford Cross between Tarrant Crawford and Spetisbury.
When Pope photographed it 115 years ago, only the socket-stone base and the bottom 22 inches of the ‘once handsome square shaft’ remained.
‘The stones are much worn from children climbing over them,’ he adds.
Today the roadside cross is back to its former glory.
An inscription tells us it was restored and set on a new plinth ‘by many friends of Tarrant Crawford’ in 1914.