New Salisbury: Introduction

Pages 69-72

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

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The city of Salisbury lies about 150 ft. above sea level on a subsoil of gravel at the confluence of the Rivers Avon, Nadder, and Bourne. It covers an area of 3,640 a., (fn. 1) extending some 3 miles from north to south and between about 2½ and 3 miles from east to west. The Close, and the area which was approximately the extent of the early city, lie on a flat plain encircled by the Avon on the west and south, and protected by the ridge of Harnham Hill rising steeply beyond the river to the south. To the north the valleys of the Nadder, Avon, and Bourne are separated by chalk ridges, which rise to over 300 ft. at the city boundary. (fn. 2)

The early city founded on the water meadows was part of a much larger area owned by the Bishop of Salisbury in the 11th century, comprising almost the whole of the hundred of Underditch. This area was at first known as the bishop's manor of Salisbury, of which the total demesne was given as 10 hides in 1086; (fn. 3) but during the 12th century three manors emerged under separate names. In the early 12th century the manor of Stratford was created as demesne for the dean and chapter, (fn. 4) and it is possible that the manors of Milford and Woodford were separated at about the same time. In the first official use of these names in 1275 the bishop was returned as holding the manors of Milford and Woodford, and the city of Salisbury of the king in chief. (fn. 5) He was described as lord of the vill of Milford in 1316, (fn. 6) although the description 'manor of Salisbury' was still in use in the late 14th century. (fn. 7) There is little doubt that the northern and eastern bounds of the bishop's manor of Milford in the Middle Ages were substantially the same as those of the manor in the early 19th century, when it included all the land between the Avon and the Bourne south of the Stratford and Ford boundaries. (fn. 8) The city of New Salisbury was thus founded on a small area in the south-west corner of the manor, the greater part of which spread north and east beyond it.

The probability of earlier settlement in this area before the building of the present city, and one more correctly called Old Salisbury, has been discussed in another section. (fn. 9) It is thought that one group of settlers lived about Milford Hill by the earliest church of St. Martin, and another group near the mill on the Avon where a chapel of St. Thomas was in existence by 1238, (fn. 10) and a distinct parish of St. Thomas by 1246. (fn. 11) There was possibly a third settlement by the river crossing at Harnham. In the 14th century the villeinage of the bishop opposite the old town lying beyond the bar leading to St. Martin's Church (fn. 12) was mentioned, and cottages in 'la oldetoune' in 1395. (fn. 13) As late as c. 1750 the name Old Town was still attached to a small copyhold adjoining St. Martin's Church, which included land called St. Martin's Croft. (fn. 14)

The organized occupation of part of the marshy ground called 'Myrifeld' (described by a later bishop as 'spacious fields of pleasantness') must have proceeded at the same time as the removal and rebuilding of the cathedral and Close, begun in 1220. (fn. 15) As early as 1225 the bishop granted to his free tenants of New Salisbury certain rights over their plots, which, following precedents elsewhere, were to measure approximately 7 by 3 perches. (fn. 16) The layout of these holdings, making what were by the 17th century called 'chequers', (fn. 17) resulted in the rectangular intersections of the main streets still evident today, especially in the parishes of St. Martin and St. Edmund, the streets being unusually wide for a medieval city. Building must have continued steadily during the next half century. The influx of students, especially from Oxford after 1238, helped to increase the numbers already attracted by the trading facilities of the new town. (fn. 18) These facilities were improved in 1244 by the building of Ayleswade bridge leading from the south through Harnham, whereby traffic was diverted from the older route westward through Wilton. (fn. 19) By 1269, in addition to the Close, the parishes of St. Martin and St. Thomas were fully developed, suburbs had grown beyond the bars northwards at Castle Street and eastwards towards Milford, and there was need for a new church at the northern end of the city. The parish of St. Edmund was formed in 1269 and the boundaries of the three parishes were delineated, following much the same lines as they did in 1960. (fn. 20) Much of the land in the new parish was undoubtedly already built upon, (fn. 21) and by the beginning of the 14th century the new parish equalled the two older ones in importance (fn. 22) with apparently an approximately equal number of leading citizens as residents. (fn. 23)

It is clear from deeds and wills of the 14th century that by that time all the main streets were already established within the boundaries of the river on the west and south, and the line of the modern Rampart Road on the east. (fn. 24) Many of the medieval street names exist today. Street corners were apparently sometimes called after house owners: thus Richard le Whymplere (fl. 1300) gave his name to 'Whympler's corner', near Upper Fisherton Bridge: (fn. 25) Cheese corner, in the Market Place, derived from the family name of John Cheese, mayor in 1290. (fn. 26) The only complete rental extant for the medieval period, that made in 1455 for Bishop Beauchamp, lists separately over 700 houses, shops and cottages, extending from outside Castle Gate in the north to St. Ann Street in the south, and Fisherton Bridge in the west to Greencroft Street in the east. Attached to some houses were several cottages or shops let by the chief tenant of the premises. Fullers' racks stretched across ground between Brown Street and Gigant Street, along parts of Endless Street, outside Castle Street bars, and in Martin's Croft and Green Croft, at the north-east end of the city. Dovecots stood in Friars' Street, St. Martin's Street and by Milford bars, and there were orchards on the south-east outskirts, and beyond Castle Street bars. (fn. 27) The inset plan of Salisbury on Speed's map of Wiltshire of 1611 (fn. 28) shows the city still largely contained by the line of the Avon and the earth rampart made in the 14th century, (fn. 29) the only exceptions being the suburbs in Fisherton Street and north of Castle Gate, and St. Martin's Church Street and a few scattered houses on the Milford side. Most buildings in Salisbury at this time were no doubt medieval; a remarkable number can still be seen at the present day, and many others, hidden by later frontages, will no doubt be revealed by a systematic survey. Surviving examples indicate that the large majority of the city's medieval buildings were of timber-framed construction, stone only being used in buildings of unusual importance, such as some of the houses in the Close, and Church House in Crane Street. In the 17th century brick began to be used for larger houses, such as no. 47 Winchester Street and the Priory in Brown Street. Naish's map of 1716 shows that the city had not expanded outwards since 1611, although there had probably been a good deal of building in streets to the north and east which, although laid out in medieval times, were probably at first not closely built. Even in 1801 it was said that only one house on a new site had been added 'for many years', and that there were only 40 houses outside the ramparts, 31 of them belonging to Milford. (fn. 30)

The 18th century was, however, a period of great activity both in building and alteration within the city limits, and has left some streets with a predominantly Georgian appearance. Many buildings were entirely refronted in either brick or mathematical tiling, the latter being well-suited for the camouflage of timber-framed frontages. The brick used was generally red, although in the later years of the century and the earlier 19th century a creamcoloured brick, which was probably made at Fisherton, (fn. 31) was also widely used; examples of it include the Guildhall and the White Hart Hotel. A feature widely used by builders c. 1800 was a projecting bay window at first-floor level, of which many examples remain. Beside larger houses, which are fairly well-scattered throughout Salisbury, most of the outer streets of the old city contain terraces of smaller houses and cottages built in the 18th and 19th centuries, which show the extent of replacement of older buildings which took place then. Culver Street and Trinity Street, for instance, although both existed in the Middle Ages, contain nothing visibly older than the 18th century, and most buildings north of Winchester Street and east of Brown Street are of that date or later. The east side of Dolphin Street is a typical example of the 18th century cottage architecture of the city. In the early 19th century three-story terraces of brick became common; nos. 38–46 Brown Street and 8–14 Pennyfarthing Street are typical of many terraces of such houses. In the 18th and early 19th centuries many cottages were also built in courts in the interior of the chequers, on what had previously been gardens, and the report on the sanitary state of the city in 1851 gives a vivid picture of their condition. (fn. 32) Most of them have been demolished, but Exeter Terrace, off Exeter Street, and Ivy Place, off Castle Street, are good examples of the better sort.

The principal shopping area in the streets near the Market Place contains the bulk of the pre-18th-century building in the city, mostly variously adapted and restored for modern needs. In parts even here, however, such as the New Canal, Catherine Street and Blue Boar Row, buildings are predominantly 18th-century or later. The late 19th century does not seem to have been a very active building period in this central area, and only one or two blocks of any size, such as that at the east end of the New Canal, were built then. The 20th century has added no outstanding buildings, its contribution being mainly restoration, or rebuilding in imitation of older styles. Probably the most widespread change in the appearance of the central area since 1800 has resulted from the general insertion of shop fronts on the ground floors of the buildings. Most of these are recent, but the shop front at nos. 12–14 Catherine Street is among the few early-19th-century examples to survive.

At the beginning of the 19th century Salisbury still comprised only the liberty of the Close (fn. 33) and the three ancient parishes of St. Martin, St. Thomas, and St. Edmund. In 1835 it was extended to the artificial boundary which had been defined three years earlier for purposes of parliamentary representation, so that the built-up part of Fisherton Anger, and that part of Milford which bordered the city were included. (fn. 34) These added parts became the civil parishes of Fisherton Anger Within and Milford Within in 1894. (fn. 35) In 1904 the city was constituted a single civil parish, and extended to include the whole of Fisherton Anger Without and parts of Britford, East Harnham, Milford Without, and Stratford-sub-Castle. (fn. 36) In 1927 parts of Laverstock, Stratford, West Harnham, and Bemerton were added. (fn. 37) Finally in 1954 parts of Quidhampton, Stratford, Laverstock, Britford, and Netherhampton, were added to the city. (fn. 38) The 20th-century changes have resulted in the inclusion of the former villages of Bemerton, Stratford, Milford, and East and West Harnham, and the modern development around them, within the city boundaries.


No figure for the population of Salisbury in the Middle Ages can be more than a guess, but some estimate of its position relative to other places in Wiltshire and elsewhere in England in the 14th and 16th centuries may be attempted. By the 14th century Salisbury was overwhelmingly preponderant in the county; its quota for the 15th and 10th of 1334 was more than four times larger than any other place individually assessed. (fn. 39) In 1377 its 3,226 poll-taxpayers were over 2,500 more than Wilton, its nearest rival, (fn. 40) and made it sixth among English provincial towns in number of taxpayers. (fn. 41) A figure that has been suggested for its total population in 1377 is about 4,800. (fn. 42) By the early 16th century Salisbury had well retained its position both in county and country, for the lay subsidy of 1523–7 gives an estimated population of about 8,000. (fn. 43)

In the later 16th century the city's economic decline (fn. 44) may have led to a fall in population. In 1626 a 'declaration of the present estate' of the city estimated that there were 1,290 households in the city excluding the Close, and almost 3,000 poor. (fn. 45) John Ivie in his Declaration, published in 1661, stated that in 1627 deaths and withdrawals to the country as a result of the plague of 1626–7 had reduced the city's population by about half, to 3,000. (fn. 46) Both sources suggest an actual population at that time of about 6,000, a figure which accords well with a census of the city, excluding the Close, taken in 1695 which showed a population of 6,976. (fn. 47) Although still the largest town in the county, Salisbury's position in the 17th century was not so preponderant as previously, for at this time Marlborough may well have approached it in population. (fn. 48) The ship-money assessment of 1635 suggests that in taxable capacity it was still exceeded by only 16 provincial towns in England, (fn. 49) and the number of hearths returned in 1662 was twelfth largest in the country. (fn. 50)

In the 18th century there is more definite, though irregular information. The population seems to have declined a little during the first half of the century, risen in the 1770's and 1780's and declined again slightly at the end of the century. 'Our highest population for a century past', wrote Henry Wansey in 1801 'appears from 1775 to 1784; it continued nearly the same for ten years after, since when it has declined'. He attributed the rise to 'a brisk trade which invites new settlers', for statistics from the parish registers (which he admitted were unreliable) indicated an excess of burials over baptisms from 1720 onwards, a trend which was not reversed until the decade 1801–10. (fn. 51) Wansey also quoted an estimate of the population of Salisbury and the Close made in 1782, which was based on the number of houses, and allowing 5 people to a house, gave a figure of 7,720. (fn. 52) This agrees fairly well with a census taken by the Corporation in 1775 which gave a population for the city, no doubt excluding the Close, of 6,856. (fn. 53)

Wansey's suggested decline was hardly borne out by the first census figure for the city and Close in 1801, when its population was 7,668, and no decade ever since that time has shown an actual decline. On the other hand the population was hardly larger than in 1695, and the early-19th-century Census Reports illustrate Salisbury's continued comparative decline both nationally and locally. Not only had it been outstripped by many rising industrial towns of the midlands and north, (fn. 54) but by 1821 it had been equalled by Trowbridge as the largest town in the county. (fn. 55) Nevertheless a series of steady increases in the later 19th century more than doubled the population between 1801 and 1901. It was 17,117 in 1901, and again almost doubled, to 32,911, between 1901 and 1951. (fn. 56) By 1881 Swindon was the largest town in the county, but since then Salisbury has remained the second largest by a considerable margin over the other towns in the county.


  • 1. Ex inf. the Town Clerk.
  • 2. The following maps were used generally in the compilation of this article: O.S. Maps Wilts. 1/2,500, sheets LXVI. 6–8, 10–12, 14–16; 1/25,000, sheets SU 12, 13; Wm. Naish, Map of Salisbury, edns. of 1716 and 1751; J. C. Bothams, Plan of Salisbury from the Local Board Plan, 1860.
  • 3. V.C.H. Wilts. ii, p. 121.
  • 4. Hatcher, Salisbury, 41. See below, p. 200.
  • 5. Rot. Hund. (Rec. Com.), ii. 279.
  • 6. Feud. Aids, v. 199.
  • 7. Cal. Pat. 1334–38, 498; D. & C. Sar. Deeds 1/1/9 and 2/8, Box labelled 'Bailiff's compotus rolls'. In the 16th and 17th centuries, property in Salisbury let by the bishop was generally said to be held of the manor of Milford: e.g. W.A.M. xlix. 449, 465, 468.
  • 8. Ch. Com. Map no. 13819 (1827).
  • 9. See p. 51.
  • 10. Hatcher, Salisbury, 52.
  • 11. See p. 147.
  • 12. Sar. Corp. MSS. Domesday Bk. 1357–68, ff. 4d., 29d., 52.
  • 13. D. & C. Sar. Deeds 1/1/9.
  • 14. Ch. Com. File 11149; ibid. no. 160671; ibid. Map no. 13819.
  • 15. V.C.H. Wilts. iii. 165. The site was later called Maryfield on account of the dedication of the cathedral.
  • 16. Fanny Street, 'Relations of Bishops and Citizens of Salisbury 1225–1612', W.A.M. xxxix. 190; Hatcher, Salisbury, 44. Free tenants of the bishop held their land by money rent and suit at his court twice yearly: Wilts. Inq. p.m. 1327–77 (Index Libr.), 244–5.
  • 17. The description 'chequer' was used in 17th-century assessments, e.g. in 1603 in St. Edmund's parish: Church-wardens' Accts. St. Edmund and St. Thomas, ed. Swayne, 194; see also Sar. Corp. MSS. Box 8, Poor Rate 1659; Box 13, Highway Rate 1695; Box 14, Window Tax, 1699. The names of the chequers are given on Naish, Map, 1716 and Bothams, Plan, 1860.
  • 18. V.C.H. Wilts. iii. 371.
  • 19. Hatcher, Salisbury, 732; see below, p. 88.
  • 20. Hatcher, Salisbury, 735–6; V.C.H. Wilts. iii. 385; see below, p. 151.
  • 21. Deeds of 1268 and 1296 mention property lying along the way from the city to St. Edmund's church: D. & C. Sar. Deeds 1/1/8, 1/1/9.
  • 22. Hatcher, Salisbury, 70.
  • 23. In 1306 New Street, the Market and St. Martin's wards, probably corresponding with parishes of St. Thomas, St. Edmund and part of St. Martin respectively, produced about the same number of signatories to an agreement made with the bishop: Hatcher, Salisbury, 742–3; Sar. Corp. MSS. Swayne, Scrapbk., p. 59.
  • 24. The main series of deeds, and also some wills, are in the muniments of the dean and chapter and the city corporation, which include the collections of the tailors' company and of Trinity Hospital. The cartulary of de Vaux College (B.M. Add. MS. 28870, ff. 145–213) also concerns city properties in the 14th century.
  • 25. Sar. Corp. MSS. Domesday Bk. 1413–33, f. 18; Tropenell Cart. ed. Davies, i. 204–5. For Upper Fisherton Bridge, see below, p. 87.
  • 26. Sar. Corp. MSS. Deeds B. 10. x, 1337. The name presumably derived from the occupation of cheesemonger. In 1290 William dictus Cheese, son of Stephen Bedwinde, citizen, quitclaimed a tenement opposite the market where poultry was sold: Sar. Dioc. Regy. Lib. Evidenc. B. f. 469.
  • 27. E. R. Nevill, 'Salisbury in 1455', W.A.M. xxxvii. 66–91.
  • 28. John Speed's England, ed. J. Arlott, i. pl. 7.
  • 29. See pp. 88–89.
  • 30. H. Wansey, Thoughts on Poor-Houses, with a view to their general reform, particularly that at Salisbury (1801), 43–44. These figures cannot include Fisherton Street, and probably not houses without the ramparts but within the city, such as above Castle Street Gate.
  • 31. See p. 187.
  • 32. T. W. Rammell, Rep. on Sanitary Condition of Salisbury (1851), 86–98.
  • 33. The Close was extra-parochial, had its own sessions, and relieved its own poor. Its population from 1801 was returned with the city, although in 1851 it was said that it did not form part of the city: Rammell, Report, 11.
  • 34. Municipal Corporations Act, 5 & 6 Wm. IV, c. 76. These bounds appear on Bothams, Plan, 1860.
  • 35. V.C.H. Wilts. iv. 356.
  • 36. 4 Edw. VII, c. 161; Census, 1911; cf. V.C.H. Wilts. iv. 356, where the date 1905 is given in error.
  • 37. 17 & 18 Geo. V, c. 46.
  • 38. New Sarum (Extension) Order, 1954.
  • 39. V.C.H. Wilts. iv. 303.
  • 40. Ibid. 312.
  • 41. Ibid. 2.
  • 42. Obtained by adding 50 per cent. to the poll-tax return, as suggested in J. C. Russell, British Medieval Population, 142.
  • 43. W. G. Hoskins, 'English Provincial Towns in the early 16th Century', Trans. R.H.S. 5th ser. vi. 4–5.
  • 44. See p. 128.
  • 45. Sar. Corp. MSS. box 4, folder labelled 'Various 1600–1630'.
  • 46. Shortt, Salisbury, 52.
  • 47. Hatcher, Salisbury, 822.
  • 48. W.N. & Q. iii. 536–7 compared with Hatcher, op. cit. 822.
  • 49. Trans. R.H.S. 3rd ser. iv. 156–61.
  • 50. V.C.H. Wilts. iv. 4.
  • 51. H. Wansey, Thoughts on Poor-Houses (1801), 43–8; Hatcher, Salisbury, 823.
  • 52. Wansey, op. cit. 43.
  • 53. Hatcher, Salisbury, 822.
  • 54. W. G. Hoskins, Local History in England, 178.
  • 55. Trowbridge shows the larger figures in the 1821–41 Census Reports, but Salisbury's suburbs probably made the two towns about the same size.
  • 56. V.C.H. Wilts. iv. 356. Although the boundaries of the municipal borough were extended in 1835, the 1841 census was taken in the old boundaries, so that the figure for 1851 is the first for the larger area.