The name 'High Cross' is synonymous with the Hinckley area and Roman Britain. It was also used by Atkins as a brand name for its products from the new Regent Street factory dating from 1930.
Venonis was a small settlement in Roman times marking the point where two great Roman roads, now called the Watling Street and the Fosse Way, intersected. In the seventeenth century William Burton and Elias Ashmole both described various Roman remains found in the vicinity of High Cross. Stukely, in the eighteenth century, waxed lyrical about High Cross saying that it was on the 'direct road to Rome.' In fact the Fosse Way crossed the Watling Street a little to the south of the present cross according to Firth in 'Highways & Byways of Leicestershire' in 1926.
A variety of excavations have been made in the area including those by A J Pickering. These revealed evidence of Roman and Medieval settlement. The remains of the Cross, which gave the site its name, date back to 1712 according to Pevsner or possibly 1722 in the account given by Firth.
The monument had a dual purpose to mark the site of the Roman road intersection and also to celebrate the victories against France by the Duke of Blenheim. Some Leicestershire nobility paid for the monument, most notably the Earl of Denbigh. Firth stated that the original construction consisted of four Doric columns surmounted with a globe and contained two Latin inscriptions. Leicestershire lightning wreaked havoc on the monument in 1791 but restoration is planned for the Jubilee year.
The inscription relating to the Roman legacy of the site, translated from the Latin, reads as follows:
'If, traveller, you search for the footsteps of the ancient Romans, here you may behold them; for here their most celebrated ways, crossing each other, extend to the utmost boundaries of Britain. Here the Venones had their quarters and at a distance of one mile from hence Claudius, a certain Commander of a Cohort, seems to have had a camp towards the Street and towards the Fosse a tomb.'
Author: Hugh Beavin
Written for: Hinckley Historian Magazine