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Rylstone Cross

Article by Mary Stoney on Rylstone Cross appeared in the Rylstone and District Parish Magazine in September, 1995


Rylstone Cross has stood upon the fell throughout the lifetime of everyone living today and the reason for its erection is almost forgotten.  If you have never been up to the site, but only viewed it from the road, the cross consists of a sandstone pillar, with the arms of the cross made of wood and attached to the top of the pillar by ironwork.  The sandstone pillar was erected to celebrate the Peace of Paris, the peace treaty signed between the Allies at the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars.


Napoleon Bonaparte was a Corsican, one of eight children, of a well born but poor family.  When he was nine years of age, his father removed to live in France to take advantage of the free state scholarships given there.  Later, Napoleon entered the Military Academy, where he developed into a very talented artillery officer and military genius.  He soon had remarkable success on military campaign in Europe.  He was regarded as a French hero.  When he returned to France he was able, by some plotting, and some force of arms, to make himself First Consul and to take over unlimited power in France.  After consolidating his position at home, he began to subdue the countries surrounding France. Country after Country fell to his invading armies and he seemed invincible.


During all this time Britain was becoming a great trading and maritime power.  Napoleon was shrewd enough to see that, with command of the seas, Britain stood in his way.  Accordingly he took every opportunity to be unreasonable, offensive, or pick a quarrel, and intrigued in India and Ireland until Britain formally declared war in 1803 and hostilities lasted, without a break, until 1814.


Napoleon eventually decided to invade England and had a great fleet of flat bottomed boats built to carry his soldiers across the Channel.  These he stationed, along with his soldiers, at the Channel ports.  Making Bologne his headquarters, he went up and down addressing the soldiers and promising them all the loot they wanted once across the Channel.  The British hated him all the more.  They stood guard around the coast.  They built up great bonfires as beacons, guarding them day and night, so they could be lit to give warning of the French invaded.  There was one such beacon kept in readiness on Sharphaw.  A great volunteer movement was formed, something like the home Guard of World War II, to train to meet and deal with any French invaders getting across the Channel.  The Navy patrolled the seas and the Channel, stopping all ships of whatever nationality, confiscating their goods if intended for France.  It was made quite plain that Britain, not France, ruled the Seas


After about a year Napoleon abandoned his idea of invading England.  Russia was giving Napoleon trouble, for their long alliance was ending and he was not pleased.  Napoleon decided to invade Russia to teach them a lesson.  He got together a large army and set forth but was eventually overtaken by the severity of the Russian winter.


The army perished in great numbers and Napoleon was obliged to make a disastrous retreat to Paris with but the remnant of his army left.  While the army was in this weak, vulnerable state, the allies struck.  Napoleon was forced to abdicate, the Peace of Paris was signed.  Napoleon was imprisoned on the Isle of Elba.  Escaping a few months later, he returned to France, collected together and army and set out once more.  However, he was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo by Wellington and this time securely imprisoned on St. Helena.  Indeed he died there in 1821.  Wages were low but still the people wanted to celebrate Napoleon’s defeat.  In this Parish there was no money for a monument but the men went up the fell, cut or chipped out a pillar from the rocks there and erected it in a prominent position.


And so time went on.  The young Queen Victoria came to the throne to begin her long and glorious reign.  In 1887, when she had reigned 50 years, great celebrations took place and took many forms.  In this parish they conceived the idea of making the arms of a cross from wood, then attaching them by ironwork to the top of the pillar upon the fell.  Thus Rylstone Cross was born to celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee.


Some 30 years, or so, this wooden part fell down.  The task of repairing the arms was given to Eric and Norman Clarke, joiners of Burnsall.  They brought some pieces of oak to Rylstone and asked Mr Fred Hunter to take them up to the site of the cross by horse and sledge.  This he did and later the Clarke brothers went up, remade the cross and attached it as before.


Now I understand it is the stone pillar that has broken in several pieces, or been vandalised while the arms are intact.  Now we are to have a completely new cross, larger than the previous one but made entirely of stone.  Made in three large sections and sawn from a quarry in the Ripon district, the cost of airlifting them to the Fell was generously met by the Yorkshire Dales National park.  Upon the fell the stone masons have worked many long hours making the sections fit and slot together into the Cross and ready for erection.  National Power have supplied and erected the scaffold and all that remains is to haul the Cross into position.  We shall all be pleased to see the Cross dominating the Rylstone skyline again, and our thanks go to all who have helped in any way to make this possible.


Indirectly, Napoleon was instrumental in the foundation of the Cross and the soldiers returning to Yorkshire from the Napoleonic Wars brought with them a recipe for a batter pudding. This is now made and served all over the world and known as 'Yorkshire Pudding'.



The new cross was raised on April 19 and 20th, 1995 the VE day anniversary. There are time capsules inside the stainless steel core with copies of all the local newspapers for that day or week. The new cross was paid for by Jim Caygill, local farmer who had the plaque below erected.


Mary Stoney


Jim Caygill

Letter to the Craven Herald by Robert Bland, 1938

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