There were, according to Edward Lhuyd, some eight medieval crosses within Llangollen Parish at the time of his writing at the end of the 17th century. The cross found in front of Plas Newydd, once home of Eleanor Butler (1739-1829) and Sarah Ponsonby (1755-1831) - the famous Ladies of Llangollen - is not one of them. This, it seems, was once part of the shaft of the Chester High Cross, pulled down and broken up by Parliamentarians after the defeat of Royalist forces in the Siege of Chester in 1646.
The Ladies of Llangollen were inveterate collectors, and their home at Plas Newydd became a repository of all manner of gifts from visitors, as well as curios that the Ladies themselves were rather taken with. Much of this collection was worked into the fabric of the home, and much of it, despite various restorations and removals, can still be seen.
No one really knows when Chester’s cross came to Plas Newydd, though the Chester historian, Frank Simpson claims it was around 1817. It was placed before the entrance of the home, forming part of the formal gardens which the Ladies spent a considerable amount of time in creating. The steps upon which the shaft rests are not thought to be original to the cross, rather a later addition.
Parts of the cross were hidden beneath St Peter’s Church, where it once stood at the crossroads of Watergate, Eastgate and Bridge Gate. A considerable portion of the cross was taken into the possession of the then Mayor, Sir John Cotgreave, in around 1815 - including the portion of the shaft now at Plas Newydd. The story is that he attempted to use the shaft as a sundial - a common enough occurrence. However, the shaft refused to stand, and would topple as soon as it was raised. This happened on a number of occasions, until Cotgreave lost patience with the stone and left it to weather in the grounds of his home, Netherlegh House on Eaton Road. So its appearance at Plas Newydd around 1817 fits the narrative, after a fashion at least. A gift, perhaps from the Mayor of Chester?
The Chester High Cross c. 1600 - from J.Hemingway, History of the City of Chester (1831)
Some of the Cross can still be seen before St Peter’s in Chester - the tabernacle or crosshead at least is thought to be original, but there remains some debate. After the remaining pieces were reassembled, it stood for some time in the Roman Gardens at Newgate, before being returned to its original position in 1975 - minus part of the shaft, of course.
J. Hemingway, History of the City of Chester from its foundation to the present time Vols 1 & 2, (1831)
Historic England, Chester High Cross, Eastgate Street and Row
F. Simpson, A History of the Church of St. Peter in Chester, Chester (1909)