Salisbury: Bridges, bars, gates and mills

Pages 87-90

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

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Bridges over the Avon may have existed to serve the earlier settlements before the foundation of Salisbury. In 1375 it was stated that the citizens had possessed the bridges over the Avon 'time out of mind' for an annual payment to the bishop of 1d. a bridge, but the number of them was not given. (fn. 1) At first the chief bridge was probably at Fisherton, where the route from Wilton and the west led across the river and on through Milford to Winchester. Harnham Bridge in the south became equally important from its building in the 13th century (see below). Crane Bridge, south of Fisherton Bridge, is mentioned in 1300. (fn. 2) Until the 16th century Fisherton and Crane Bridges were known as the upper and lower, or nether, bridges of Fisherton; their modern names were in use by 1561. (fn. 3)

The upper bridge of Fisherton is first mentioned in 1318. (fn. 4) In 1412 there was a building on it held by Thomas Artor, skinner. (fn. 5) Nearby stood a tenement, let in 1427 to a butcher, abutting a common latrine. (fn. 6) In 1430 Thomas Randolf agreed to repair and maintain the upper bridge for life for the easement of poor people with carts at flood time. (fn. 7) When Leland saw it, it had six stone arches. (fn. 8) Responsibility for repairing both Fisherton and Crane Bridges, at least in part, rested upon Fisherton parish in 1592 (fn. 9) and c. 1625. (fn. 10) By 1634 the west end of the bridges had become the responsibility of the county. (fn. 11) Fisherton Bridge was rebuilt in 1762, (fn. 12) and again rebuilt in iron, when it was widened, in 1872. (fn. 13) The bridge was being again widened in 1960. In the 17th century another bridge, probably a footbridge, lay just south of Fisherton Bridge. It was reached by a passage from the High Street, (fn. 14) and was called Pudding Bridge from its connexion with the butchers, who cleaned flesh there. (fn. 15) Although a building called the Crane was near it in 1455, (fn. 16) the name Crane Bridge was not used until the 16th century (see above). The present bridge, part of the one of six stone arches standing in Leland's time, (fn. 17) is a 15th-century structure with four splayed arches, having traces of a smaller and lower archway at its eastern end. The south side of the bridge was taken down in 1898 and re-erected to widen the road. (fn. 18)

Harnham Bridge was known as Ayleswade, or Ayleswater, Bridge until at least the 15th century. (fn. 19) It was built of stone by Bishop Bingham in 1244 to protect traffic from the constant inundations of the river, and possibly replaced an earlier bridge. (fn. 20) At the same time the bishop built upon the island at the centre of the bridge a chapel of St. John the Baptist, and charged the adjacent Hospital of St. Nicholas with the upkeep of both chapel and bridge. (fn. 21) The latter was then described as 'the greater bridge' of the city, and it attracted the traffic from the west, which had previously passed from Wilton into the city across Fisherton Bridge. (fn. 22) Individual citizens became concerned with its state and legacies were frequently left for its repair. (fn. 23) But private support was insufficient; in 1312 the master of the hospital complained that the sheriff had pressed him to repair the bridge, which had fallen into ruin, although an inquisition had confirmed that he was not responsible. (fn. 24) In 1413 the hospital obtained a royal grant of a toll on merchandise for the next seven years for the repair of the bridge; it was again said that no one was bound to repair it. (fn. 25) Leland described it as 'a mayne and stately' bridge, having six great arches of stone south of the island and four over the branch of the river to the north. (fn. 26) When St. John's chapel ceased to be a chantry c. 1545, the hospital's responsibility seems to have been finally forgotten, (fn. 27) and was not referred to in its new charter of 1610. Furthermore three attempts during the 17th century to renew its responsibility were successfully opposed. (fn. 28) The bridge is still in use but a diversion takes the main road across the river by a new bridge built a few yards to the east in 1933. The old bridge has six arches on the Harnham side of the island and two on the Salisbury side. The former are thought to be the original ones of the 13th century; the bridge was widened on both sides in the 18th century. (fn. 29)

There had evidently long been a bridge at Milford by c. 1386, for it was then broken, and it was said that it had been repaired time out of mind by the vills of Milford Pichard, Milford Richard, and Milford Episcopi. (fn. 30) The present bridge may be a rebuilding of that date. It has four pointed arches of stone, two over the main stream and two over the mill tail, with pointed cutwaters up and downstream and a moulded stringcourse below the parapet. (fn. 31)

The charter of 1227 granted the bishop the right to enclose Salisbury with adequate ditches. When the city was divided into three parishes in 1269, the bars of Castle Street, and those on the way leading to Milford and Winterbourne Ford are mentioned. (fn. 32) A ditch was perhaps begun by this time, but evidently not completed, for an attempt was made to do so during the mayoralty of Reynold of Tidworth, c. 1306–7. (fn. 33) In 1367 Bishop Wyvil gave permission for the construction of four gates and a stone wall with turrets, and a ditch eight perches wide. (fn. 34) This evidently proved too ambitious a scheme, for in 1378 the citizens petitioned the king for help to complete the trench round their city and a wooden fence, and were granted a year's aulnage receipts from the city and 20 oak trees. (fn. 35) Two years later the work was still not complete although the citizens had expended £56 received from the aulnage and 800 marks of their own money. (fn. 36) In 1381 evil doers came by night and 'broke' a portion of the trench 'then begun'. (fn. 37) Seven years later, after a petition to Parliament, the mayor and bailiffs were authorized to compel all property owners in the city to contribute toward the wide ditches in course of construction. (fn. 38) In 1429 31 people contributed to the repair of the ditch, (fn. 39) but in 1440 it was still not finished, for more money was then raised and it was probably finally completed. (fn. 40) In the uncertain times of 1461, watches for the protection of the city were appointed for the Castle Street, St. Edmund's graveyard, and Wyneman Street Gates, and the 'bars' at Winchester Street and St. Martin's (later St. Ann) Street. (fn. 41) In 1483 money was ordered to be raised for the repair of the barriers about the city, then in ruin. (fn. 42) By this time, however, the defences were becoming unnecessary for normal times. By 1473–4 the two most important gates, Castle Gate and 'Winchester Gate or Wyneman Gate', were let as tenements; the latter had lately been rebuilt by William Warwick. (fn. 43) Encroachments had been made on the ditch by 1499, (fn. 44) and in the 16th century parcels of it were regularly leased out: for example, the part between Milford bars and St. Martin's Church to a brewer in 1525, (fn. 45) that between the same bars and Winchester Street to a capper in 1547, (fn. 46) and that between Winchester Gate and St. Edmund's bars to a tanner in 1556. (fn. 47) In 1673 a house had recently been built in the ditch south of Milford bars. (fn. 48)

Much of the ditch and rampart still existed in the 18th century. (fn. 49) It ran from the loop of the Avon at Bugmore northwards to the corner of St. Martin's Church Street, along the modern Rampart Road, and across the Greencroft. It then turned westward, north of St. Edmund's Church to the Avon again west of Castle Gate. An attempt to continue it between the two branches of the Avon west of Castle Street was made but abandoned because of the 'moorishness' of the ground. (fn. 50) In 1960 only a part in the Council House grounds remains. The two principal gates survived until the 18th century. Winchester Gate was demolished in 1771, (fn. 51) and the gate and west buttress of Castle Street Gate were removed in 1785. (fn. 52) The east buttress remained until 1906, when it was removed, and the coat of arms from it built into the wall of Hussey's Almshouse nearby. (fn. 53)

Many references in medieval wills and deeds show that the watercourses, which were a feature of Salisbury until the 19th century, existed early in its history. Whether they were originally made for drainage purposes or to provide a water supply is hard to say, and little exact information about their number or course is available before the 18th century. Hatcher suggested that they were bigger in the Middle Ages than in later times, instancing references to bridges crossing them. (fn. 54) Thus in 1310 Richard Pinnock left money to the bridges of St. Mary, St. Thomas, and St. Nicholas, (fn. 55) and in 1407 William Mercer remembered the new bridge which he had built at the end of Drakehall (now Exeter) Street and three bridges in the Market Place. (fn. 56) Some of the bridges distinguished by name such as Ivy Bridge and Black Bridge, which lay in St. Ann Street and Trinity Street respectively, were evidently considerable structures, but these crossed the city trench, later called the Canal, which was a large and deep watercourse until the 19th century. The existence of bridges in Endless Street and Castle Street (fn. 57) may indicate that there were other deep watercourses subsequently filled in. By the 18th century, however, and probably for a long time previously, the city contained a network of small watercourses, usually called the street channels, and several larger ones, the New Canal, the Close Ditch, and some ditches crossing the Close.

Leland noted that the streets of Salisbury had 'little streamlets and arms derived out of Avon' running through them, (fn. 58) and Speed's map of 1611 shows them in almost all the streets west of the line of St. Edmund's Church Street and Gigant Street. (fn. 59) They appear to be in the middle of the streets and this is confirmed by the accounts of travellers. In 1654 John Evelyn spoke of the 'quick current and pure stream' in the middle of the streets, but found them dirty and negligently kept. (fn. 60) Wheeled traffic kept to the beds of the streams, for in 1615 it was ordered that bars should be placed to keep down brewers' and other carts in the rivers. (fn. 61) The use of wheeled vehicles probably meant that the bridges over the water were removed, and the streets were consequently made difficult for pedestrians. In 1625 the mayor and commonalty complained to the Privy Council of the dilapidated and ruinous condition of the streets and watercourses, and were allowed to levy a rate for their repair. (fn. 62) In 1685, however, Celia Fiennes found them 'not so clean or so easy to pass in'. 'They have steps', she said, 'to cross it and many open places for horses and carriages to cross it'. (fn. 63) Defoe said that the streets were always dirty and full of wet, filth, and weeds, even in summer. (fn. 64) It was perhaps the exceptional difficulties of keeping the streets clean which caused Salisbury to be the first provincial town in England to have powers of improvement granted to a special authority, here called the directors of highways, by an Act of 1737. (fn. 65) This body improved the streets by moving the channels to one side and making brick beds for them, so that the traffic could pass unimpeded, and bridges could be made over them for foot-passengers. (fn. 66) The course of the channels can be seen on 18th century maps; (fn. 67) they were fed from hatches on the Avon at three places to the west of Castle Street, and after running through the streets their waters all met at the junction of Ivy Street and Trinity Street, and flowed from there to the meadows at Bugmore. They were generally about 2 ft. wide and 2 ft. deep, the depth of water being 1–1½ ft. (fn. 68) In the twenties and thirties of the 19th century most of the channels were arched over; the work was apparently done piecemeal by the owners of adjacent property at their own expense but with the directors' permission. (fn. 69) This was because they were by this time the means of removing the sewage of the adjoining houses, but it also made them more difficult to keep clean. When the city was visited by cholera in 1849 it was felt that this arching-over was the cause of the visitation, and many of the channels were laid open again. (fn. 70) Their use for the removal of sewage was condemned by the government inspector in 1851, and, as the city was provided with deep sewerage, they were gradually filled up; by 1860 all had gone. (fn. 71)

The Canal and the Close Ditch differed from the street channels because they left the Avon below the town mills, so that their waters were at a lower level, while the volume of their flow was larger. The Canal actually ran under the street channels in High Street, Catherine Street, and Brown Street. (fn. 72) It is thought to have been made in 1345, for then a piece of land near Pinnock's Inn in Minister Street (now High Street) was granted to the city 'for a watercourse running there'. (fn. 73) In 1381, when the city made an agreement to have it kept clean, it was called 'the common trench', (fn. 74) and the name frequently occurs in medieval deeds. Descriptions of property on it (fn. 75) show that its course was the same as in the 18th century; it ran from Fisherton Bridge along the New Canal and part of Winchester Street, then southwards through Trinity and Marsh chequers to Bugmore and the Avon. (fn. 76) Its waters were being used in water-meadows below the city by 1739. (fn. 77) It was arched over with bricks along the New Canal and Winchester Street c. 1837, (fn. 78) and finally filled in in 1875. (fn. 79)


On the bishop's manor of Salisbury in 1086 there were four mills worth 47s. 7d. and a half share of a fifth mill worth 30s. (fn. 80) The latter probably was at Old Salisbury, where the king owned half a mill worth 20s. (fn. 81) Some of the others may have been at Woodford, Stratford, or Milford, (fn. 82) but one was probably on the Avon by the river crossing at Fisherton. In the early 13th century Bishop Poore built a mill in Salisbury and charged it with £10 yearly for the celebration of a mass in the cathedral. (fn. 83) In 1245 St. Nicholas's Hospital was endowed with 10 marks yearly from the bishop's mills within Salisbury, (fn. 84) and in the early 14th century a man was drowned near the bishop's mill standing at the limits of the city. (fn. 85) In 1330 John of Windsor, the keeper, accounted for repairs to the mill and the malt mill, and for the stipends of a miller and two carters. (fn. 86) There is little doubt that all these references are to the mills above Fisherton Bridge, usually called the Bishop's Mills, or the Town Mills. (fn. 87)

The earliest known lease was made in 1504, when the mills, described as four water mills called the Bishop's Mills, were let for 31 years at a rent of £30. (fn. 88) In 1548 the city secured a lease of the mills for 83 years at the same rent, (fn. 89) and the assembly subsequently ordered all common bakers to grind their corn at them. (fn. 90) The mills were let to subtenants during the city's term; in 1562 a renewal of the tenancy of John Westbrook included an increase of rent for a tucking mill which he had built at his own cost and was maintaining. (fn. 91) When the city lease expired, a new lease for 3 lives was made in 1632 to William Davenant of Leicestershire, no doubt a member of Bishop Davenant's family, (fn. 92) and renewed in 1663 to John Davenant of the Close. (fn. 93) The mills continued to be leased on lives until the 19th century; lessees included William Eyre in the late 17th century, (fn. 94) and the Reade family from 1754 to 1806. (fn. 95) In the 18th century the mills were housed in two buildings, the grist mill on the main stream above Fisherton Bridge and the tucking mill slightly to the north on a channel leading from the main stream into the western stream. (fn. 96) In 1740 the grist mill was valued at £60 a year and the tucking mill £20 a year. (fn. 97) The latter mill no doubt fell out of use with the decline of the Salisbury clothing trade; (fn. 98) it was still standing in 1860, (fn. 99) but was probably pulled down in or before 1874, when the city constructed a swimming pool nearby. (fn. 100) For some years before 1865 the upper part of the grist mill was used for the manufacture of tobacco and snuff, while flour was still ground below. (fn. 101) It was converted for use as a power station by the Salisbury Electric Light and Supply Co. in 1899, (fn. 102) and is still so used by the Southern Electricity Board. The oldest part of the building, toward the east, is of brick, and dates from the 18th century; to the west an extension of brick and flint with lancet windows was made in the 19th century.


  • 1. Ibid. 747.
  • 2. W.A.M. xlix. 436.
  • 3. Sar. Corp. MSS. Ledger B. f. 324.
  • 4. Hatcher, Salisbury, 95.
  • 5. Sar. Corp. MSS. Ledger A. f. 48.
  • 6. Ibid. Deeds G.5.xi, 1427.
  • 7. Ibid. Ledger A. f. 95.
  • 8. Leland, Itin. ed. Toulmin Smith, i. 261.
  • 9. Crane bridge: Sess. Mins. (W.A.S. Rec. Brch.), 147.
  • 10. Both bridges: Wilts. Q. Sess. Rec. ed. Cunnington, 77.
  • 11. Assizes 24/20, Wilts. 7 Mar. 6 Chas. I, 18 July 7 Chas. 1, 24 Feb. 9 Chas. 1, 6 July 11 Chas. I.
  • 12. Hatcher, Salisbury, 602.
  • 13. Inscription on bridge.
  • 14. Perhaps the one beside Woolworth's store: Shortt, Salisbury, 43.
  • 15. See p. 136.
  • 16. See p. 82.
  • 17. Leland, Itin. ed. Toulmin Smith, i. 261.
  • 18. E. Jervoise, Ancient Bridges of the S. of Eng., 72.
  • 19. P.N. Wilts. (E.P.N.S.), 222. Hatcher, Salisbury, 95, assumed that there were two distinct bridges, but cf. Tropenell Cart. ed. Davies, ii. 212, 245.
  • 20. But cf. Jervoise, Ancient Bridges of S. of Eng., 72, where a 15th-century document is quoted describing it as a 'double stone bridge made to supersede a ford'.
  • 21. V.C.H. Wilts. iii. 344; see above, p. 77.
  • 22. Hatcher, Salisbury, 732–3; V.C.H. Wilts. iii. 344.
  • 23. Hatcher, Salisbury, 95–96; Sar. Corp. MSS. Deeds F. 10. v, 1406.
  • 24. Jervoise, Ancient Bridges of S. of Eng., 73.
  • 25. Cal. Pat. 1413–16, 161.
  • 26. Leland, Itin. ed. Toulmin Smith, i. 261–2.
  • 27. It had probably not repaired the bridge for a long time before this: V.C.H. Wilts. iii. 347.
  • 28. Cart. St. Nicholas Hosp. ed. Wordsworth, 29n.
  • 29. Jervoise, Ancient Bridges of S. of Eng., 73–4; Arch. Jnl. civ. 150.
  • 30. Public Works in Medieval Law, vol. ii (Selden Soc. xl), 234; Cal. Close, 1385–9, 47.
  • 31. Jervoise, Ancient Bridges of S. of Eng., 70–71 and fig. 32.
  • 32. Hatcher, Salisbury, 53, 736.
  • 33. Ibid. 740–1; Ch. Corn. no. 136690.
  • 34. Hatcher, Salisbury, 83–84.
  • 35. Cal. Pat. 1377–81, 229.
  • 36. E 143/16/2/9.
  • 37. Cal. Pat. 1377–81, 631.
  • 38. Rot. Parl. (Rec. Com.), iii. 255.
  • 39. Sar. Corp. MSS. Ledger A. f. 92d.
  • 40. Ibid. f. 125. Payments were made to labourers working on the ditch in 1441: ibid. f. 127.
  • 41. Hatcher, Salisbury, 155.
  • 42. Ibid. 201.
  • 43. Sar. Corp. MSS. Swayne, Scrapbk., pp. 19, 21.
  • 44. Ibid. Ledger B. f. 203.
  • 45. Ibid. Deeds J.20. vii, 1525.
  • 46. Ibid. Ledger B. f. 229d.
  • 47. Ibid. Deeds K.1.xii, 1556.
  • 48. W.R.O. 130/20a.
  • 49. Naish, Map, 1716, 1751.
  • 50. Sar. Corp. MSS. Box 4, papers touching a dispute over gardens there.
  • 51. Hatcher, Salisbury, 525.
  • 52. Ibid. 535.
  • 53. Inscription on building.
  • 54. Hatcher, Salisbury, 95.
  • 55. Sar. Corp. MSS. Deeds A. 10. xii, 1310.
  • 56. P.C.C. 14 Marche.
  • 57. Hatcher, Salisbury, 95.
  • 58. Leland, Itin. ed. Toulmin Smith, i. 259.
  • 59. John Speed's England, ed. J. Arlott, i. pl. 7.
  • 60. Evelyn, Diary ed. de Beer, iii. 115. Buck's Northeast Prospect of Salisbury, 1734, shows the Salt Lane Channel in the middle of the street. See also A. B. Middleton, Salisbury, the English Venice (c. 1868).
  • 61. Hatcher, Salisbury, 324.
  • 62. Ibid. 351; for earlier measures, see below, p. 100.
  • 63. Shortt, Salisbury, 85.
  • 64. Daniel Defoe, Tour through the whole Island of Great Britain, ed. G. D. H. Cole (1927), i. 188.
  • 65. 10 Geo. II, c. 6; S. and B. Webb, English Local Govt. iv. 241–2; see below, p. 110.
  • 66. S. Whatley, England's Gazetteer (1751), ii. s.v. Salisbury. The channels can be seen in this position on prints, e.g. Shortt, Salisbury, pls. 8, 11.
  • 67. Naish, Map, 1716.
  • 68. Rammell, Report, 68–71, where there is a detailed description of the courses of the channels and a map.
  • 69. Sar. Corp. MSS. Directors' Min. Bks. 1815–27, 1827–43; G. O. Lucas, Plan of Salisbury, 1833, says that many had been covered 'within the last few years'.
  • 70. Rammell, Report, 69–70.
  • 71. See p. 114.
  • 72. Rammell, Report, 71.
  • 73. Sar. Corp. MSS. Swayne, Scrapbk., p. 42; see above, p. 81; in 1315 an agreement to build a house in Winchester St. (now the New Canal and Milford St.) included provisions about conveying water by gutters into a certain ditch there: W.R.O. 164/1.
  • 74. Sar. Corp. MSS. Swayne, Scrapbk., p. 37. This agreement was made with the city 'picager' (see below, p. 140), but it was in consideration for a grant of his office rather than his being specifically concerned with the ditch, as Swayne supposed.
  • 75. See pp. 79, 82.
  • 76. Naish, Map, 1751.
  • 77. Sar. Corp. MSS. agreement inserted in Directors' Min. Bk. 1815–27.
  • 78. H. Peniston, 'Salisbury Past and Present' No. 3, Salisbury and Winchester Jnl. 29 July 1887. No reference to the work was noted in the Directors' Min. Bk.
  • 79. See p. 115; for the Close ditches, see pp. 78–79.
  • 80. V.C.H. Wilts. ii. p. 121.
  • 81. Ibid. p. 115; see above, p. 64.
  • 82. See pp. 209, 225; Milford Mill is reserved for treatment in the parish history of Laverstock.
  • 83. Sar. Chart. and Doc. (Rolls Ser.), 117.
  • 84. Ibid. 300.
  • 85. Sar. Corp. MSS. Domesday Bk. 1413–33, p. 3 (1st nos.).
  • 86. D. & C. Sar. 2/8 Box labelled 'Bailiff's Compotus Rolls'.
  • 87. The latter name was used early in the 15th century: D. & C. Sar. Act Bk. Draper, f. 10.
  • 88. Ch. Com. no. 136777, f. 36.
  • 89. Ibid. no. 136776, f. 13.
  • 90. Sar. Corp. MSS. Ledger B. f. 311d.
  • 91. C. Haskins, Ancient Trade Guilds and Companies of Salisbury, 329; subsequent sub-leases are Sar. Corp. MSS. Deeds K. 10. iv (1575), L.30. i (1596).
  • 92. Ch. Com. no. 136776, f. 16.
  • 93. Ibid. f. 17d.
  • 94. Hatcher, Salisbury, 816.
  • 95. Ch. Com. no. 136779, pp. 87, 90, 248.
  • 96. Naish, Map, 1751.
  • 97. Ch. Com. no. 160752, f. 55.
  • 98. See V.C.H. Wilts. iv. 171–2.
  • 99. Bothams, Plan, 1860.
  • 100. See p. 115.
  • 101. V.C.H. Wilts. iv. 242.
  • 102. W. A. Wheeler, Supplemental Sarum Chronology, 1881–1900, 87.