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Why did Salisbury move from Old Sarum?

Old Sarum lies to the north of Salisbury and was the original location of the city with its history able to be traced back to the Iron Age. As Salisbury grew during the more recent history it centred around the flood plain of the Avon River 3 miles to the south and not the Castle of Sarum, so why did Salisbury move from old Sarum?

historic centre of Salisbury

The historic centre of Salisbury

The answer lies with a single man, Richard Poore, who presided over the religious activities of Sarum during the 13th century. Sarum, which is referred to as Old Sarum today, has been settled since the Iron Age when the town acted as hill top fort providing commanding views of the region and with a constant supply of fresh water.

Sarum prospered during the Roman era as was positioned on two important trading routes and after the fall of the Romans the fortified town provided the Saxons protection from the marauding Vikings. Sarum’s position as an important town was confirmed after the invasion of the Normans who constructed a castle, cathedral and strengthened the town walls.

historic centre of Salisbury

Instead of growing and expanding from this point in time the town dwindled, so much so that in less than 200 years the town was official abandoned. This abandonment did not prevent the town having two elected politicians well into the 19th century and for the area to be given the dubious title as the worst Rotten Bough of England, to read more please click here.

Salisbury cathedral

The massive spire of Salisbury cathedral

The sole reason for the desert of Old Sarum was due to Richard Poore who was bishop of Salisbury between 1215 and 1237. When Richard took up his religious post in Sarum he took great offense to the squalid conditions of Sarum as a town and detested the exposed cathedral that caused “his monks to suffer with rheumatism” from the winter winds and rains. Worst of Richard’s grievances was directed at the lord of Sarum castle who was “an ungodly man who commanded a garrison of vile and rude solders”. The compact town of Sarum was simply too small for both completing and powerful men. It was Richard Poore who was driven out but before he was he petitioned the pope that a new cathedral be constructed outside of the city.

The initial petition to the pope was in 1217 and the relocation of the cathedral was granted in1220. The cathedral was situated on the flood plain of the three rivers of Salisbury, as the quality of the drinking water was another of Richards gripes of Sarum. This positioning made it much easier for the construction materials of the massive cathedral to be transported in and the cathedral was completed in less than 50 years in 1266.

Salisbury

Another of Richard Poore’s legacies is that he laid the foundation work for Salisbury as a town creating an organised plan that was significantly more spacious than crowded Sarum. The town was originally constructed for the families of the workers who toiled on the cathedral but the town soon prospered based upon the twice weekly market that has been held in the same square since 1219.

 

The area surrounding the cathedral (known as the Close) also offered protection to the regions more wealthy residents as a stone wall ran the perimeter of the district. As Salisbury grew Sarum declined, the old town was far too small and as no longer the religious centre lost much of its importance. Within only a few generations of the completion of Salisbury cathedral Sarum was little more than a village and soon fell into ruins as it is found today.

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