Historian says 1000-year-old Hamilton artefact is under threat

A local historian is campaigning for the protection of one of Hamilton’s oldest artefacts, which he says is showing cracks from being left outside in bad weather.

The Netherton Cross is 1000 years old and is currently located in front of Hamilton’s Old Parish Church, where it was moved to in 1926.

It first stood in the Cadzow village beside where the M74 now runs, however a separate stone still marks its original spot at the side of the motorway.

Cadzow was a Lanarkshire community up until 1445 but after King James II approved the area being renamed Hamilton, residents had to move a mile south, to the town’s current location. Netherton Cross is a key piece of historic Hamilton as it is one of the earliest symbols of Christianity in the town, and is regarded as one of the most valuable pre-Norman Christian relics in Scotland.

However, during research into the history of Hamilton Palace, John Aitken felt there was a lack of protection for the ancient artefact, as it stands exposed to the elements.

The Motherwell historian examined the cross close up, and reckons it is not in good condition.

He believes some of the carvings are in danger of coming off, and there are many long surface cracks near the top.

Netherton Cross at Hamilton Old Parish Church.
Netherton Cross at Hamilton Old Parish Church.
(Image: Media Scotland)

John said: “Water ingress and frost will eventually split the cross apart.

“The Netherton Cross, you could argue, is almost the original starting point of Hamilton.

“It used to stand somewhere in Low Parks near where the motorway is.

“It has been left out in the wind and the rain and cold for years.

“It’s getting to the point where you look at it you can see the cracks in it where water can get into it.

“It’s a valuable piece of Hamilton’s history which shouldn’t be left out like that.

“Something has to be done and soon to get this cross protected or into safe shelter – the museum perhaps?”

John’s plan now is to raise awareness of the condition of Netherton Cross and the threat it faces.

The engraved stone cross is said to have once stood in front of a Celtic church.

It is carved from local red sandstone and has a style of decoration recognisable as dating back to the 10th Century.

John has devised a plan to cover the cross with tarpaulin then attach signs to show the cross calling for help.

These will be messages such as: “Please take me inside”; “It’s freezing out here”; “I’m cracking up”; “I’m 1000 years old”; “Please keep me dry”; and “To museum please”.

Netherton Cross.
Netherton Cross.
(Image: Hamilton Advertiser)

His idea will be followed by pictures which he will post online as part of his campaign.

John added: “I couldn’t believe the people of Hamilton would leave their most treasured artefact out in the rain and cold to be destroyed like this. This cross is 1000 years old”.

John’s pictures show the start of coverings now attached to Netherton Cross.

He said: “As you can see from the pictures, the rest is up to the people of Hamilton to preserve their monument to times long gone. The cross used to be in the Hamilton library, for a time back in the late 1800s.

“It was also bricked up and surrounded with sand during the Second World War, so concerned were the authorities at the time.”

John Aitken has examined the Netherton Cross and says there is a threat of serious damage to the artefact.
John Aitken has examined the Netherton Cross and says there is a threat of serious damage to the artefact.
(Image: Freelance)

The cross is under the protection of Historic Environment Scotland who are required to inspect it regularly, which John says will be part of his investigation.

Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the actual covering has been delayed. John added: “Hopefully, the authorities will act now and get the cross relocated to a safe environment.”

South Lanarkshire Council are currently responsible for the care of Netherton Cross.

However, due consideration for its religious context is given for the congregation at Hamilton Old Parish Church.

Alistair McKinnon – head of facilities, waste and grounds services with the council – said: “We recognise the historic importance of the Netherton Cross both locally and nationally. When it was previously assessed by
the Historic Monuments Commission in 1972, the view was that it should remain outside. In discussion with our partners at the church, we are currently looking to arrange for professional conservators to carry out an assessment of the cross and provide updated advice on its care.”

Rev Ross Blackman. Hamilton Old Parish, Church of Scotland.
Rev Ross Blackman. Hamilton Old Parish, Church of Scotland.
(Image: Freelance)

Reverend Ross Blackman from the church told the Advertiser: “The cross is regularly inspected and maintained by careful cleaning.

“Prior to lockdown, the church was in active discussions with the council to see if it might also be surrounded by a Perspex box, to protect it and allow its continued use for religious purposes.

“During lockdown we have kept the upper gate open so that people might visit the church, the grounds, and the Netherton Cross, as these are significant parts of our heritage.” Reverend Blackman also supports any move for preservation of the cross.

Before being moved to Hamilton Old Parish Church the cross occupied a site close to the M74, but today a separate stone still stands at the site.
Before being moved to Hamilton Old Parish Church the cross occupied a site close to the M74, but today a separate stone still stands at the site.
(Image: Hamilton Advertiser)

He added: “I was particularly interested in the cross when I became minister in 2015, and it does not appear to have deteriorated during my tenure.

“However, I am delighted that it is receiving public interest, especially if that results in support for its preservation for continued religious use for future generations.”

John’s campaign will provide updates at the ‘Save the Netherton Cross’ page on Facebook.

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Alongside the stretch of motorway between the Raith Interchange and the Hamilton/Motherwell exit of the M74, lies the remains of the Hamilton Low Parks motte.

It consists of the remains of a medieval motte and bailey castle and, and as it is classed as a scheduled monument, the area is protected against unauthorised change.

As well as hosting the remains of the Low Parks motte, this piece of land is also the original site of the Netherton Cross.

And special care was taken to protect the area during the motorway improvement work for the M74 back in 2015.

Transport Scotland and their consultants engaged the services of specialist archaeologists to carry out evaluations of the areas affected by the road works.

A stone marks the original site of the 1000-year-old Netherton Cross on the M74 verge.
A stone marks the original site of the 1000-year-old Netherton Cross on the M74 verge.
(Image: Daily Record)

The Netherton Cross is a key piece of historic Hamilton as it is one of the earliest symbols of Christianity in the town and is regarded as one of the most valuable pre-Norman Christian relics in Scotland.

The engraved stone cross is said to have once stood in front of a Celtic Church, some 60 metres from the Hamilton Low Parks motte.

The cross is carved from local red sandstone and has a style of decoration that is recognisable as dating back to the 10th Century.

Arisit's impression of Cadzow Village showing Netherton Cross in background.
Arisit’s impression of Cadzow Village showing Netherton Cross in background.
(Image: Hamilton Advertiser)

In 1926, the monument was moved to Hamilton Old Parish Church, on Leechlee Road, for safety reasons, however a separate stone still marks its original spot at the side of the motorway.

Hamilton Old Parish Church, which is the second oldest building in Hamilton and the oldest still used for its original purpose, was opened for worship over 280 years ago in 1734.

Daily Record – Motherwell