Of the eight crosses mentioned by Edward Lhuyd as being in Llangollen Parish at the end of the 17th century, possibly the most interesting is ‘Kroes Gwenhwyfar’. The name has power, of course, is redolent of Arthurian myth and legend, and it is something of an effort to pierce the glamour of the association. After all, there are other Arthurian themed curiosities in and around Llangollen, as there are throughout north east Wales. There is a thirst for all things Arthur, which is not a bad thing at all. But it is a desperately difficult thing to do to tease out the truth from centuries of shoehorning Arthur into much older myth, and the presence of Guinevere's Cross in Llangollen has lead to much knowing nods from those more likely to make such things fit a myth and go no further, hear no other voice.
Mentioned briefly in the Parochialia, Croes Gwenhwyfar disappears from all record for over a hundred years until written of in 1827, where it is named as, ‘Croes Gwen Hwyfr’ by W. T. Simpson in, ‘History of Llangollen and its Vicinity’. In this wonderful and curious little book, Simpson claims the cross stood close to, ‘the wooden bridge’ crossing the Dee (the now much rebuilt, repaired and restored Llangollen Bridge) on the road to Wrexham. He also claims that it had ‘been removed only a few years’.
There has been some speculation that the cross stood on the bank of the Dee by the bridge (roughly where the promenade walk on the north bank of the Dee begins) but this is unlikely, since in fact the remains of the cross were there for all to see, in the corner of a small triangular field on the outskirts of the town, on the other side of the road from the Llandyn Holiday Park, until around 1970. It appears in this spot on the OS maps of 1910 onwards - but no longer. The Royal Commision visited the remains of the cross in 1911, finding it ‘just inside the hedge on the north side of the Wrexham road’ , with the shaft and cross head missing, leaving a 2ft 3 inch square base, 10 inches high with slightly chamfered angles and something of a socket stone. They also noticed evidence of the old road in the field that seemed placed nearby. The cross was certainly still there in the mid 1960s, since it was recorded by the Ordnance Survey investigator. No such luck was to be had in 1975, and according to locals to Llangollen it was moved or buried sometime before the field was taken into new ownership in 1970. It seems to be a miracle that it survived the building of the canal which runs above the road. Recent works in the field (spring 2022) unearthed nothing. Will it ever be found, one wonders.
There have been ongoing attempts to connect the cross to Arthurian legend, as has been said, and a cursory look on the internet will bring you several sites of varying quality pertaining to this. But Gwenhwyfar was not an unusual name in Medieval Wales and was fairly common in north east Wales. It is possible that Gwenhwyfar was in fact of the line of the ambitious Iorwerth Ddu of Pengwern, the 14th century man of substance and one of the founders of the mighty line of Mostyn. And it is impossible to say why the cross would commemorate Gwenhwyfar, and might well have been a later naming. Of all the crosses in north east Wales, it is rare to find one so specifically attributed to an individual, and the only other that comes to mind is the much earlier Eliseg’s Pillar in nearby Llantysilio. Given its position on the Wrexham road, it would seem that the cross was a wayside cross, of sorts - but the name gives rise to wonder, and of course allows for continued Arthurian speculation.
There is nothing now to show for the presence of the cross - nothing, at all. And this seems to be entirely surprising, and not a little irritating in truth. To think that just some 50 years ago, one could stand in the presence of this medieval cross, however worn and weathered away, gives rise to ever so much disappointment in its current absence. Still, perhaps one day the base stone, if not the cross head, will reappear - such little miracles happen all the time.
RCAHMC, An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments in Wales Denbigh, London (1912)
R. J. Silvester, R. Hakinson, Medieval Crosses and Crossheads, Scheduling Enhancement, CPAT Report No. 1036, (2010)
W. T. Simpson, History of Llangollen and its Vicinity, Llangollen (1827)