Old Salisbury: The borough

Pages 62-63

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

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At the Conquest the vill of Salisbury already had at least one of the attributes of a borough. It had a mint, and two of the Confessor's moneyers, Godric and Godwine, were still coining under William I. To them were added Osbern and Sefara. Osbern was still at work under William II and Henry I, and there was a Godric signing coins under Henry. Edward appeared under Rufus, and Aldwine and Ealla were added under Henry I. One moneyer, Stanning, is recorded for the reign of Stephen, and under Henry II Daniel's and Levric's names appear on Tealby type pennies. (fn. 1) It is a point of interest that the Salisbury issues continued longer than those of Malmesbury or any of the other Wiltshire towns, save only Wilton, which continued to Henry II. This continuance may have been due chiefly to the official position of Salisbury as the sheriff's headquarters and the bishop's seat, but there must also have been trade sufficient to justify the establishment of moneyers.

As there was a mint there can be little doubt that there was also a market. By 1130 it certainly existed: its toll had belonged to the farm of Wilton, and some indication of its value is given by the allowance of 40s. made in consequence from the Wilton farm. (fn. 2) It appears also from a later confirmation that Henry I granted a charter to the burgesses of Salisbury, giving them a guild merchant, with acquittance of toll, passage and all customs through the king's land, as the burgesses of Winchester were quit. The charter was confirmed by Henry II, (fn. 3) and when the men of Andover sought guild rights they were given the same liberty in their guild as the men of Wilton and Salisbury had in their guild. (fn. 4) In 1274–5 the burgesses also claimed return of writs and the judgment of felons, according to the custom of Winchester, (fn. 5) and in 1281 pleas of withernam, and they declared on the second of these occasions that they had exercised all these rights since Henry I's time. (fn. 6)

Some indication is given of the relative prosperity of the Wiltshire boroughs by the amounts imposed on them in taxation. In the tallage of 1164–5 the sheriff accounted for 100s. from Wilton, 40s. from Salisbury, and 40s. from Calne. (fn. 7) On the aid for the king's daughter Wilton paid £10 6s. 8d., Malmesbury and Salisbury £6 13s. 4d. each. (fn. 8) On the new assize of 1173 Wilton paid 100s., Calne and Bedwyn 40s. each and Salisbury only 20s. (fn. 9) In the aid of 1176–7 Salisbury was assessed at 20 marks, and having paid half, was released from the other half. It must, however, be admitted that on this occasion Devizes and Wilton, each assessed at 20 marks, were released of the whole. (fn. 10) From 1187–8 to 1191–2 Salisbury was regularly tallaged at 49s. 8d., and compared with £13 6s. 6d. from Wilton. (fn. 11) It seems that Salisbury was losing ground as the 12th century advanced; it was then that it lost its mint.

In 1200, soon after the accession of John, the burgesses were put to the cost of obtaining confirmation of their liberties. The price was 10 marks, which was paid in 1201. (fn. 12) When in 1204 the castle was entrusted to Robert de Vieuxpont, the sheriff, he was also entrusted with the vill of Salisbury and the mill there, which were to be part of his farm. (fn. 13) When horsemen were being raised in 1212, Salisbury like Wilton, Marlborough and Devizes, had to find ten men. (fn. 14)

The great episcopal evacuation of 1220 must have had a shattering effect upon the little borough. The canons were no doubt among the best customers of the burgesses, and there must always have been much coming and going to and from the cathedral church of priests and pilgrims. Gradually there was a drift from the old town to the new one by the river, especially as the bishop's fairs and markets developed, and the bridge was built at Harnham that was to by-pass Wilton.

An attempt was made to keep the borough going. In 1229 there was a new charter of confirmation to the burgesses of liberties which must be defended against New Salisbury; (fn. 15) but it contained no new privileges. The sheriff was ordered to repair the bishop's hall in the castle and the other houses there that needed repair (1230). (fn. 16) On the other hand there was pressure for leave to remove buildings left behind by the churchmen in the old town: in 1239 William de Cantilupe was given permission to take a house away. (fn. 17)

Decline continued. In 1246 the good men of Old Salisbury were pardoned 5 marks which they owed for tallage, and the king granted them a yearly fair of three days, ordering the sheriff to proclaim it throughout the shire. (fn. 18) In 1260–1 the borough was tallaged at only 3 marks; (fn. 19) and when in 1269 it was tallaged at £10 and 21d. it was excused 100s. and 21d. on payment of the other 100s., expressly on account of its poverty. (fn. 20) By 1275 both Old Salisbury and Wilton were complaining that the bishop was allowing too many markets in New Salisbury, and so monopolising trade. (fn. 21) In taxes on moveables Old Salisbury was rated as a borough eight times from 1294 to 1336, and indeed was four times described as a city. (fn. 22) Of any industry practised by its inhabitants almost nothing is known, though there was a draper in 1249, (fn. 23) and a mason as late as 1427. (fn. 24)

There is no early evidence of the existence of any organ of self-government. Old Salisbury was 'the borough of the castle of Salisbury' in 1249 (fn. 25) and 1260–1 (fn. 26) or simply 'Salisbury Castle' in 1268. (fn. 27) It existed under the eye of the sheriff or other keeper of the castle, who supervised the guild and in 1289 farmed borough, mill, castle, garden and an island; (fn. 28) the market belonged to the bishop. John of Upton, bailiff of the liberty in 1327, (fn. 29) was not necessarily chosen by the community. In 1423 and 1424, however, a mayor of the borough (Thomas Mason), as well as a bailiff (William Lord) existed. They attested grants of land in King's Field and Stratford Common, and what purported to be the seal of the mayoralty was attached to the conveyances. (fn. 30) When the mayoralty and the use of a mayoral seal were allowed to lapse, all that remained to distinguish the borough lands from those of Stratford was their tenure in burgage, and the privilege, which their owners exercised, of returning burgesses to Parliament.

An impression of the seal of the mayoralty is attached to two deeds of 1423, (fn. 31) but the matrix is probably of much earlier date. It is round or oval, about 1½ inch across, and depicts the Virgin, crowned, and Child seated under a canopy with parallel sides. The legend is in mixed lettering

Perhaps the only native of the borough who is known to history is John of Salisbury. (fn. 32)


  • 1. For reference see p. 53, n. 26.
  • 2. Pipe R. 1130 (Rec. Com.), 13.
  • 3. Cal. Chart. R. i. 92. In 1281 they proffered a charter of Hen. III granting, or rather confirming, these rights (J. I. 1/1005 pt. 2, m. 152) and in 1289 they included pontage and estreats of summons. They did not, however, any longer claim a guild merchant (J. I. 1/1011, m. 63d.).
  • 4. Pipe R. 1176 (P.R.S. xxv), 192.
  • 5. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii. 268.
  • 6. J. I. 1/1005 pt. 2, m. 152.
  • 7. Pipe R. 1165 (P.R.S. viii), 59.
  • 8. Pipe R. 1168 (P.R.S. xii), 162–3.
  • 9. Pipe R. 1174 (P.R.S. xxi), 33–4.
  • 10. Pipe R. 1177 (P.R.S. xxvi), 102.
  • 11. Pipe R. 1188 (P.R.S. xxxviii), 139; 1190 (P.R.S. N.S. i), 120; 1192 (P.R.S. N.S. ii), 120.
  • 12. Pipe R. 1200 (P.R.S. N.S. xii), 161; 1201 (P.R.S. N.S. xiv), 80.
  • 13. Rot. Litt. Claus. i. 6.
  • 14. Ibid. i. 131.
  • 15. Cal. Chart. R. i. 92.
  • 16. Cal. Lib. 1226–40, 172.
  • 17. Cal. Close, 1237–42, 153.
  • 18. Ibid. 1242–7, 437.
  • 19. Ibid. 1264–8, 538.
  • 20. Ibid. 1268–72, 58.
  • 21. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii. 279–80; see above p. 17.
  • 22. J. F. Willard in Essays in honour of James Tait, 435.
  • 23. Crown Pleas Wilts. Eyre, 1249 (W.A.S. Rec. Brch.),. 248.
  • 24. Cal. Pat. 1422–9, 374.
  • 25. Bk. of Fees, ii. 1423.
  • 26. Close R. 1264–8, 538.
  • 27. J. I. 1/998A, m. 28.
  • 28. See p. 55.
  • 29. C. P. 40/269, m. 33.
  • 30. E 40/6279, /9217. A fragment of the mayor's seal is attached to the former.
  • 31. E 40/6279; E 42/190.
  • 32. C. C. J. Webb, John of Salisbury, i.