Friday, October 24, 2014

Salisbury Architecture 1231 - 1981

Cathedrals require a large supporting population of clergy, cleaners, and choristers. Like many English cathedrals, Salisbury Cathedral is surrounded by a close, or enclosure, of walls and houses where bishops and clerics have lived since the cathedral was constructed back in the 13th century. The Bishop of Salisbury still lives there, although he doesn't live in the Bishop's Palace these days, but most of the homes are now rented out to more secular residents. A school of theology has been teaching scripture there since the Middle Ages.

Arched stone gates cut through the walls and connected the sacred inner sanctum to the profanity of costermongers and fishwives on the cobblestone streets leading to the central marketplace. The original gates are still there: High Gate (or North Gate) towards the market square, Queen's Gate and Harnham Gate to the west and south where the River Avon curves around the close, and St. Anne's Gate in the northeast corner, leading to the even older church of St. Martin's parish.

St. Anne's Gate dates back to 1331, and has a small chapel built in above it where Handel gave his first performances in England, according to some reports; others say the concerts were held in the music room at Malmesbury House, built around 1430 and connected to the west side of the gate. Malmesbury House was recently put up for sale - at only 5 million pounds it's a bargain, though the upkeep would be fairly expensive. A 16th-century brick gatehouse huddles in the shadow of the larger mansion, and on the other side an 18th-century Regency townhouse looks down its dormered nose at the passers-by.

St. Anne is the patron saint (or "patroness") of women in labor, miners, cabinet-makers, sailors, mothers, equestrians, childless women, lace-makers, and/or dealers in old clothes. You can celebrate any or all of these on July 26th each year.

Little bits of historical architecture sprout up all over Salisbury, such as the clock tower at the end of one of the bridges over the Avon, in the center of town on Fisherton Street. This was completed in 1893 with funds provided by one Dr. John Roberts, who had come to practice at the nearby Salisbury Infirmary (1767-1993); it's a memorial to his wife Arabella, who died in January 1892.

Just within the eastern edge of the ring road, in the small park called Bourne Hill Gardens, the last remnant of the 14th-century earthen ramparts that once surrounded the city is now a decorative element over the pathway under the trees. The grounds once belonged to St. Edmund's College, established in 1269. The college was converted into a residence called Wyndham House in 1660, which became Bourne House when it was sold again in 1873, and the city now owns the land and house, using the latter for office space.

The River Avon loops through Salisbury on its way to Christchurch Bay, joined by the River Nadder just south of the city. This isn't the Stratford-upon Avon, which is in Warwickshire to the north, although there is a small village at the north edge of the city called Stratford-sub-Castle, which is on the banks of the Avon. It's a bit confusing.

Away from the older structures in the center of town, more modern brick buildings make up most of the architectural landscape of Salisbury. The mix of clay, sand, and gravel that makes up much of the region led to the establishment and tradition of brick-making in the 14th century (if not earlier) in this region, with several brick and tile works providing jobs in the 18th and 19th century. The manor and village at Downton, about 6 miles south of Salisbury along the Avon, have been rebuilt and maintained with local brick. It's not the Downton of Downton Abbey, although the real-life Highclere Castle is less than 50 miles away to the northeast. There is, however, a yearly Cuckoo Fair.

This week in Salisbury they held their Charter Fair, which has been a yearly event since 1227, when Henry III granted the Bishop of Salisbury the right to hold a fair on the third Monday of every October. Since the history of the region goes back to Roman times and before, there have undoubtedly been fairs held for millennia in the area.

Salisbury escaped the destruction of the bombing raids that devastated London in World War II because the German airplane pilots were told to use the cathedral's steeple as a position marker, rather than blasting it off the landscape. What they were aiming for, among other things, was the Spitfire factory in Woolston, about 50 miles away on coast to the southeast. By the time the Germans destroyed the factory, most of the manufacturing and equipment had been moved to satellite locations, including Salisbury. For several years during the war, many of the wing-mounted fuel tanks for these fighter planes were built in the bus station there.

To the north, between Salisbury and the town of Wilton, it was once all farmland. In the 17th century, the fifteen hundred acres of Fugglestone Farm included both the water-meadows along the Avon and Nadder rivers as well as the higher chalk hills. By the end of World War I the farm had been purchased by the British Army and most of the outbuildings converted into barracks. In World War II the main farmhouse was the army headquarters for the southern region, and today most of the former farmland is a series of council housing and suburbs. The 1980s row house where I was housesitting is towards the top of one of the chalk hills, with a nice view of Old Sarum to the east and Salisbury to the south. I spent a quiet three weeks there, taking care of two skittish cats, with the occasional trip into town or out to see the famous landmarks of Old Sarum and Stonehenge, topics of my next two posts.

Another excellence in brick is its perfect air of English respectability. It is utterly impossible for an edifice altogether of brick to look affected or absurd: it may look rude, it may look vulgar, it may look disgusting, in a wrong place; but it cannot look foolish, for it is incapable of pretension.

- John Ruskin, "The Poetry of Architecture" (1838)

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