Cathedral Close Tour, Salisbury

Cathedral Close Tour (Self Guided), Salisbury

Salisbury Cathedral, apart from being renowned as the holder of Britain’s tallest spire, the world’s best preserved original copy of Magna Carta (1215) and Europe’s oldest working clock, is also famous for its Close, the largest in the country, measuring 80 acres (or 32 hectares).

The areas surrounding cathedrals' grounds, sometimes extending for hundreds of meters from the main building, were rather commonplace in Medieval Europe. Such territory normally had gates that were locked at night or during unrest in the city, hence the name “Close”. It usually included buildings housing diocesan offices, schools, free-standing chapels, and the palace of the bishop and other clergy houses associated with the cathedral.

Sometimes, but not necessarily so, the territory was arranged in a sort of square around a courtyard, as is the case of Salisbury Cathedral. Laid out in 1220, the Cathedral's Close offers a marvelous setting for it, reflecting architectural styles spanning 800 years.

Here, alongside spacious lawns and shady trees, making for a pleasant break from the busy streets of the city, you will find 21 listed buildings, a couple of museums and a number of gardens, all steeped in history. Several buildings within the Close are open to the public; others you can only stand by and look at through the wrought-iron railings and admire their moss-covered gabled roofs, mullioned windows and beautiful gardens.

Among the particularly notable attractions here are: High Street Gate, built between 1327 and 1342, located next to the College of Matrons (1682); Mompesson House, featured in the award-winning movie “Sense and Sensibility”; The Rifles (Berkshire & Wiltshire) Museum; Arundells, home of the former UK Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath; and several other buildings.

To discover more about the Salisbury Cathedral Close landmarks and appreciate their stunning architecture and craftsmanship, take this self-guided walking tour.
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Cathedral Close Tour Map

Guide Name: Cathedral Close Tour
Guide Location: England » Salisbury (See other walking tours in Salisbury)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 12
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.2 Km or 0.7 Miles
Author: Sandra
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • High Street Gate
  • Matrons' College
  • Mompesson House
  • The Rifles (Berkshire & Wiltshire) Museum
  • Arundells
  • Medieval Hall & Old Deanery
  • Salisbury Museum
  • Salisbury Cathedral
  • The Bishop's Palace
  • Sarum College
  • Malmesbury House
  • St. Ann Gate & Cathedral Close Walls
High Street Gate

1) High Street Gate

One of the five entries in Salisbury’s old city wall (including 14th-century St Ann’s Gate, Queen’s Gate and St Nicholas’s Gate, as well as Wordsworth School Gate built in the 19th century), High Street Gate is the main entrance to Salisbury's Cathedral Close and, once was, a key access point to the rest of the city.

As its name suggests, the gate is located on High Street; its other name is the North Gate. The structure was built somewhere between 1327 and 1342, using a mix of rubble stone and ashlar, and originally housed a small lock-up jail for those convicted of crimes within the Liberty of the Close. The gate was designed mostly for pedestrian traffic, more common in those days, rather than as a carriageway (especially now, it proves a bit too tight for contemporary vehicles).

Over the course of centuries the High Street Gate underwent several modifications, with a portcullis added and then removed, windows and a staircase (leading to an upper room flanking the carriageway on the one side) added in the late 15th century, a new roof (replaced in 1901) and a door added to the nearby Porter's Lodge in the 17th century. The lodge housed the Close porter, a much sought-after sinecure for the servants of kings and nobles in the Middle Ages.

The gatehouse was used as an office of the Cathedral clerk of works in 1950 and is still in use as an office. The buildings on either side were originally shops and houses for lay vicars; most of them are now private homes.

On the town side of the gate is the Stuart royal coat of arms, added in the 17th century, and on the other side is a statue of Edward VII, which was put there in 1902.

The gate is locked at 11 pm and opens again at 6 am.
Matrons' College

2) Matrons' College

The College of Matrons (or Matrons' College) is a residential building and charity within the Salisbury Cathedral Close. It was constructed in 1682 by Seth Ward as an almshouse (permanent residence) for ten widows of clergy ordained within the diocese of Salisbury.

Originally, applicants to the college had to be widows with adequate funds, who were over 50 years of age, sober-minded and religious. Among the early rules of governance, tenants were required to attend two divine services a day in the cathedral and must not be absent from the Close for more than a month. Presently, the charitable Matron's College caters to local single women.

The college building – there is some uncertainty about its being designed by Christopher Wren – has a striking crest of arms on the exterior. Built of brick, it has stone window surrounds, stone quoining and red tiles.

Above the porched main entrance, set in a roof level gable end, is a brightly painted Royal Coat of Arms from the Stuart period, with drapes of fruit on each side. There is also a garden area to the rear and some other smaller associated redbrick buildings. The main edifice was extended and renovated in 1870.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Mompesson House

3) Mompesson House (must see)

The Mompesson House is an 18th century Queen Anne style house located within the Cathedral Close at Salisbury. It is owned by the National Trust since 1975. it was built for Sir Thomas Mompesson MP, in 1679. He was a member of Parliament from 1661 to 1689 for Wilton, Salisbury, Wiltshire and the rotten borough of Old Sarum.

The house has Chilmark stone facing. Next to the house is a brick service building that replaced the old Eagle inn that was closed in 1625. Thomas' son, Charles, completed the service building in 1701, leaving his initials on the tops of the drain pipes.

The house passed sequentially to other families until 1846. In that year the Townsend family moved in. Miss Barbara Townsend, a dashing, well known artist, lived there all her life, until 1942. The house was purchased by architect Denis Martineau. Denis left the house to the National Trust in 1971.

The house is currently used to show the Turnbull collection of English glassware and the Bessemer-Wright collection of ceramics. The house was featured in the 1995 version of the film, "Sense and Sensibility."
The Rifles (Berkshire & Wiltshire) Museum

4) The Rifles (Berkshire & Wiltshire) Museum

The Rifles Berkshire and Wiltshire Museum is housed in a listed building called "The Wardrobe." The original building was erected in 1254. It was rebuilt in the 15th century. It was used primarily to store the robes and sacerdotals of the Bishop of Salisbury. Museum trustees acquired the Wardrobe from the cathedral Dean in 1981.

The building has a symmetrical east facade. It has two stories and an attic. It is made from flint and stone rubble with a tile roof. The center has a large casement window between the wings. A triple Tudor arched arcade frames the entrance. Since James I and Queen Ann were guests here, the Wardrobe has been called "the King's House."

The museum is within the Cathedral Close. It holds collections of military artifacts from the Royal Berkshire regiment and the Wiltshire Regiment. The museum was opened by the Duke of Edinburgh in July of 1982. It was given the nickname of "Redcoats in the Wardrobe." The museum presently has 34,000 articles, of which 1,200 are on display.

There are 16,000 photos, 6,000 documents, and 4,000 medals. The artifacts are swords, rifles, pistols, ant-tank weapons, flags and battlefield souvenirs, including one cannon ball from the American Revolution. Four rooms use a timeline approach from the late 18th century to Afghanistan.

The museum is open from February to December, Monday through Saturday, 10 am to 5 pm.

5) Arundells (must see)

In the Close of Salisbury Cathedral is the Queen Anne house, "Arundells." The earliest recorded resident was Henry of Blunston, Archdeacon of Dorset. He resided there from 1291 to 1316. One resident, Father Leonard Bilson, was imprisoned for witchcraft in 1561.

Sir Richard Mompesson leased Arundells in 1609. His family later built neighboring Mompesson House. John Wyndham took residence in 1718. His daughter, Ann, married James Everard Arundel, and that is how Arundells came to be. By then England had become a Protestant country. James was staunchly Catholic. He would hide catholic priests in the attic.

Arundells was the site of the Godolphin Girls School from 1839 to 1844. It was later a boys boarding school. In World War II the house was a wool depot and library. After the war, demolition was contemplated but the house was saved by Mr. and Mrs. Robert Hawkings in 1964. The house was renovated and sold to Sir Edward Heath in 1985.

Sir Edward had the interior redesigned by Derek Frost. Frost modernized the house and designed furniture, including cabinets to house Sir Edward's sailing trophies and art awards. Heath bought the property in 1993. He died in 2005.

Arundells is open to the public five days a week from March to November. It is closed on Wednesdays and Thursdays. The house also is a venue for private events, recitals and conferences.
Medieval Hall & Old Deanery

6) Medieval Hall & Old Deanery

Concealed from the road by a modern college block, the Old Deanery building, situated opposite the west end of the Cathedral, was probably one of the first sites to be developed within the Close, circa 1220. In 1277, Bishop Roger de Wykehampton made over the Hall, that he had occupied as Dean, to be used as the Deanery. Ever since then and for another 700+ years, until 1922, it had served as the primary accommodations for Deans, following which it became part if the diocesan training college of Sarum St Michael.

Back in the 13th century, the property comprised an open hall with service rooms, a cross range and a chapel. It was enlarged during the late 14th or early 15th century, and further restored in 1670. Another, partial reconstruction took place in the second half of the 18th century, with further alterations followed in the early 19th century. The building was once again restored throughout 1960-63, and in 1981 was turned into a block of flats.

Today, the Deanery complex encompasses three medieval houses along the River Avon, which are in perfect condition courtesy of extensive restorations, the most recent one being in 1995. Inside the Medieval Banqueting Hall, underneath a timber-framed roof supported by stone walls, you will find the High Table, the old hearth and original 13th-century wall painting. Also in the Hall, from April to September, a 30-minute video on Salisbury’s history, called 'Secrets of Salisbury,' is demonstrated every hour.
Salisbury Museum

7) Salisbury Museum (must see)

The Salisbury Museum (previously known as The Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum) houses one of the best collections relating to Stonehenge and local archaeology. The museum itself is housed in The King's House, a historic building where King James I of England was entertained in 1610 and 1613. Set in the surroundings of the Salisbury Cathedral Close, the museum faces the west front of the Cathedral.

The original three-storey edifice with mullioned and transom windows, ornate plaster ceilings and a fine oak-balustraded staircase, contains the main exhibition gallery with the ceramics gallery above. The arms of James I's eldest son, Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales, can be seen in a window in the Wedgewood gallery upstairs.

In the summer of 2014, the Museum had a new gallery added, recounting the history of Salisbury and the surrounding area, from prehistoric times until the Norman Conquest, and highlighting the city's unique place in history. On display there are some of the most important archaeological finds in Britain, such as artefacts from the Stonehenge World Heritage Site, the Pitt Rivers Wessex Collection and the Amesbury Archer.

The Museum boasts a lavish art collection comprising over 4,000 paintings, prints and drawings, representing local personalities, topographical scenes, special events and everyday life, created by local artists of note. Among these are a number of images of Stonehenge, including a watercolour by JMW Turner.

The outstanding Costume Collection showcases items of clothing, such as wedding dresses, uniforms, formal wear and lace samples produced by Downton Lace, worn by people in and around Salisbury in the past 250 years.

The Museum also has a remarkable collection of ceramics, featuring local Verwood and Wiltshire Brown ware alongside celebrated Wedgwood, Bow and Chelsea potteries. There is also a collection of locally-made cutlery.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Salisbury Cathedral

8) Salisbury Cathedral (must see)

The name "Salisbury" is derived from the name "Sarum." The Salisbury of today started out as New Sarum. The story of Salisbury Cathedral began in Old Sarum. Things were not happy in Old Sarum. The clergy and the military were forever at odds over Sarum Cathedral. Richard Poore, bishop, decided to relocate the bishopric to New Sarum.

It is said the bishop, Moore, shot an arrow. The arrow killed a deer. Where the deer fell would be the site of the new cathedral. Another myth claimed that the cathedral, Old Sarum, and Stonehenge were mystically aligned. It is more likely that the marshy ground was chosen because a more desirable site could not be had.

The cathedral was designed by architect and master stonemason Elias of Dereham. Elias had been at Runnymede in 1215 when King John signed the Magna Carta. Elias made copies. He would install one of them in the Cathedral chapter house. It is there today. The formal name of the cathedral is the Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The foundation was laid in 1220. The nave, transepts, and choir were finished by 1258. This was record time for cathedral building. The cloisters were done by 1240, the chapter house in 1263 and the tower and spire by 1320. The 404 foot spire is the tallest in England. The cathedral was built in one style only, Early English Gothic.

The west facade is a screen type. It has a turret at each end. There are two buttresses in the center supporting the triple center window. The center is capped with a gable holding four lancet windows under two quatrefoil windows and a mandorla framing an image of Christ in Majesty. There are 73 of 130 niches which contain statues.

The interior has a high narrow nave. It has a pointed arcade, a gallery and clerestory. The walls are of grey stone and the columns are of dark marble. Tombs of royal families lie between the columns. A large cruciform font by sculptor William Pie was installed in 2008. A statue of Richard Moore on the facade holds a model of the cathedral.
The Bishop's Palace

9) The Bishop's Palace

The Bishop’s Palace is one of Salisbury's oldest buildings, yet not all that well-known. Hidden behind tall walls and gates, with only faint glimpses of stonework seen through the trees planted in front of it, it is presently better known as Salisbury Cathedral School. Access to the grounds is limited to students and staff, with only rare openings to the public.

The property was started around 1219, around the same time as the cathedral itself, by Bishop Richard Poore to become his first residence (as well as the first edifice erected within The Close). It was initially, and rather unimaginatively so, referred to as 'New Place'. The original building, rather simple, was later added to and altered by subsequent bishops until it gained its present form – a series of irregular structures – the most striking of which is the tower with crenallated turret resulted from a large overhaul in the late 15th or early 16th century.

A 15th-century bedchamber was converted into a Tudor chapel in the mid-16th century (first documented in 1588). Parts of the palace were demolished after 1648, with the surviving elements converted into an inn and tenements. Fragment of the original building has survived in the vaulted undercroft, known as Bishop Poore's Hall. Restored by Bishop Wordsworth in 1889, it was used by Bishop Wordsworth School.

During the Commonwealth period, from 1649 to 1660, the palace was let out in tenements, one of which was kept as an inn by a Dutch tailor. After these depredations the house was completely restored by Bishop Seth Ward. The gardens were laid out and a lake formed in the mid-19th century, at which time the stables and an entrance lodge were added.

Parts of the property were demolished in 1931, and in 1947 the Church Commissioners exchanged the palace with the dean and chapter for Mompesson House. The palace then became the premises of the Cathedral School, and the bishop moved his residence, for a time, to Mompesson House.

Presently, displayed inside the palace is a collection of portraits of all the Bishops of Salisbury.
Sarum College

10) Sarum College

Sarum College is a centre of theological learning, focused on the study of Christianity. Its main, red-brick building, located at the north end of Bishop's Walk, facing directly down to the Bishop's Palace, has long been attributed to Sir Christopher Wren. The house was built in 1677 for Francis Hill, a distinguished London lawyer and deputy recorder for Salisbury, and remained in the Hills' possession until the end of the 18th century.

In 1860, the property was acquired by a Bishop of Salisbury, who set up on premises a theological college. Residential areas were added later; the flint extension was made in 1881 with a chapel and library. The building has been altered several times over the years, including the addition of new residential quarters and meeting rooms.

In February 1952 the main building received a heritage listing. It had been occupied by Salisbury and Wells Theological College until 1995, following which the Sarum College took over.

The college building, in addition to providing space for theological classes, serves as a conference center. It also hosts art exhibitions which are open to the public every day from 9 am to 5 pm (10 am – 4 pm on Sundays), has regular lunchtime musical concerts, as well as a theological bookshop and library with a collection of 35,000 titles.

In addition to that, the college operates as a B&B and also hosts week-long residential stays, allowing visitors the opportunity to live in the Close for a week and explore the history of Salisbury and its Cathedral in more detail.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Malmesbury House

11) Malmesbury House

Tucked away beside St. Ann’s Gate, to the east of The Close, Malmesbury House is an outstanding historic property constructed around 1416 on the site of Copt Hall, a 13th-century canonry.

At the outset of the Civil War, Sir George Vaughan, High Sheriff of Wiltshire, lived in this house from where he raised forces in the county to support King Charles I. The latter's son, King Charles II, also stayed in the house in 1665 when he fled London to escape the Great Plague, and is thought to have addressed the local public from the projecting oriel window which still overlooks St. John Street and bears his coat of arms. King Charles II was also reputed to have been hidden in this place after the disastrous battle of Worcester; one of the bedrooms herein is called “King Charles Room”.

The Harris family, who acquired the property in 1660, had the most influence on its appearance, a classic example of Queen Anne-style with a striking façade of ashlar and a steep pitched hipped tile roof. James Harris added the western portion of the house, while the frontage decorations were carried out by his son, James Harris II, in the 1740s. In turn, his own son and heir, James Harris III, was responsible for decorating the interior.

It is to James Harris III, who was created the 1st Earl of Malmesbury in recognition of his long and distinguished diplomatic career, that the house owes its name. James Harris III was a great lover of music and a friend of the composer George Frederick Handel who reportedly gave his first concert in England in the music room above St. Ann’s Gate; he also frequently stayed at this place.

The building's west front is attributed to Sir Christopher Wren although some believe that it may have been designed by the local architect, John Fort, Wren’s master builder.

The house has a remarkable blue and gold vertical sundial that was put in place in 1749, just three years before the reformation of the calendar in 1752. The sundial is partially visible, as there is now a tree which grows in front of it. The text above is from Macbeth, “Life’s but a walking shadow”.

Personal belongings of the Harris family, displayed inside, complement the legends of the former owners, as well as its secret rooms, peepholes and rumored ghost.

The interior, described as “strikingly splendid”, features fine 18th-century plaster rococo plasterwork and a beautiful entrance hall with a staircase, plus a drawing room with magnificent early 18th-century cornice and panelling, Gothic library, and extensive domestic offices.

You can visit the house by guided tour only.
St. Ann Gate & Cathedral Close Walls

12) St. Ann Gate & Cathedral Close Walls (must see)

St Annes Gate is one of the entrances to the Close of Salisbury Cathedral, the biggest close in England. The gate was built around 1331. It all came about in this fashion. In 1219, Bishop Richard Poore got the go-ahead from both the Pope and the King of England to build a new church. He chose the site of Salisbury today. He called it "New Sarum."

The legend goes the bishop shot an arrow over the River Avon and killed a deer. He decided to build where the deer fell. That's the legend. The fact is he wanted to have a diocese of his own. He laid out a grid pattern. In 1327 Edward III authorized an "embattled wall of stone" around the Close of the Cathedral to protect the clergy.

The walls of the Close were built using stones salvaged from the deserted Cathedral at Old Sarum. St Anne's Gate was also built using these stones. It is two stories high with a central stone arch. On the upper floor over the archway is a chapel lighted by pointed arched trifora windows on the east and west sides.

Next door to the Gate is the Malmesbury house. King Charles II stayed here I 1665. He was on the run from the Plague in London. He was fond of speechifying from his window. The chapel above the gateway was dedicated to St Anne and the Virgin Mary. After the Reformation, it was a music room. The great German-British composer George Handel gave his first concert in England here.

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