Sussex Living May 2013
Intrigued about the origin of the Ansty Cross, Phil Pavey went off to do some research and found more than he bargained for…
The Mystery of the Ansty Cross
The hamlet of Ansty lies pretty well in the middle of Sussex, amongst the woods and farmland of the Weald.
Until 2011, its most notable feature was its pub, the Anstye Cross, and in particular the pubs very striking sign, showing a white cross on a black background. The cross had equal length arms, each ending in a three-pronged ‘Fleur de Lys’ and was surrounded by a circle, so that it looked like a Celtic cross. I was intrigued by this and wondered if it could be possible that Ansty had it own design of cross, like Canterbury or St Albans.
However, unlike these towns, Ansty is obviously not a centre of pilgrimage, and I guessed it was more down to the pub’s position: although it lies on a T-junction of the east-west A272 and a road going southwards to Burgess Hill, there is a small lane northwards a short way away and the spot could arguably be referred to as a crossroads. The situation was complicated by the existence of a similar, but not identical, cross on the pubs Gable. The main difference was that it lacked a circle and (it later turned out significantly), was coloured green. So, when I was on a ramble in the area, I called in for a drink (please note: the Anstye Cross pub has now ceased trading) and asked staff if anyone knew where the cross design all the pubs name came from, but nobody knew.
I concluded that the crossroads exclamation was the most likely, and that the cross designs were just chosen by chance to illustrate the word. On the other hand, the designs were similar and quite unusual, and I felt pulled to dig some more.
I learnt that Ansty was in the parish of Cuckfield, so while on another ramble, I visited the church to see if its guide made any reference.
It did not, but I noticed that the church tower featured a metal cross, in fact a “wall tie plate” to support the structure, of once again a similar but slightly different design. This cross had arms of equal length but only two prongs at the end of each arm. I was even more struck to notice that a building at the other end of the village, once a free church chapel, had two metal wall tie plates on its front Wall of exactly the same design. It was beginning to get very confusing. Was it a Cuckfield cross similar to the Ansty one, were they variants from one origin, or was it all just coincidence? It occurred to me that the crosses could be heraldic rather than ecclesiastical, i.e. motif drawn from a landed family’s coat of arms. The most likely candidates could be those who had owned estates throughout the county, like the Fitzalans, Howards, Nevills or Pelhams - or, judging from the memorials in the church, local “big fish”: the Burrell, Sergison, Henley or Bowyer families.
A search on the Internet found the arms of all these families, but none of them featured crosses like the ones at Ansty or Cuckfield. On the other hand, it turned out that the cross on the pub Gable in Ansty and the one in Cuckfield were indeed ones used in heraldry, known as a cross patonce and a cross moline
By now, I was getting a bit obsessive! I was also planning a book on mysteries in the history of Sussex, and thought this might be one. So, I wrote to the pub manager in Ansty but received no reply and soon after found the pub had closed down. I also wrote to the College of Arms in London asking if they could suggest who might have a cross patterns or Marlene in the coat of arms, but was told (in polite terms) that I was more or less asking them to look for a needle in a haystack. However, another email had gone to the vicar at Cuckfield and the parish archivist there kindly replied that the Cuckfield crosses were essentially structural and probably just the personal design of a local blacksmith; though the Anstye Cross – green as on the pub gable – came from a local coat of arms, possibly the Hendleys.
Sadly, though, I knew from my earlier research that it wasn't the Hendleys. I found a row of houses in Ansty called Green Cross Cottages, which suggested that the cross was a sort of landlord's emblem, and soon after the local history section of Brighton public library came to the rescue.
A century old book "History of the parish of Cuckfield”, said a Green Cross was the heraldic sign of the Hussey family, who served as Sussex MPs from 1289 to 1558, but seem to have disappeared after 1621.
Armed with the name Hussey, I wrote again to the College of Arms and they kindly confirm that a plain green cross on a gold background was used by several Hussey families, and may have become patonce just by ornamentation.
By complete coincidence I also came across the arms of the Ward family, once of Bolnore Manor near Cuckfield, whose arms featured a blue cross patonce.
So my best guess was that the Hussey Green Cross had morphed from plain to patonce, either just as elaboration or by some association or confusion with their neighbours, the Wards. Two more things happened: a village sign went up in 2011 showing the green cross patonce. The artist, when contacted via the Parish Council said he too was informed that it came from the Husseys. Secondly, by another startling coincidence, when on a ramble at Amberley near Arundel, I saw the same metal cross on a cottage as at Cuckfield.
So it couldn't be by a local blacksmith, and could be from the arms of a family with widespread landholdings.
However, I decided that was an even bigger quest and one that for my part could remain a mystery for many more years to come …
From Sussex Living, May 2013
Clifford Hughes writes:-
For many years - certainly for the whole of my lifetime and I believe since beforeWW1 the pub was The Green Cross, Anstye (the spelling is important). I remember the sign as a green heraldic cross on a black ground. It only changed its name to The Ansty Cross in the 1980s.
Worm Farm writes:-
The Green Cross, run by Keith and Mary Randell. The village sign used to be a painting featuring a stag, I believe, by James Forsythe, our local artist. I may have a photo of it somewhere. As it couldn't be decided which spelling of Ansty/Anstye to use on the sign, both were used, one on each side.