The Headless Cross Sundial (M1)

The only mercat crosses in the Falkirk district that we have details of are the two surviving examples at Airth.  The older of the two was already known as the Headless Cross in 1619 and the current head is evidently from around that date.  The reason for it being headless is unknown, though that has not stopped people from speculating.  It is possible that it was originally surmounted by a cross which as a symbol of the Catholic Church was removed.  The sundial would have been a far more acceptable top.  The cross now takes the form of a square stone pillar, 7ft 2ins tall and 9 ¾ins square, with a slightly larger head bearing the remnant of a sundial of probably 17th century date.  Three of the faces of this 11ins cube have linear sockets in them to hold the gnomon.  One of these is vertical and there are feint traces of dial lines suggesting a symmetrical arrangement consistent with a south-facing sundial.  The faces to either side have slots set at 45 degrees for the west and east faces, whilst the remaining (presumably north face) has traces of a more elaborate design.

Illus : The Four Faces of the Headless Cross.

The Headless Cross stood beside the Black Avenue which formed the high street of the medieval village heading north from Airth Castle.  This was the site of the High Town and presumably of the market-place.  The village was slowly abandoned in favour of the new settlement beside the harbour and so for almost two centuries the cross stood alone in a field set aside for pasture.  It was used as a rubbing stone by livestock.  In the 1990s the cross was moved to the opposite side of the avenue as part of the redevelopment of the area and given a stepped plinth of whinstone sets.

Headless Cross, AirthSMR 182NS 8991 8705
Sites & Monuments Record

G.B. Bailey, 2021