British History,Monarchs of Great Britain,King Arthur

The King Arthur Cross Rediscovered?
by Geoffrey Gillam

In 1191, the monks of Glastonbury claimed to have found the grave of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere. A shrine to contain their bones was eventually built inside the abbey and remained there until it was destroyed in 1553 during the Reformation. On top of Arthur’s coffin an inscribed lead cross was said to have rested. Among those who saw the cross was John Leland who in 1542 gave details of its size and description, and it was illustrated for the first time in the sixth edition of (William, ed.) Camden’s Britannia published in 1607. The fate of the cross is not known although it is said to have been seen in Wells in the 18th century, after which it finally disappeared.



An inscribed lead cross, alleged to be the same one found at Glastonbury, was reported as being recovered from the bed of the lake near Maidens brook in the grounds of Forty Hall (Enfield, Middlesex) during dredging operation there in 1981. The finder, Derek Mahoney, took the cross to the British Museum and allowed the student on duty there to photograph it but he refused her request to leave it for further examination. In fact, apart from this one occasion, Derek Mahoney’s cross was never seen again.

Because the lake is part of the public open space owned by the London Borough of Enfield, the Council took Derek Mahoney to court in an attempt to recover the cross. He refused and was then sentenced to two years imprisonment for contempt, although he was released after serving only about half the sentence. The whole episode became a minor cause celebre and the cross was the subject of radio and television programmes and details were published in the national press and local papers (ADVERTISER, SOCIETY NEWS, TIMES)

As has been supposed of the original discovery in 1191, the events of 1981 were part of a clever hoax. There is little doubt that Derek Mahoney had manufactured a copy of the cross and made up the story about his finding it in order to obtain publicity for his legal battle with a firm of solicitors and an estate agent concerning the sale of a house. He had been a lead pattern maker working for a well-known local firm of toy-makers who produced detailed lead models of cars. He had also been for some years a member of the Enfield Archaeological Society and had given considerable help on occasions with Carbon-14 dating and in taking x-rays of iron objects from excavations carried out by the Society.

However, only limited technical expertise was required as the author also carried out some experiments and was able to prove that it is not difficult to cast a copy of the cross in question.

A degree of verisimilitude was added to the story of the local discovery by the fact that the antiquarian Richard Gough, an editor of Camden’s Britannia in which an illustration of the cross appeared, and a keen collector of antiquities, lived at nearby Gough Park from 1714 until his death in 1809; a situation known to Derek Mahoney. There is no mention of the cross in Richard Gough’s papers, which he bequeathed to the Bodleian Library at Oxford. Nor is there any reference to the object in any catalogue of his collection, which was sold in 1810. Apart from this, it is impossible to believe that the cross could have found its way from Gough’s collection to the bed of the lake at Forty Hall without some public reference to loss being made. Also, members of the Enfield Archaeological Society kept a close watch on the lake during the time it was being dredged. The operator of the machine used during these operations was known to the Society members concerned and he was quite sure that no lead cross had been found there.

In spite of his continued efforts, public interest in the cross waned and sadly Derek Mahoney, who by now was far from well and who had failed to resolve his legal problems, eventually took his own life. His cross was never found and the belief is that he destroyed it soon after showing it to the staff at the British Museum. He probably did this to avoid the possibility of the cross being discovered and the hoax exposed.

This story has now passed into local legend and like so many tales has gained in the telling. Only recently, during an exhibition by the Enfield Archaeological Society in the grounds of Forty Hall in 1995, members of the public were asking for more information about the discovery of a ‘golden cross’, a ‘golden crown’ and even a ‘golden sword’ (shades of Excalibur!) in the lake at Forty Hall.

SOURCES
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ADVERTISER: The Enfield Advertiser 17th December 1981
SOCIETY NEWS: Bulletin of the Enfield Archaeological Society 86 September 1982, 87 December 1982, 88 March 1983, 89 June 1983, 110 September 1988, 111 December 1988 & 113 June 1989
TIMES: The Times 3rd April 1983




The Enfield Archaeological Society

Founded 1955

Membership of the Enfield Archaeological Society is open to all with an interest in the past.

The Society was formed in 1955 to recover, by means of the study and practice of archaeology, information about the history of the London Borough of Enfield. Sites investigated by the Society have included the pre-Roman earthwork at Bush Hill Park, the area of the Roman settlement at Bush Hill, as well as the nearby Roman Road known as Ermine Street, which ran through Edmonton and Enfield, the Tudor royal palaces at Elsyng, Forty Hall and at Enfield Town, the New River and many smaller domestic and industrial sites.

During the winter months there are illustrated lectures and in the summer there are occasional coach and other visits to places of interest.

Those who wish to take a more active part in the work of the Society are encouraged to carry out research into various aspects of the local history and archaeology of the London Borough of Enfield.

From time to time, as occasions demand, rescue excavations are carried out where archaeological sites are threatened.

Society News, a quarterly bulletin, which is free to members, gives details of forthcoming events, reports of past meetings, news of local archaeological discoveries and the results of research by members.

Previous publications include:
  • Prehistoric and Roman Enfield
  • The Royal Palaces of Enfield
  • The Industrial Monuments in the London Borough of Enfield
  • Enfield at War 1914-l8
  • Enfield at War 1939-45
  • Histories and Mysteries of Writing and Theatres
  • Music Halls and Cinemas in the London Borough of Enfield Unfortunately, these are now out of print. Other publications are in the course of production.

    The Society is affiliated to the Council for British Archaeology and the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society.

    For details of membership, please contact:

    The Enfield Archaeological Society,
    23 Merton Road, Enfield, Middx EN2 0LS. Telephone 0181 367 0263.


    Reproduced with the kind permission of the Enfield Archaeological Society

    Forty Hall, Enfield
    Available from the Enfield Archaeological Society
    23 Merton Road,
    Enfield, Middx
    EN2 0LS
    UK
    Price 9.60  +1.40 P & P




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