Salisbury: Roman Catholicism

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

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'Salisbury: Roman Catholicism', in A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 6, ed. Elizabeth Crittall( London, 1962), British History Online [accessed 23 July 2024].

'Salisbury: Roman Catholicism', in A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 6. Edited by Elizabeth Crittall( London, 1962), British History Online, accessed July 23, 2024,

"Salisbury: Roman Catholicism". A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 6. Ed. Elizabeth Crittall(London, 1962), , British History Online. Web. 23 July 2024.


An undated list of papists in the diocese of Salisbury, compiled not later than 1672, names four persons living in the city. (fn. 1) In 1676, at the time of Archbishop Sheldon's enumeration, three popish recusants were reported in St. Martin's parish, and five in the parish of St. Thomas, (fn. 2) while a diocesan list compiled thirty years later reveals the presence of twelve adult papists in Salisbury. (fn. 3) Jesuits working in Wiltshire and elsewhere sometimes held their meetings in 'the White Hart' in Catherine (later St. John's) Street, (fn. 4) but as far as is known no Jesuit priest worked in Salisbury until 1765 when James Weldon was there. (fn. 5) In 1767 Weldon's place was taken by James Porter, S.J., who was chaplain to Raymond Thomas Arundell, (fn. 6) whose house, and not, as has been suggested elsewhere, (fn. 7) the house in the Close known as Arundells, appears to have been the mass centre for Salisbury in the later 18th century. Porter's patron was the second son of the 6th Lord Arundell (d. 1746), (fn. 8) and the single household consisting of 'a gentleman and his lady', their four servants, and a priest, which was said in 1767 to constitute the Roman Catholic congregation of Salisbury, was certainly his. (fn. 9) He had married Mary Porter in 1760, and after his death in 1768 (fn. 10) her house in Rosemary Lane, off the north side of the Close, appears to have continued as the centre for Salisbury's Roman Catholics. It must be this house to which Fanny Burney refers when she wrote in 1780 'there is no Romish chapel in the town; mass has always been performed for the Catholics of the place at a Mrs. Arundell's in the Close'. (fn. 11) That year thirteen papists were returned in St. Thomas's parish, and two for each of the other parishes, (fn. 12) but according to the Bishop Charles Walmesley, Richard Turner, at that time the Jesuit priest in Salisbury, reported a congregation of between 40 and 50 communicants 'fluctuating as strangers come and go'. (fn. 13) In c. 1785 Richard Turner was chaplain at Mrs. Arundell's house, (fn. 14) and was probably there from the time of his arrival in Salisbury some ten years before. (fn. 15) His congregation in c. 1785, according to the reminiscences of one of its members, comprised besides the Arundell household, the Salisbury families of Peniston and Weeks, an old woman who sold pies and cakes, and an innkeeper from West Harnham, who had been employed on the building of Wardour House, home of the Arundell family. (fn. 16) James Everard Arundell, younger brother of Raymond Thomas, also attended mass at the house in Rosemary Lane when he was resident in the Close, suggesting that there was no chaplain at his house known as Arundells at this date. (fn. 17) In 1792 among the sixteen Salisbury Roman Catholics who took the oath required by the Relief Act of the previous year were Richard Turner, S.J., Mary Arundell and her servants, two members of the Peniston family, a fishmonger, a silk dyer, and a victualler. (fn. 18)

Mary Arundell subsequently moved to a house in the Square (later St. Thomas's Square), (fn. 19) where a chapel was arranged in the attic, and the room allotted to Richard Turner was used as a confessional. (fn. 20) The congregation was somewhat enlarged about this time, and Salisbury sheltered a number of emigrant priests from France. (fn. 21) Richard Turner died in 1794, (fn. 22) and either then, or perhaps earlier, he was succeeded as Mary Arundell's chaplain by the Abbé Nicholas Begin, who was later replaced by the Abbé Jean-Baptiste Marest. (fn. 23) Begin, with the congregation that followed him, moved to a chapel provided in a house in the Close belonging to Thomas Peniston, and this was certified for religious worship in 1797. (fn. 24) The chapter, however, objected to the arrangement, and the following year Begin registered a house in Brown Street, later known as Chapel House, rented by James Everard Arundell and William Weeks. (fn. 25) In 1814 this was replaced by St. Martin's chapel built, partly at the expense of Lord Arundell (d. 1817), son of the above James Everard Arundell, in St. Martin's Lane, off St. Martin's Church Street. (fn. 26) Begin died in 1826, having worked in Salisbury for some 30 years. A local newspaper recording his death mentioned in particular his charitable work among the poor. (fn. 27) In 1848 the chapel in St. Martin's Lane was closed when the present (1960) Roman Catholic church of St. Osmund in Exeter Street was consecrated. (fn. 28) St. Osmund's church is built of flint with stone dressings and has a chancel, nave, side aisles, and west tower. It was designed by A. W. Pugin, who had previously lived in Salisbury for some years. (fn. 29) The cost of the building was largely borne by John Lambert, a member of the congregation, who had spent his early life at Wardour. (fn. 30) In 1851 the average number attending mass at St. Osmund's over the previous year was 170, and it was noted that the congregation was a scattered one, and that during the winter many were unable to attend. (fn. 31)

Shortly before the Second World War the need for another Roman Catholic church in Salisbury was felt, and in 1938 the church of St. Gregory and the English Martyrs was built in the city's western suburbs. (fn. 32) This is built in a modernized Romanesque style with a concrete roof.

Since 1868 a community of Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, at St. Elizabeth's convent in Exeter Street, have conducted St. Osmund's school. (fn. 33) A private school for girls in Campbell Road is run by the sisters of La Retraite. (fn. 34)


  • 1. Sar. Dioc. Regy. Returns of Papists, Box 1. The author of this article is indebted to Mr. J. Anthony Williams for the dating of the list, and for much other help.
  • 2. V.C.H. Wilts. iii. 96.
  • 3. Sar. Dioc. Regy. Returns of Papists, Box 1.
  • 4. V.C.H. Wilts. iii. 93.
  • 5. Jesuit Archives, Farm St., London, Procurators' Accts. (Coll. of St. Thomas of Canterbury), File P. (Reference supplied by J. A. Williams).
  • 6. Ibid. Catalogi Varii Provinciae Angliae, 1664–1773, lists for 1767 and 1768 (reference supplied by J. A. Williams).
  • 7. V.C.H. Wilts. iii. 93.
  • 8. Hoare, Mod. Wilts. Dunworth Hundred, 180.
  • 9. Sar. Dioc. Regy. Returns of Papists, Box 1.
  • 10. Hoare, op. cit.
  • 11. Diary (Everyman Edn.), 57.
  • 12. V.C.H. Wilts. iii. 96.
  • 13. Archives of Bp. of Clifton vol. i, 27 (reference supplied by J. A. Williams).
  • 14. W.R.O. 451, Reminiscences of John Peniston.
  • 15. H. Foley, Rec. of the English Province, vii. 221 where Turner is said to have retired to Salisbury in 1774, and v. 666 where the date of his going to Salisbury is said to be 1775.
  • 16. W.R.O. 451, Reminiscences of J. Peniston.
  • 17. Ibid.
  • 18. W.R.O. Papists' Oaths of Allegiance, 1791–1812.
  • 19. P.N. Wilts. (E. P. N. S.), 22.
  • 20. W.R.O. 451, Reminiscences of J. Peniston.
  • 21. Ibid.
  • 22. H. Foley, Rec. of the English Province, vii. 221.
  • 23. W.R.O. 451, Reminiscences of J. Peniston; V.C.H. Wilts. iii. 94.
  • 24. W.R.O. 451, Reminiscences of J. Peniston; G.R.O. Retns. of Regns. 1852, vii, no. 13; V.C.H. Wilts. iii. 94.
  • 25. W.R.O. 451, Reminiscences of J. Peniston; G.R.O. Retns. of Regns. 1852, vii. no. 13.
  • 26. V.C.H. Wilts. iii. 94; W.R.O. 451, Reminiscences of J. Peniston.
  • 27. G. Oliver, Collections Illustrating Hist. of Cath. Relig. in Cornwall, Devon, etc. (1857), 241.
  • 28. V.C.H. Wilts. iii. 94; H.O. 129/10/264.
  • 29. H. de S. Shortt, Salisbury, 120; D.N.B.
  • 30. Oliver, Collections, 73.
  • 31. H.O. 129/10/264.
  • 32. Kelly's Dir. Wilts. (1939).
  • 33. V.C.H. Wilts. iii. 97, and see below, p. 163.
  • 34. Catholic Dir. 1960.