Salisbury

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Salisbury (/ˈsɔːlzbri/ sawlz-bree or /ˈsɒlzbri/ solz-bree, or locally /ˈzɔːwzbri/) is a cathedral city in Wiltshire, England and the only city in the county. It is the second largest settlement (with the largest being Swindon) in the county. It has also been called New Sarum to distinguish it from the original site of settlement to the north of the city at Old Sarum, but this alternative name is not in common use.

Salisbury is home to Salisbury Cathedral, and close to the Stonehenge World Heritage Site. Old Sarum, the site of the original tow,n is now in the care of English Heritage.  The NT landscape properties of Figsbury Ring, and Pepperbox Hill; and Old Wardour Castle, in the care of English Heritage, are close by.

There is a market – in the Market Square – on Tuesdays and Saturdays,

The city is located in the south-east of Wiltshire, near the edge of Salisbury Plain. It sits at the confluence of five rivers: the Nadder, Ebble, Wylye and Bourne are tributary to the Avon, which flows to the south coast and into the sea at Christchurch, Dorset. Salisbury railway station serves the city, and is the crossing point between the West of England Main Line and the Wessex Main Line, making it a regional interchange.

Although the actual city was not established until 1220, there has been a settlement in the area since prehistory. There is evidence of Neolithic settlement on the hilltop of Old Sarum, which became a hill fort in the Iron Age. The Romans called this fort “Sorviodunum” and may also have occupied the fort. The Saxons established themselves there called it “Searesbyrig” and the Normans built a castle or “Seresberi”. By 1086, in the Domesday Book, it was called “Salesberie”.

The first Salisbury Cathedral was built on the hill by St Bishop Osmund between 1075 and 1092. A larger building was built on the same site circa 1120. However, deteriorating relations between the clergy and the military at Old Sarum led to the decision to re-site the cathedral elsewhere. Even in the 12th century, Peter of Blois had described the old church as “a captive within the walls of the citadel like the ark of God in the profane house of Baal”. He made the appeal –

Let us descend into the plain! There are rich fields and fertile valleys abounding in the fruits of the earth and watered by the living stream. There is a seat for the Virgin Patroness of our church to which the world cannot produce a parallel.

The logic of this was inescapable, and in 1220 the city of New Sarum, now known as Salisbury, was founded on a great meadow called ‘Merrifield’. The building of the new cathedral was begun by Bishop Richard Poore in the same year. The main body was completed in only 38 years and is a masterpiece of Early English architecture. Some stones which make up the cathedral came from Old Sarum, others from the Chilmark Quarries from where they were most likely moved to the cathedral building site by ox-cart. The existence of many water-mills and weirs probably prevented transport via boats on the River Nadder. The 123 m (404 ft) tall spire was built later and is the tallest spire in the UK.

The cathedral is built on a gravel bed with unusually shallow foundations of 18 inches (46 cm) upon wooden faggots: the site is supposed to have been selected by shooting an arrow from Old Sarum, although this can only be legend as the distance is over 3 kilometres (1.9 mi). It is sometimes claimed the arrow hit a white deer, which continued to run and died on the spot where the Cathedral now exists. The cathedral contains the best preserved of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta and a large mechanical clock installed in the cathedral in 1386 – the oldest surviving mechanical clock in Britain.

The original site of the city at Old Sarum fell into disuse. Old Sarum was a rotten borough that was abolished as at the time, one MP represented three households. The bury element is a form of borough, which has cognates in words and place names throughout the Germanic languages. For a fuller explanation, see borough.

The origins of the name “Sarum” are obscure. It most likely derives from the fact that Sarum came into use when documents were written in contracted Latin. It was easier to write Sar with a stroke over the “r”, than write the complete word “Saresberie”. That mark was also the common symbol for the Latin termination “um”. Hence “Sar” with a stroke over the r was copied as “SarUM”. One of the first known uses of “Sarum” is on the seal of Saint Nicholas Hospital, Salisbury, which was in use in 1239. Bishop Wyville (1330–1375) was the first Bishop to describe himself “episcopus Sarum”.

In 1219 Richard Poore, the then Bishop of Sarum, decided to establish a new town and cathedral on an estate in his possession (confusingly known as Veteres Sarisberias — Old Salisburys) in the valley, on the banks of the River Avon.

The town was laid out in a grid pattern, and work started in 1220, with the cathedral commencing the following year. The town developed rapidly, and by the 14th century was the foremost town in Wiltshire. The city wall surrounds the Close and was built in the 14th century.

There are five gates in the wall; four are original, known as the High Street Gate, St Ann’s Gate, the Queen’s Gate, and St Nicholas’s Gate. A fifth was created in the 19th century to allow access to Bishop Wordsworth’s School located inside the Cathedral Close. A room located above St Ann’s Gate is where the composer Handel stayed, writing several works while there. During the Great Plague of London, Charles II held court in the Close.

The novel Sarum by Edward Rutherfurd, published in 1987, is an imaginative retelling of the history of Salisbury.

Salisbury now falls under two authorities created in 2009, Salisbury City Council and Wiltshire Council. It was once at the heart of the now defunct Salisbury District, which oversaw most of south Wiltshire as well as the city. When Wiltshire’s local government was reorganised under a unitary authority in April 2009, Salisbury City Council was formed, although with fewer responsibilities than the former district council. The city has one Member of Parliament for the Salisbury constituency.

Salisbury is located in a valley. The geology of the area, like much of South Wiltshire and Hampshire, is largely chalk. The rivers which flow through the city have been redirected, and along with landscaping, have been used to feed into public gardens. They are popular in the summer, particularly the Queen Elizabeth Gardens, as the water there is shallow and slow-flowing enough to enter safely. Close to Queen Elizabeth Gardens are water-meadows, where the water is controlled by weirs. Because of the low-lying land, the rivers are prone to flooding particularly during the winter months. The Town Path, a walkway that links Harnham with the rest of the city, is at times impassable.

A cause of concern to the people of Salisbury is the lack of adequate roads. There is no motorway that links the ports of Southampton and Bristol meaning that all traffic must pass through the city.

There are civil airfields at Old Sarum (where the experimental aircraft the Edgley Optica was developed and tested) and at Thruxton near Andover.

The city itself had a population of 39,726 at the 2001 census. The results of the 2011 census are not yet available, but they are expected to show a substantial increase.

The former Salisbury District, which was abolished in 2009, included the surrounding towns and villages and had an estimated population in 2004 of 115,000.

Salisbury holds a market on Tuesdays and Saturdays and has held markets regularly since 1227. In the 15th century the Market Place was dotted with stone crosses marking the centres for certain trades and goods. Today only the Poultry Cross remains, to which flying buttresses were added in 1852. The other crosses were the Livestock Cross, the Cheese & Milk Cross and the Wool & Yarn Cross.

In 1226, King Henry III granted the Bishop of Salisbury a charter to hold a fair lasting 8 days from the Feast of the Assumption of Mary (15 August). Over the centuries the dates for the fair have moved around, but in its modern guise, a funfair is now held in the Market Place for three days from the third Monday in October. However, there is still an ancient law stating that the fair can be held in the Cathedral Close.

From 1833 to its demolition in the mid 1980s, the Salisbury Gas Light & Coke Company, who ran the city’s gasworks were one of the major employers in the area.The company was formed in 1832 with a share capital of £8,000, and its first chairman was The 3rd Earl of Radnor The company was incorporated by a private Act of Parliament in 1864, and the Gas Orders Confirmation Act 1882 empowered the company to raise capital of up to £40,000. At its peak, the gasworks were producing not only coal gas but also coke which was sold off as the by-product of gas-making. Ammonical liquor which came out as another by-product in the making of gas, was mixed with sulphuric acid, dried and ground to make a powder which was sold as an agricultural fertiliser. The clinker from the retort house was sold to a firm in London to be used as purifier beds in the construction of sewage works .

Stonehenge, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site is about 8 miles (13 km) northwest of Salisbury and greatly aids the local economy. The city itself, Old Sarum and the original cathedral also attract visitors.

Shopping centres include The Old George Mall, The Maltings, Winchester Street and the Crosskeys precinct.

Major employers include Salisbury District Hospital and Friends Life.

Salisbury was an important centre for music in the 18th century. The grammarian James Harris, a friend of Handel, directed concerts at the Assembly Rooms for almost 50 years up to his death in 1780, with many of the most famous musicians and singers of the day performing there.

Salisbury holds an annual St George’s Day pageant, the origins of which are claimed to go back to the 13th century.

Salisbury has a strong artistic community, with galleries situated in the city centre, including one in the public library. In the 18th century, John Constable made a number of celebrated landscape paintings featuring the cathedral’s spire and the surrounding countryside. Salisbury’s annual International Arts Festival, started in 1973, and held in late May to early June, provides a programme of theatre, live music, dance, public sculpture, street performance and art exhibitions. Salisbury also houses a producing theatre – Salisbury Playhouse – which produces between eight and ten plays a year, as well as welcoming touring productions.

The Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum is housed in the King’s House, a Grade I listed building whose history dates back to the 13th century, just opposite the west front of the cathedral.

The permanent Stonehenge exhibition gallery has interactive displays about Stonehenge and the archaeology of south Wiltshire, and its collections include the skeleton of the Amesbury Archer, which is on display.

The Pitt Rivers gallery holds a collection from General Augustus Pitt Rivers, often called the “father of modern archaeology”.

The costume gallery showcases costume and textiles from the area with costumes for children to try on and imagine themselves as characters from Salisbury’s past.

In May 1289, there was uncertainty about the future of Margaret, Maid of Norway, and her father sent ambassadors to Edward I of England. Edward met Robert the Bruce and others at Salisbury in October 1289, which resulted in the Treaty of Salisbury, under which Margaret would be sent to Scotland before 1 November 1290 and any agreement on her future marriage would be delayed until she was in Scotland.

In 1450, a number of riots broke out at roughly the same time Jack Cade led a famous rebellion through London. The riots were for related reasons to those of Jack Cade and his followers, however the decline of the cloth trade may have also been influential. The violence peaked with the murder of William Ayscough, Bishop of Salisbury. The Bishop was branded a traitor for his involvement in a governing clique perceived responsible for mis-government of the realm by both the rebels in London and Salisbury.

In 1483, a large-scale rebellion against Richard III of England broke out, led by his own ‘kingmaker’, Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham. After the revolt collapsed, Buckingham was executed at Salisbury, near the Bull’s Head Inn.

At the time of the Glorious Revolution, King James II gathered his main forces, altogether about 19,000 men, at Salisbury, James himself arriving in the city on 19 November 1688. His troops were not keen to fight William and Mary, and the loyalty of many of his commanders was in doubt. The first blood was shed at Wincanton, in Somerset. In Salisbury, James heard that some of his officers had deserted, such as Edward Hyde, and he broke out in a nose-bleed which he took as an omen that he should retreat. His commander in chief, the Earl of Feversham, advised retreat on 23 November, and the next day John Churchill deserted to William. On 26 November, James’s own daughter, Princess Anne, did the same, and James returned to London the same day, never again to be at the head of a serious military force in England.

At the time of the 1948 Summer Olympics, held in London, a relay of runners carried the Olympic Flame from Wembley Stadium, where the Games were based, to the sailing centre at Torbay via Slough, Basingstoke, Salisbury, and Exeter.

Salisbury is twinned with Saintes, France;  Xanten, Germany; Salisbury, North Carolina, USA;  and Salisbury, Maryland, USA.

The main transport links for the city are the roads. Salisbury lies on the intersection of the A30, the A36 and the A338 and is at the end of the A343, A345, A354 and A360. Car parks around the periphery of the city are linked to the city centre by a park and ride scheme (see details in the bus section below).

Salisbury also has a Park and Ride bus scheme with five sites around the city. These park and ride sites relieve pressure on the city centre but run at an annual loss of £1 million. The Park and Ride sites, which are funded by Wiltshire Council and cost £2.50 for parking and bus transport of up to six passengers, are: 501 Beehive – A345 Castle Road to the north, 502 Wilton – A36 Wilton Road to the west, 503 Britford – A338 Downton Road to the south, 504 London Road – A30 London Road to the northeast, 505 Petersfinger – A36 Southampton Road, to the southeast.

Salisbury railway station is the crossing point of the West of England Main Line, from London Waterloo to Exeter, and the Wessex Main Line from Bristol to Southampton. The station is operated by South West Trains. First Great Western hourly trains call from Cardiff, Bristol, Bath Spa to Southampton Central and Portsmouth Harbour.

The Bishop’s Walk on the edge of the city provides a popular viewing point.

Some buildings in Salisbury are reputed to be haunted. Ghost tours are popular with locals and visitors. One such building is the local Odeon cinema located in the Hall of John Halle – the oldest building in the UK to contain a cinema. The Debenhams department store is said to be haunted by Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham – the store is on the site where he was beheaded in 1483.

The local theatre is the Salisbury Playhouse. The City Hall is an entertainment venue and hosts comedy, musical performances (including those by the resident Musical Theatre Salisbury) as well as seminars and conventions. Salisbury Arts Centre has exhibitions and workshops.

Salisbury is well-supplied with pubs. ‘The Haunch of Venison’, overlooking the Poultry Cross, still operates from a 14th century building. One of its attractions is a cast of a mummified hand, supposedly severed during a game of cards. The hand vanished in 2004 as a publicity stunt for the pub but later reappeared and can still be seen there. The Rai d’Or has original deeds dating from 1292. It was the home of Agnes Bottenham who used the profits of the tavern to found Trinity Hospital next door in around 1380.

The Salisbury Journal is the local paid-for weekly newspaper which is available in shops every Thursday, with some home deliveries coming on Wednesday night. The local free weekly newspaper is the Avon Advertiser, which is delivered to houses in Salisbury and the surrounding area and made by the same company as the Journal.

  • Salisbury is the original of “Melchester” in Thomas Hardy’s novels, such as Jude the Obscure (1895)
  • The BBC TV adaptation of Archer’s Goon was filmed in the city
  • A lively account of the Salisbury markets, as they were in 1842, is contained in Chapter 5 of “Martin Chuzzlewit” by Charles Dickens
  • The fictitious Kingsbridge Cathedral in TV miniseries, The Pillars of the Earth (2010) based on a historical novel by the same name by Ken Follett is modeled on the cathedrals of Wells and Salisbury. The final aerial shot of the series is of Salisbury Cathedral.
  • The novel Sarum by Edward Rutherfurd describes the history of Salisbury
  • The novel The Spire by William Golding tells the story of the building of the spire on Salisbury Cathedral

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