Salisbury: Social life

Pages 141-144

A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 6. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1962.

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Little can be said about social and intellectual life in Salisbury before the beginning of the 18th century; but with the peaceful political conditions of this period there grew up in Salisbury, as in other cities, a number of cultural, especially musical, activities and a variety of public amusements. By 1750 there were several coffee-houses, the most fashionable being in Blue Boar Row and later called the 'Parade Coffee-House'. (fn. 1) Towards the end of the century the Salisbury Guide, announcing the 'genteel amusements', which could be enjoyed in the city by inhabitants and visitors, listed a concert once a fortnight, which had been established about 1730; two Assemblies in the winter, one supported by the city and the other by the Close; a theatre; a catch-club, held at the 'Spread Eagle' every other Tuesday during winter; the races, with a ball at the Assembly Rooms on the evening of the last day; and a musical festival every autumn in honour of St. Cecilia. (fn. 2) Most of these activities continued into the 19th century, but seem to have declined in the middle of that century. A guide-book of 1857 dismissed the places of amusement in the city as 'not very numerous'. (fn. 3) In addition to these public activities, there were many social clubs. In the 18th century there was a social club open to men and women, which met at the Maidenhead Inn in the evening for cards and conversation, moving on later for supper at the houses of the various members; a literary society, for men only, where essays were read and debated; and a free and easy society, also for men only, which met every Saturday at a different inn. (fn. 4) An archery society was formed in 1791, a society for the encouragement of horticulture in 1830, and a horticultural fête was held in the grounds of St. Edmund's College in 1846, the chief feature being a grand dahlia exhibition. (fn. 5) In the later 19th century a multiplicity of clubs flourished. A cycling and athletic club was founded in 1885, which by 1897 had over 300 members, and had acquired its own headquarters with a room for reading and social activities. (fn. 6) The Salisbury Field Club was founded in 1890, a microscopical society in 1895 and a city club for 'social intercourse and mutual improvement' in 1892. By 1897 there existed, in addition to these, a chess club, a rowing and sailing club and a Salisbury and district fanciers' association, interested in poultry, pigeons, rabbits, and cage birds. (fn. 7) In the early years of the present century there came into existence a camera club, a gardeners' mutual improvement society, and St. Thomas's society — the last a social club for young men. (fn. 8) A rambling club was in existence in the 1930's. (fn. 9) Further, a number of music societies flourished from the late 18th century onwards.

An interest in music was perhaps to be expected in a cathedral city. The annual music festivals on St. Cecilia's Day began before the middle of the 18th century, though the exact date is not known. Subscription concerts appear to have been started at about the same date and from the 1740's the music festivals were organized by the managers of the concerts, the moving spirit being James Harris who had taken up residence in the present Malmesbury House in the Close in 1733. (fn. 10) The festivals, which included music in the cathedral and at the Assembly Rooms, continued annually until 1787, when they were interrupted partly by the alterations being made to the cathedral, and partly by quarrels among the managers after Harris's death in 1780. They were revived in 1792 and continued until 1796. They then lapsed until 1800, when they were again revived and held every three years until 1828. (fn. 11) In the mid-19th century Harris's place in the musical life of the city seems to have been taken by William Price Aylward, who had a piano and music shop in New Canal, was a teacher of music, and became manager of the Assembly Rooms. He organized subscription concerts and a brass band which in the 1840's played in the Market Place two evenings a week in the summer. He seems also to have been the founder of a philharmonic society, and in 1885 his daughter organized a series of chamber concerts in which she herself played the piano. (fn. 12) The Salisbury and Winchester Journal contains frequent announcements of concerts of various kinds at the Assembly Rooms, ranging from the Viennese Ladies Orchestra to the Ethiopian Harmonists, who in 1847 gave three concerts on the bones, banjo, tambourini, and violin, an entertainment 'as delightful as it was singular'. (fn. 13) Benjamin Banks (1750–95), one of the leading English makers of Amati violins, worked in Salisbury for many years and his business was carried on by his two sons after his death; (fn. 14) and the city's interest in music is also reflected in the large number of music teachers. Directories and the educational advertisements in the Salisbury and Winchester Journal show a steady quota of music teachers throughout the 19th century, and by 1913 the numbers had risen to 20 — 9 men and 11 women. (fn. 15)

Plays were performed in the early 18th century at the Vine Inn in the Cheese Market. (fn. 16) In 1777 the New Street theatre was built and continued under various managements until 1871. Two well-known actors of the 19th century made their first appearances at this theatre. In 1808 John Vandenhoff (1790–1861), son of a Salisbury dyer, appeared as Osmond in 'The Castle Spectre', and in 1836 Robert Henry Wyndham (1814–94) paid the manager £20 to be allowed to play Norval in 'Douglas'. (fn. 17) The theatre was pulled down in 1871 and the site used for the building of the School of Science and Art. (fn. 18) Visiting companies then performed from time to time at the Assembly Rooms, or in Hamilton Hall, the School of Science and Art, (fn. 19) until 1889, when the County Hall was built in Endless Street. This had a good stage and seated over 1,000 people. It became a cinema early in the present century, (fn. 20) and Salisbury appears to have been without a theatre until the opening of the Arts Theatre in Fisherton Street in 1950. This is now (1960) called the Playhouse and has a repertory company supported by the Arts Council. (fn. 21)

Salisbury was one of the earliest provincial towns to have its own newspaper. (fn. 22) The Salisbury Postman, started in 1715, seems to have had a very short life; so also does the Salisbury Journal, started by William Collins in 1729. In 1738, however, Collins started the Salisbury Journal and Weekly Advertiser, which was issued from various addresses until 1748, when it was established in New Canal. When Collins died in 1740 it was taken over by his brother Benjamin (printer of the first edition of The Vicar of Wakefield), who in turn passed it on to his son, Benjamin Charles Collins, in 1775. In 1772 its name was changed to the Salisbury and Winchester Journal, and its circulation in 1780 was said to be upwards of 4,000. Collins died in 1808 and the paper, after being run for a short time by his son, was taken over in the same year by B. C. Collins's nephew, William Bird Brodie (M.P. for Salisbury, 1833–43), who also took over the Collins family's banking business. In 1847 Brodie went bankrupt and in 1848 the paper was bought by James Bennett, whose family is still managing it at the present time (1960). In 1816 a rival paper was started by George Simpson of Truro, Simpson's Salisbury Gazette, but it met with such hostility that in 1819 it was transferred to Devizes and became the Wiltshire Gazette. In the 1830's the Journal, under Brodie's management, was strongly Whig and pro-reform, and a Tory paper, the Salisbury and Wiltshire Herald, was started in 1833. It became the Wiltshire County Mirror in 1852, and continued under that name until 1911, when it was taken over by the Wessex Associated Press and incorporated with the Wiltshire News. Meanwhile the Journal, under Bennett's management, became neutral in politics, with an inclination towards Liberalism which became less and less marked, and became Unionist in the 1890's. The need therefore arose for a Liberal paper, and this was met about 1860 by the appearance of the Salisbury Examiner. This paper was unable to compete with the Salisbury Times, started in 1868, which absorbed the Examiner in the same year. The Salisbury Times has continued, under various managements and at various addresses, to the present time.

There was an increasing reading public in Salisbury for other types of literature besides newspapers. In 1794 Fellows's Circulating Library was established in Catherine Street. This was a subscription library of modern books — histories, novels, travels, plays, and magazines — and by 1798 it possessed over 1,200 volumes. Books could also be borrowed by non-members on payment of a deposit and a small fee. (fn. 23) The Salisbury and Wiltshire Library and Reading Society was established in 1819, 'to promote literary and social intercourse', to establish a permanent reference library, circulate books among its subscribers, and provide a reading room for newspapers and 'ephemeral publications'. In the 1830's it had premises in the Market Place. At the end of 1846 it was re-opened under improved management 'at the Printing Office on the Canal', and it was established in rooms over Brown & Co.'s bookshop in 1857. (fn. 24) A movement to establish a public library began in 1847, when the Free Trade Reading Rooms, set up during the agitation against the Corn Laws, closed on the attainment of their object, (fn. 25) but it was not until 1890 that a public library with a reading room and lending department was established in Endless Street. (fn. 26) In 1905 the present library in Chipper Lane was opened, money for the building being provided by Andrew Carnegie. (fn. 27) Meanwhile in 1861 the Salisbury and South Wilts Museum had been founded in Castle Street by Dr. Richard Fowler to house the various objects found when the canals and channels in the streets were filled in. The museum was moved to St. Ann Street in 1864, and in 1867 the Blackmore Museum, built by William Blackmore to house his collection of Mexican antiquities, was opened in a house separated only by a garden from the Salisbury Museum. The two museums expanded as a result of gifts and bequests from local benefactors, and in 1933 they were joined by the building of a new gallery and became one museum. (fn. 28)

The early years of the 19th century saw the beginnings of adult education in Salisbury, as in many other towns. A Mechanics' Institute was opened in 1833, which flourished and provided weekly lectures for several years. It then languished and by the early 1840's had ceased to exist. (fn. 29) In 1836 a proposal was discussed for the establishment of a Literary and Philosophical Institution, of which the Mechanics Institute should form a part. (fn. 30) A Literary and Scientific Institution was founded in 1850, (fn. 31) and by 1851 had about 400 members, and a library of over 600 books. The Salisbury Christian Institute had at that time 45 members, and gave fortnightly lectures in winter on history, science, literature, and the fine arts. (fn. 32) In 1865 a meeting of inhabitants discussed the establishment of a School of Science and Art in connexion with the Science and Art department of the South Kensington Museum. A list of subscriptions for this purpose was headed by the bishop, the dean, the city's M.P.'s, and the Mayors of Salisbury and Wilton. (fn. 33) In 1871 Hamilton Hall was built in New Street as a Literary and Scientific Institution, and by 1875 it was also housing a School of Art. (fn. 34)

Salisbury has been well provided with schools from the 18th century onwards, not only with the public schools listed elsewhere, (fn. 35) but also with private schools, day and boarding, for boys and for girls. In the later 18th century there were two girls' schools in the Close, Mrs. Ivie's at the Hungerford Chantry and Mrs. Smith's (later Mrs. Voysey's) at the King's House; (fn. 36) and a directory of 1798 gives two boarding schools for girls, Mrs. Ivie's and Mrs. Cambell's. (fn. 37) In the same period two attempts, not very successful, were made by former masters at the Choristers' School to set up boys' schools of their own; by the Revd. Henry Todd and by John Williams, both in St. Ann Street. (fn. 38) In 1822 there were at least 14 private schools — 9 for boys and 5 for girls; 22 in 1830 — 12 for boys and 10 for girls; and 16 in 1842 — 9 for boys and 7 for girls. (fn. 39) The Educational Census of 1852–3 gave 25 private day schools in Salisbury, teaching 159 boys and 249 girls; (fn. 40) and in 1865 there were 16 schools — 3 for boys and 13 for girls. (fn. 41) The educational advertisements in the Salisbury and Winchester Journal throughout the 19th century show that there continued to be a number of private schools in existence, for both boys and girls. While some of these schools seem to have been short-lived, others flourished for a number of years; for example the establishment of Mrs. Mary Toovey in Castle Street from about 1842 until at least 1857, and subsequently conducted by the Misses Toovey in Endless Street until 1880 and possibly later; (fn. 42) and the preparatory school 'for a limited number of young gentlemen' kept in the Close by the Misses Sarah and Ann Noyes from about 1830 until at least 1846. (fn. 43) Henry Hatcher (1777–1846), the historian of Salisbury, set up a school in Fisherton in 1822, which moved to Endless Street in 1824. Here it flourished until his death, and his former pupils were planning a presentation to him just before he died. (fn. 44)

Salisbury had many distinguished visitors in the 18th and 19th centuries and seems early to have become a place visited by royal and aristocratic tourists. George III often stayed there on his way to and from Weymouth; the Duke of Cumberland came for the music festival in 1813, and Princess Charlotte stayed at the palace in 1814. Other royal visitors were the Prince of Orange in 1797, the Duke and Duchess of Orleans in 1816, the Grand Duke Nicholas of Russia (later the Tzar, Nicholas I) in 1817, the Archduke Maximilian in 1819, and the Duke and Duchess of Kent and Princess Victoria in the same year. (fn. 45) All these people visited the cathedral, Stonehenge, Old Sarum, and generally Wilton House and Longford Castle. In 1823 Fonthill Abbey was opened to the public, thus providing a further attraction for tourists, and for some weeks the city was crowded with visitors. (fn. 46) The Salisbury Guide, which appeared regularly from about 1770 to 1826, provided an 'accurate description' of these various sights and other information about the city and was clearly designed for visitors. Royalty continued to visit Salisbury in Victorian times; the Prince Consort and the Prince of Wales to see Stonehenge in 1851, and the Prince of Wales again with his tutor to see the cathedral, Wilton House, and Wardour Castle in 1856; the Crown Prince and Princess of Prussia in 1861 and again in 1871, and many royal and distinguished people for the autumn manœuvres in 1872. (fn. 47) The races, also, were a means of bringing visitors to the city. (fn. 48) The cathedral, however, has probably been the principal attraction for tourists from the 18th century and even earlier.


  • 1. Hatcher, Salisbury, 581.
  • 2. The Salisbury Guide, 1792 edn., 14. There are similar announcements in each edn. from 1780 to 1825. For the Assembly Rooms, see p. 83.
  • 3. Brown's Strangers' Handbk. and illustrated Guide to City of Salisbury (1857), 74.
  • 4. Hatcher, Salisbury, 583.
  • 5. Ibid. 547, 568; Salisbury and Winchester Jnl. 25 July 1846.
  • 6. Dir. of Salisbury and District (1897–8) 42.
  • 7. Ibid. (1897–8), 45, 47, 43.
  • 8. Ibid. (1905), (1908), (1909), (1910).
  • 9. Their periodical, Hobnails and Brogues, apparently began in 1933.
  • 10. See p. 78.
  • 11. Hatcher, Salisbury, 585–6.
  • 12. Pigot, Nat. Com. Dir. (1842); Brown's Strangers' Handbk. (1857), 74; Salisbury and Winchester Jnl. 30 May and 26 Sept. 1846; 7 Nov. 1885.
  • 13. Salisbury and Winchester Jnl. 8 May 1847.
  • 14. D.N.B.
  • 15. Dir. of Salisbury and District (1913), 213.
  • 16. Hatcher, Salisbury, 584.
  • 17. D.N.B. Wyndham was not connected with the Wyndham family of Salisbury.
  • 18. H. de S. Shortt, Salisbury, 118.
  • 19. See p. 143.
  • 20. Dir. of Salisbury and District (1897–8), 21. The 1911 edn. gives it as the Palace Picturedrome.
  • 21. Kelly's Dir. Salisbury (1950); Salisbury Official Guide (undated c. 1960), 49.
  • 22. The information about local newspapers is taken from the articles on Wiltshire newspapers by J. J. Slade and Mrs. H. Richardson in W.A.M. xl. 37–74, 129–41, 318–51, xli. 53–69, and by Mrs. H. Richardson in Festival Book of Salisbury (1914), 83–98.
  • 23. Catalogue and Rules at W.A.S. Libr. Devizes: Wilts. Tracts, xc.
  • 24. Rules, etc., at W.A.S. Libr. Devizes, Wilts. Tracts xxi; Pigot, Nat. Com. Dir. (1830) and (1842); Salisbury and Winchester Jnl. 5 Dec. 1846; Brown's Strangers' Handbk. (1857), 74.
  • 25. Salisbury and Winchester Jnl. 24 Apr. 1847.
  • 26. T. J. Northey, Popular Hist. of Old and New Sarum, 292; Dir. of Salisbury and District (1897–8), 21; see p. 115.
  • 27. Dir. of Salisbury and District (1908), 19.
  • 28. Frank Stevens, The Salisbury Museums, 1861–1947; W.A.S. Bulletin, i. 3.
  • 29. Hatcher, Salisbury, 572; Salisbury and Winchester Jnl. 1835, 1836, has a number of references to meetings and lectures.
  • 30. Salisbury and Winchester Jnl. 21 Mar. 1836.
  • 31. Shortt, Salisbury, 113.
  • 32. Census, 1851, Education Tables, p. 229.
  • 33. Salisbury and Winchester Jnl. 15 Apr. and 10 June, 1865.
  • 34. Kelly's Dir. Wilts. (1875), 611, 614. The School of Art is given as in Hamilton Hall, St. Ann Street; but this is perhaps a mistake, as the edn. of 1878 gives it in New Street.
  • 35. See p. 161 sqq.
  • 36. Dora H. Robertson, Sarum Close, 252–4, and see above, p. 76. Mrs. Ivie's assistant Miss Giffard, became first headmistress of the Godolphin School in 1784.
  • 37. Univ. Brit. Dir. (1798), iv. 559, 561.
  • 38. Robertson, Sarum Close, 241–2.
  • 39. Pigot, New Com. Dir. (1822); Nat. Com. Dir. (1830), (1842).
  • 40. Kelly's Dir. Wilts. (1855), 98.
  • 41. Harrod's Dir. (1865).
  • 42. Pigot, Nat. Com. Dir. (1842); Salisbury and Winchester Jnl. 1857 and 1880.
  • 43. Pigot, Nat. Com. Dir. (1830), (1842); Salisbury and Winchester Jnl. 1846.
  • 44. D.N.B.; Salisbury and Winchester Jnl., 26 Dec. 1846.
  • 45. Hatcher, Salisbury, 553, 555, 560–3.
  • 46. Ibid. 565.
  • 47. T. J. Northey, Popular Hist. of Old and New Sarum, 252, 256, 257, 263.
  • 48. See V.C.H. Wilts. iv. 379–82.