A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 6. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1962.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
The arrangements for keeping the site were at first not radically altered by the removal of the castle fabric. In 1531 Sir Edward Baynton secured a forty-year grant of the keepership of the town and borough (5 a.) and the two 'King's Islands' (2 a.). (fn. 1) When in 1543 the property was recommitted to him for the same term and at an enhanced rent, the herbage of the castle, Jorden's Mead (4 a.) and the King's Ham (1 a.), the latter belonging to the castle, were added. (fn. 2) The King's Ham was said to belong to the castle, and it may perhaps be conjectured that this parcel, with the King's Islands and some other parts of the property as well, may represent the constable's estate of earlier days. (fn. 3) In 1594 the same property was leased to William Webb for 40 years. (fn. 4)
Robert Cecil was created Earl of Salisbury in 1605, and in 1606 was granted the freehold of the castle, the site of the 'river of Avon' in Hampshire and Wiltshire with its soil and fisheries, the premises leased to Webb and another meadow (1 a.). (fn. 5) The castle itself was used as a rabbit warren. In 1610 Lord Hertford wrote to Salisbury that Lady Hertford proposed to hunt in his lordship's new warren in his castle of Old Sarum. (fn. 6) The lady was hunting there again in 1611. (fn. 7) In 1613 the 2nd earl leased the castle site and the sporting rights to John Wayte, of Alderbury, and John and Ellen Lymminge for life in succession. (fn. 8) Later he bought in the leasehold interest, and finding it encumbered, instituted proceedings in Chancery in 1624. (fn. 9) An enquiry made in 1633 showed that the castle, walls and 'lodge' were decayed and that £160 would be needed to put them in order, that the castle area had been sown with corn, the rabbits destroyed and the burrows spoilt. (fn. 10) In 1650 the site of the castle and borough was leased in moieties to Andrew Bowerman, and later leased to Bridget Earle, (fn. 11) who was tenant in 1683. (fn. 12) Sir William Webb of Motcombe (Dors.) seems also at some time to have been a tenant. (fn. 13) The other property granted to the 1st earl was successively leased to Sir William Webb, (fn. 14) to Sir John Lambe of Coulston in 1641, to his son of the same name in 1656, (fn. 15) and to Anne Bowerman in 1660, and was by her assigned to Sir Thomas Mompesson. (fn. 16)
In 1692 the whole estate — castle and appurtenant meadows alike — was sold by the trustees under the will of James, Earl of Salisbury (d. 1683), to Thomas Pitt of Stratford for £1,000. (fn. 17) In the 18th century the property was thrice mortgaged, first to Lord Lyttelton and the Earl of Egmont in 1760, (fn. 18) secondly to the Earl of Kinnoull in 1762, (fn. 19) and thirdly to Abraham Winterbottom in 1798. (fn. 20) It passed with the other estates of the 2nd Lord Camelford (d. 1804) to the Wyndhams, and thenceforth descended with the manor of Stratford Dean in Stratford with which it was sold to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in 1851. (fn. 21) Thereafter it passed to the Dean and Chapter of Salisbury, who returned it to the commissioners in 1936. (fn. 22)
In the earlier 17th century the power to secure the return of burgesses to Parliament seems to have depended upon securing the support of the freeholders who occupied the burgages of the old city. There was consequently a traffic in burgages attributable to this cause. Thus in 1624 Lord Pembroke made a deal with Thomas Elliott, (fn. 23) who (or whose namesake) had held land in or near in the borough in 1596–8. (fn. 24) This traffic had the effect of multiplying burgages and therefore votes in the Pembroke interest. Later on the risk of contests seems to have been eliminated. Thomas Pitt (d. 1761) was in a position to 'pawn' the constituency to the Treasury, who nominated the members in 1761, (fn. 25) and in 1816 Lord Caledon was described as the borough-monger. (fn. 26) Perhaps possession of the castle and borough came to bestow upon their owner the right to exercise or nominate to the office of borough bailiff, who as returning officer, may have wielded a decisive influence upon elections. Thomas Pitt seems to have occupied the office in 1708, though his son feared that his father's right to it might be contested at the next election. (fn. 27)
The nominal electorate declined from ten or eleven 'voices' of 1625 (fn. 28) to three voters in 1831. (fn. 29) In between the numbers varied. Thus seven persons are named in the returns of 1689, (fn. 30) ten in 1705, (fn. 31) and five in 1734 (fn. 32) and 1761, (fn. 33) and there were said to be seven voters in 1816. (fn. 34)
The position of the burgages as they were about 1700 may be determined from a map then drawn for electoral purposes and reproduced above. (fn. 35) The electing acre indicates the place where the borough elections were held. In the last days of the franchise a marquee or 'temporary house' was erected for the returning officer. It stood under the Parliamentary Tree, which was not cut down until 1905; (fn. 36) to commemorate its site the city of New Salisbury has subsequently affixed a bronze plaque to a neighbouring sarsen.
The castle complex received many visits from travellers, whose curiosity was perhaps aroused latterly as much by the constituency as by the antiquities. Their reflections are now mainly interesting because they help to determine the stages by which the medieval city disintegrated.
When Leland visited Old Salisbury he found 'no token' either of the cathedral or bishop's palace, though the chapel of Our Lady still stood. There was also 'much notable ruinous building' of the castle. (fn. 37) The town walls are said to have been demolished in 1608, but there was still enough of them left in 1624 to enable St. Thomas's church to be repaired with their spoil. (fn. 38) Lieutenant Hammond in 1635 observed 'some thick, old and mighty strong walls about the castle yard'. (fn. 39) In 1668 Pepys found the 'great fortification' 'prodigious' so as to 'afright' him to be in it alone at night, but, perhaps owing to darkness, made no comment on the ruins. (fn. 40) Much of the walls could still be seen in 1695, (fn. 41) and to Stukeley the foundations of the cathedral and palace were conspicuous. (fn. 42) The ashlar facing of the outer curtain still survived in a portion of the north wall in 1801, and there were distinct vestiges of the castle. (fn. 43) By the end of the 19th century the castle had begun to be treasured by antiquaries, and in 1892 was placed under the guardianship of the Office of Works. (fn. 44) Between 1909 and 1914 the Society of Antiquaries of London partially excavated the site, (fn. 45) and, as W. H. Hudson put it, they tore off 'like a pack of hungry hyenas' 'the old hide of green turf', 'jewelled with the bright little flowers of the chalk'. (fn. 46)