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South West Salisbury and its Cathedral

Salisbury is on the tourist radar as it is close to Stonehenge and runs a daily bus trip there. That is probably all most visitors see of Salisbury, although a few may get as far as the Cathedral, one of the best Early English Cathedrals in the country and with the tallest spire and a copy of Magna Carta. This is doing Salisbury a disservice as it is an attractive and prosperous market town with as good shopping area and plenty of old buildings. It repays a visit in its own right.


At confluence rivers Avon, Nadder and Bourne on edge Salisbury Plain, the original settlement was Old Sarum, site of an iron age hill fort, built on a hill to the north of Salisbury.

By the early C13th Old Sarum was considered was cramped and squalid. There was a power struggle between church and castle, resulting in Richard Poore, then Bishop of Salisbury petitioned the pope to be allowed to build a new Cathedral (#2) outside the town, in his old parish of St Martin. Building began on water meadows to the south of Old Sarum in 1221 and took less than 50 years to complete. A settlement grew up round the cathedral, with workers moved there, leaving Old Sarum abandoned.

There has been a church at St Martin’s since the C11th, although the present building dates from the C13th with later additions. It is about half a mile east of the cathedral. Although part of the Church of England, it follows the Ango-Catholic tradition as it does not accept the ordination of women.

Bishop Poole built a small wooden church, dedicated to St Thomas, just north of the cathedral site for use by men working on the new cathedral. This was replaced by a small stone church, which became the parish church for the town. As the town grew, so did the church and most of the present building is C15th. It has one of the finest and best preserved Doom Paintings above the chancel arch.

The Haunch of Venison on Minster Street was used to house workmen on the Cathedral spire in the C14th.

The College of Matrons on Chorister’s Square was built in the late C17th as almshouses for the widows of the clergy. To be eligible, they had to be at least 50 and have an annual income of less than £10. The inscription above the door translates as “Seth, Bishop of Salisbury, most humbly dedicated this College of Matrons to God, most good, most great, in the year of our Lord 1682”. Above is the coat of arms of Charles II, flanked drapes holding fruit. It still part of the Salisbury City Almhouses and Werlfare Charities.



New Sarum, later to be known as Salisbury was given city status and by the C14th was the largest settlement in Wiltshire. Parliament met her three times during the century. It became an important staging point for stage coaches and still has several old coaching inns.




It still retains many old buildings of different ages.




The city centre with its medieval grid street pattern is compact and easily walkable. It is still a thriving shopping centre with many family owned shops as well as the national chains.



The Poultry Cross on is the only one of the four market crosses to survive. An open air market is still held round here twice a week on Tuesdays and Saturdays.


Tourist Information is on Fish Street. As well as information about things to do and see in Salisbury, it also sells theatre tickets for the Salisbury Playhouse and Salisbury Arts Centre and also for bus tours to Stonehenge

Salisbury City Guides offer a variety of walking tours.

As well as the Cathedral there are many other places to visit in Salisbury, many of them in the Cathedral Close. Mompesson House is a C18th house with a walled garden behind.


Arundals, also in the Close, was the home of former Prime Minister, Edward Heath and remains as it was left after his death.

The Salisbury Museum in the Cathedral Close and has a remarkable collection of prehistoric artefacts from Salisbury Plain and Old Sarum. Next to it is the flint built Medieval Hall, dating from the C13th and was the Great Hall for the Salisbury Deanery. It is now used for a variety of events.


The Rifles Berkshire and Wiltshire Museum is in the Medieval Canonry, although after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, this building was used as a storehouse, hence its name, The Wardrobe.


Leaflet with information about walks around Salisbury.

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Salisbury Cathedral

Salisbury Cathedral is a magnificent example of Early English Gothic architecture. As well as housing one of the best preserved original copies of Magna Carta, it has the tallest Spire in Britain, the oldest working clock in Europe and is surrounded by the largest Cathedral Close in Britain. Peregrin Falcons also nest in the tower

After the Norman Conquest, a cathedral and castle were built on the site of an iron age hill fort at Old Sarum. By 1217, not only were relations between the clergy and castle poor, There were problems with lack of water. Richard Poore, then Bishop of Salisbury, petitioned the pope to be allowed to build a new cathedral outside the town. The foundation stone was laid in 1220 by the Bishop and William Longespee, Earl of Salisbury, Houses for priests were built on land surrounding the Cathedral which later became the Cathedral Close.

The Cathedral was completed in 38 years. The tower was heightened in the early C14th and a spire added. The windlass used to pull up materials can still be seen inside the tower.

In 1457, the Cathedral became a site of pilgrimage after Bishop Osmund was made a saint. His shrine as well as many church treasures were destroyed during the Reformation. Fortunately the cathedral suffered little damage during the Civil War and Commonwealth when the cloisters were used as a prison. There were two periods of major repairs and restoration in the C18th when two outside chapels and the detached bell tower were removed. The land around the cathedral had long been used as a graveyard and was drained and grassed. Sir George Gilbert Scott oversaw repairs to the West Front at the end of the 19th and a new organ was installed.

The Cathedral escaped bomb damage in World War Two and it has been suggested this is because German air craft used the spire as a land mark.

The only recent changes have been the installation of the Prisoners of Conscience window in the Trinity Chapel in 1980 and a very modern font in 2008. Apart from that, the cathedral very much remains as it would have appeared when built.

The Cathedral is surrounded by a walled Close with five gates with strong wooded doors that gave protection to the city population in times of trouble.



The inside of the walls are lined with buildings used by Cathedral officials.

Malmesbury House is just inside St Anne’s Gate. King Charles II stayed here when he fled from London to escape the plague and Handel was a frequent visitor.


The Choristers Green is a small enclosed area off the main Close.


The Cathedral stands in the centre of The Close, surrounded by grass.


The West Front with its statues and decoration is stunning .



The Early English building with its lancet windows is simple but attention to detail can be seen around the roof line.


External braces help support the weight of the tower and spire.


Being built slightly later they are decorated in style.


The cloisters are built on the south side of the nave. The Magna Carta is displayed in the Chapter House.



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Salisbury Cathedral cont...

Floor plan cathedral.jpg

There is a detailed floor plan here.

The aisled nave is remarkable for its height, accentuated by the tall narrow fluted columns of pale stone with darker polished Purbeck Marble. Above is a triforium with the clerestory above. The huge west doors are only used for processions on special occasions.



Between the pillars are tombs of bishops. The earliest are the two effigies of C12th bishops, brought here from Old Sarum


The tomb chest is that of C15th Bishop Richard Beacham.


There are other nobles and knights buried here. The effigy of an unknown C14th knight, has a small figure beyond, thought to commemorate a C13th boy bishop although it is possible it covered the heart of Bishop Poole, whose body was buried in Dorset.


The tomb of William Longespée, Earl of Salisbury, an illegitimate son of Henry II, who laid the foundation stone of the Cathedral with Bishop Poole and signed the Magna Carta is buried near the crossing.


Near is the tomb of Robert Lord Hungerford, who fought in the Hundred Years War and died in 1459.


There aremore recent grave slabs in the nave floor.


Regimnental colours hang from the North Wall. According to military tradition, they are left until they fall apart, when they are taken down during a special service and then buried in an unmarked grave in sacred ground.


Beneath is the case with the mechanical clock, made around 1386. The mechanism is driven by falling weights which have to be wound up once a day. It had no dial or hands but struck a bell every hour. At the end of the C19th, it was replaced by a newer model. It has since been restored and is now displayed in the nave. There are regular demonstrations when it is allowed it to chime.


The very modern font dates from 2008 and is in the nave inside the north door.


The long narrow side aisle end in splendid tombs. That at the end of the North Aisle was erected in 1635 to Helena Snachenberg and her second husband Sir Thomas Gorges. She came from Sweden in 1565, aged 15 to be a maid of honour to Elizabeth I. When she died aged 86, she left 98 descendants.



At the end of the south ailse is the impressive monument to Edward, Earl of Hereford who was the elsdest brother of Jane Seymore, third wife of Henry VIII and married Katherine Grey, a younger sister of Lady Jane Grey, the 'nine days queen'. Both improisoned in the Tower of London by Elizabeth I who regarded Katherine as a threat to her throne. Their grandson built this tomb in their honour.



Also on the wall of the south aisle is the tomb to Sir Richard Mompesson and his wife Katherine. One of his descendants built Mompesson House.


Also on the south wall of the name is this lovely memorial to Elihonor Sadler, who was married to the registrar to the Bishops, a man 18 years younger than herself.


The north and south transepts are off the crossing.


The stone pulip stands in front of the choir.


Salisbury Cathedral cont...

The choir just behind the crossing is separated from the side aisles by stone screens, with statues of saints Aldhelm, Osmund, Francis and Anthony on the outer south wall.


The choir stalls are C19th.


Beyond the choir is the presbytery with the high altar and Trinity Chapel behind.


On the south side was the Hungerford chantry chapel. On the north side is the Audley Chantry Chapel built for Bishop Audley in 1524 with a very decorative stone screen round it.




There are two smaller choir transepts off the Prebytery. In the North Choir transept are two small chapels to St Catherine and St Martin. The Holy Oils are stored in a small aumbry here.


That on the south side has the lovely chapel of St Margaret of Scotland. Margaret grew up in Wessex before marrying Malcolm III of Scotland. She was renowned for her acts of piery and charity, and the chapel is a focus of prayer for the Mothers' Union.


Just beyond is the tomb of St Osmund, who was the first Bishop of Salisbury Cathedral at Old Sarum. Although originally buried at Old Sarum, his tomb was moved here once the new Cathedral had been built. The holes (foramina) allowed pilgrims to reach in to make closer contact with St Osmund's bones.


Near it is the splendid tomb of Bishop Bridport, who was bishop when the Cathedral was consecrated. It is described as one of the finest C13th tombs in Britain.


The Trinity Chapel was the first part of the new cathedral to be completed. Consecration crosses are painted on the east wall.

The modern stained glass windows above the altar date from 1980 and were designed by the French stained glass artist, Gabriel Loire. Known as the 'Prisoners of Conscience window', the three central windows tell the story of the final days of Christ. The outer windows are dedicated to all who have suffered for their beliefs.



A variety of free and paid tours are available.

The Cathedral is open Monday - Saturday 9.30- 5pm with last entry at 4.15.
On a Sunday the Cathedral is open for services at 8am and 9.15, before opening tor visitors at 12.30-4pm, with last entry at 3.15.

(During the winter months it closes an hour earlier during the week.)

Tickets are £9 when booked in advance, or £11 on the door and are valid for a year.

There is a restaurant and shop.
The Trinity Chapel was the first part of the new cathedral to be completed. Consecration crosses are painted on the east wall.

The modern stained glass windows above the altar date from 1980 and were designed by the French stained glass artist, Gabriel Loire. Known as the 'Prisoners of Conscience window', the three central windows tell the story of the final days of Christ. The outer windows are dedicated to all who have suffered for their beliefs.

@Eleanor - thank you very much for the latest series of your articles. There is always something interesting to read in them, and the abundant photos really add a great perspective.
These stained glass blue windows certainly caught my attention, together with their theme of Prisoners of Conscience. I did a bit of further reading and came across an old article from the New York Times that was written not long after the windows were installed. A fascinating read imo, and I hope you don't mind my adding it here to your post :
Some excerpts :
"The color, Dean Evans said, came before the theme. ''We wanted blue, we wanted Chartres blue, but what should our window say?'' It was decided by a committee headed by Right Rev. George Reindorp, Bishop of Salisbury, that the window should in some way be a statement about ''man's search for a way to live in which necessary social and political organizations can be made to minister to him, not overwhelm him.''
"To Dean Evans, the fact that the windows were created by Roman Catholic artists for installation in a Church of England cathedral - and then unveiled by the violinist Yehudi Menuhin, a Jew -made them ''a truly universal effort.''

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