Poison Cross Railway Station's Cross
Poison Cross Railway Station had a very short lifespan, didn't feature a cross, and was not specifically built for Christian worship. So why is 'Cross' part of the name?
Poison Cross Station
In the late 19th century, exploratory digging began in southeast England to construct a tunnel beneath the English Channel to France. This was not the first time such a project had been attempted. In 1802, before steam locomotion was popular, the French mining engineer Albert Mathieu proposed a tunnel for horse-drawn coaches.
The exploration revealed coal seams. Although more modest than those in Northern France and the coal quality poor, mines were sunk at half a dozen collieries dotted around the Kent countryside and coal was extracted for nearly 100 years, 1891-1989.
The East Kent Light Railway was established to support this programme and a station on the line was at Poison Cross in the village of Eastry. The station served passengers for a short time (1925-1928) before closing down. Originally the siding was to serve the Hammill Colliery at Woodnesborough (locally pronounced Winsborough) but no coal was ever found there. The name 'Woodnesborough' is named after the Saxon god Woden, which indicates how long people have lived in the area.
Eastry already existed at the time of Caesar and was on the Roman road from Woodnesborough to Dover. Saxon King Ecgberht of Kent had a palace in the village in the year 664, and two cousins lived with him; Prince Aethelred and his brother Prince Aethelberht.
An over-zealous royal aide, Thunor, secretly killed the princes to prevent them taking the throne. The king was greatly saddened when he discovered the plot, since either of the Christian princes would have been fine kings. He had their bodies buried as Christian martyrs.
For atonement the king founded abbeys, one of which was in Eastry and its abbess was the murdered princes' niece Saint Mildrith. The abbey had strong links with Christ Church, Canterbury. Thomas Becket often visited Eastry and is said to have hidden there before escaping to France in 1164. The current Georgian manor house of Eastry Court is one of the oldest houses in England and possibly the birthplace of Christianity in England.
How much of the murder story is true, we do not know. But there is a more sketchy legend of monks falling out and murdering each other with poison where a road crosses the ancient Roman road, giving rise to the name 'Poison Cross'.
A less dramatic explanation is that the name 'Eastry', with its Christian Easter association, may have prompted a monastic theme around Christ's Passion on the cross. The term Passion Cross could well have evolved into 'Poison Cross'.
Our favourite theory is from the fish ponds, which traditionally were dug near monasteries to provide food. Kent, being on the French doorstep, has many French influences. The French for 'fish' is poisson.
The fish is also an ancient Christian symbol. Were a fish and a cross erected at the site? Travellers on this Roman road to Dover, and on to France, would have been familiar with the French term and may well have stopped for some 'poisson and chips' at the crossroads 'friary'.
The site known as Poison Cross now accommodates a garden centre (www.pettetsnursery.co.uk)
The Latin Church began its mission in England by sending St. Augustine to King Aethelbert of Kent in 597