'Urgent' conservation work required for Leighton Buzzard Market Cross - the 'jewel in the crown'

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"Urgent" conservation work is due to take place on Leighton Buzzard's iconic landmark the Market Cross, although costs "could be significant".

Representatives of Leighton Buzzard Townlands Trust (responsible for its upkeep) recently gave a presentation to Leighton-Linslade Town Council, detailing its existing investigations, and asking the council to consider sourcing external funding for important works to "the jewel in the crown".

Indeed, the costs for conservation are "as yet unknown" but it is believed that it could be "significant".

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In a report to the town council, charity trustees Mike West and Nick Whitehouse, said: "There is no doubt about the affection that the public has for the cross.

Leighton Buzzard Market Cross. Image: Jane Russell.Leighton Buzzard Market Cross. Image: Jane Russell.
Leighton Buzzard Market Cross. Image: Jane Russell.

"It is a meeting place, a seat in the sun or shade, a focal point for events. Sadly, in the past there has been some vandalism, graffiti, and unsympathetic treatment by market traders. Pigeons continue to be a problem.

"Urgent expenditure on the Market Cross is required beyond the normal care and maintenance that the trustees have been providing in recent years.

"Please, are you able to help the trustees deliver excellence in conserving this jewel in the crown of Leighton Buzzard?"

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The LBO asked Councillor Steve Jones, leader of the Conservatives, whether the work was because the market cross had existing issues that needed dealing with, or whether it was more for future protection.

Cllr Jones told the LBO: "It's a bit of both. It's in need of repair. It's made of sandstone for a start; it's become weathered and the longer we leave it, the worse it will become. It's mostly for the future.

"There's some brickwork that the Victorians put in, which doesn't exactly match, so things like that may be replaced.

"There are some very obvious bits that have been bandaged in the past, which wasn't done in the way we would do it now.

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"We've told them [the Trust] to come back with a figure and we will see what we can do. The assessment/survey has been done, so they are looking for funding for the restoration work."

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To date the Trustees have received an initial condition report, a geological assessment, an archeological report, a detailed set of drawings, a digital survey, and a photographic survey.

In addition, samples have been sent for analysis at a geomaterials research laboratory.

The minutes of the latest town council Policy and Finance Committee state: "The Trust had commissioned an expert architect to undertake an initial report and geological assessment, which would eventually inform a programme of conservation work aimed at preventing any further deterioration in the condition of the monument."

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The subject will be discussed further at the next Policy and Finance Committee (September 19).

Cllr Jones added: "The Market Cross is a central focal point and has been since the 15th century. It was erected by Alice Chaucer, who was the daughter of Geoffrey Chaucer of Canterbury Tales fame!

"The market itself was centered around the market cross; in old photos you can see cattle and sheep pens - everything spanned all the way down from it."

The Townlands Trust's remit is to take ownership and care of the Market Cross and to give charitable support to residents.