Covering over 80 acres, Salisbury’s Cathedral Close is the largest in Britain. Not only is it a wonderful green space to escape the busy streets of Salisbury and just relax, with 21 Grade I listed buildings surrounding the magnificent cathedral, as well as museums and gardens, a visit to the the Close is also a fascinating one. In this self guided tour of Salisbury Cathedral Close Sarah shares the many easily overlooked points of interest in one of her favourite places in her hometown.
The Cathedral Close and Choristers’ Green from the north corner.
Salisbury’s Cathedral Close is as old as the cathedral itself, being laid out in 1220 and used as a building site for the early part of its life and into the 14th century when the spire was added. It has always been somewhat separate to the rest of the city, with the construction of a wall on the north and east sides in 1327 – 1342, which is still there, with the River Avon acting as a natural boundary on the west. While the cathedral was still being built, the land around it was divided into plots and given to the canons to build their ‘fair houses of stone’.
In the 18th century, James Wyatt was given the controversial task of transforming the Close. He pulled down the bell tower, removed all of the gravestones as well as altering the interior of the cathedral. Originally, the population of the Close was originally completely ecclesiastical; now it is home to the very wealthy.
There are several buildings in the Close which are open to the public; others you can only stand and peer through the wrought iron railings and admire their moss covered gabled roofs, mullioned windows and beautiful gardens. A mixture of architectural styles and designs, narrow alleyways that lead off to mysterious places and grassy lawns dotted with benches, the Close is a delightful place to spend a day immersed in history and beauty. This self-guided walking tour of the Close is a perfect addition to our self-guided walking tour of historic Salisbury >>
Locations of the venues are given using What3Words. This is a free navigation app where each three metre square in the world is given a unique, three word identifier that never changes. You can download the app to you smartphone, then all you do is enter the three words into the app’s search field and it will give you the directions to where you want to go.
Buildings you can visit in the Cathedral Close
The south front of Mompesson House overlooks Choristers Green in the Cathedral Close.
Owned by the National Trust, this 18th century, Grade I listed house is open to the public. It was built for Sir Thomas Mompesson, who was MP for Salisbury on three occasions at the end of the 17th century. In classic Queen Anne style with a facing of Chilmark stone, which is the same stone used in the building of the cathedral, the house was finished in 1701 by Thomas’ son, Charles. The cartouche over the front door is a replica of the coat of arms of Charles and his wife Elizabeth. The house passed into the hands of Charles’ brother in law, who added the elaborate plasterwork and the oak staircase.
The house was lived in by a succession of tenants, including Barbara Townsend who lived there for nearly a century, keeping the house much as it was without adding any 20th century ‘modcons’. The house came into National Trust ownership in 1975, who inherited an empty house.
The house has been furnished and now houses an important collection of 18th century drinking glasses as well as 18th and 19th century porcelain and furnishings. There are regular events and exhibitions, and the small enclosed garden has a tea room at the bottom. The house is open daily from 11h00 – 17h00 during the summer season. Visiting details >>
The impressive gates lead to Arundells, which is set back from the road.
Originally a 13th century canonry built around 1291, the last canon who lived here, Leonard Bilson, was imprisionned for practising magic and sorcery in 1562. Since then, the building has been altered and extended many times over the centuries. The frontage is Georgian, the work of John Wyndham who lived there from 1718 – 1750. The house got the name of Arundells after James Arundell, the son of Lord Arundell, lived there from 1752 – 1803. In the 19th century the house was a school and was in use during World War II as a library and wool depot. It fell into a state of disrepair until it was restored in 1964. Sir Edward Heath, British Prime Minister from 1970 – 1974, bought the house in 1985 and lived there until his death, with Arundells hosting many vistors and grand parties during his time there.
After his death, the house passed to a trust who have opened it up to the public. The house remains much as it was during his lifetime, reflecting his passions of music, sailing and politics. He had an extensive art collection which includes political cartoons, paintings done and given to him by Winston Churchill and works by Augustus John, LS Lowry and John Singer-Sargeant. A Steinway grand piano and a writing desk which once belonged to Lloyd-George both sit proudly, but it is the less formal objects like his ‘teapot’ chair, where he would sit and listen to his music collection, which show the human side of him.
The house has a lovely landscaped garden which backs onto the River Avon.
The house is open from March – November, 11h00 – 17h00 or you can book a guided tour for a Wednesday. Read more >>
The Rifles Berkshire and Wiltshire Museum
The Rifles Museum in the Close also has a holiday flat at the very top which has excellent views over the cathedral.
Once a Medieval canonry, it was occupied by canons from 1227 until around the 15th century, when it passed to the Bishop of Salisbury and was used as a storehouse and administrative building, being known as ‘The Wardrobe’ from around 1543. From 1568 it was let out to a series of tennants, who altered it over the years, dividing the halls and creating extra rooms. In the 1830s, gables and a gothic portico were added, and the house was rented out to a family who remained there until 1941. Used as an ATS hostel in World War II, then rented by the nearby college until 1969, the building suffered some neglect until 1980 when the museum took it over, with the help of the Landmark Trust.
The museum houses over 36,000 objects relating to the Rifles and their previous regimental incarnations. With regular guided tours, events and talks and a restaurant as well as extensive gardens, the museum is a popular place for visitors. The museum is open from February to November, 10h00 – 17h00 every day except Sundays. Visiting details >>
King’s House now houses the Salisbury Museum which traces the history of the area from the Neolithic to recent times.
Known as Sherbourne Place from the 13th – 16th century, this Grade I listed building has been reconstructed several times over the centuries. It get its name of ‘King’s House’ from when King James I was a guest there in 1610 and 1613. It originally would have had a great hall, and a chapel was added in 1899. For a time it was home to the Godolphin Girls School, and then was a teacher training school, the College of Sarum St. Michael, until 1979, when it was acquired by Salisbury Museum who had outgrown their original premises.
It now holds thousands of artefacts and objects relating to the history of the area from the Neolithic onwards, with extensive archaeological collections which include Stonehenge, the Pitt-Rivers Collection and medieval Salisbury, as well as a ceramics and costume collection. There are regular exhibitions which relate to the area and after a recent lottery grant it is up to date with plenty of interactive activities for all ages. Open Monday – Saturday from 10h00 – 17h00 and tickets can be bought at the museum or online. Visiting details >>
Built in two distinct styles, part of which was designed by Wren, Sarum College is a theological college which also runs as a B&B.
Sarum College is a theological college which provides courses, conferences and events focusing on the study of Christianity up to postgraduate level. The red brick building, built in 1677, is attributed to Christopher Wren, and was built for the deputy recorder of Salisbury. The house was bought in 1860 by a Bishop of Salisbury, who opened up a theological college, with the first students arriving a year later. Residential areas were added later, and the flint extension was added in 1881 with a chapel and library. The building has been altered several times over the years, with new residential quarters and meeting rooms.
The college hosts art exhibtions which are open to the public every day from 09h00 – 17h00 (10h00 – 16h00 on Sundays), has regular lunchtime musical concerts, as well as a theological bookshop and library. The college operates as a B&B and also hosts week long residential stays, giving visitors the chance to live in the Close for a week and to explore the history of Salisbury and its cathedral. Read more about visiting the college >>
The Bell Tower Tea Rooms
The tea rooms are open in the summer months and sit on the spot of the old bell tower.
Once the home of the Vicar of the Close overlooking the north lawn of the cathedral, the site it sits on was previously the location of the cathedral’s bell tower. Built in the 13th century to hold the bells, Salisbury Cathedral is one of only three cathedrals which does not have a ring of bells within. It was a tall, stone tower with a single pillar of Purbeck marble as the central support which carried the bells. In 1553 there were ten bells, and although one is now the clock bell of the cathedral, the fate of the others is unknown. The tower received some significant damage during the English Civil war and was never repaired. By 1789, when James Wyatt was in charge of the controversial works to ‘remodel’ the cathedral and its grounds, he demolished the bell tower in its entirety.
The building is now home to the ‘Bell Tower Tea Rooms’ which are open during the summer months to cater to the regular massive influx of visitors. Serving light snacks, drinks and ice cream, guests can sit outside in the sunshine and admire the views over the cathedral. Opening hours and menus >>
Buildings you can admire from the outside only
This incredible house looks more suited to a large town than a cathedral close.
Myles Place, a magnificent four storey house, dates from 1718 and is on the site of a Medieval canonry. It was built by William Swanton who was a town clerk in Salisbury in 1704, and is a real mix of styles. The eastern front that you can see from the road is of ashlar stone with a pediment topped doorway with a shield of arms, and enclosed by Corinithian pillars. The back of the house is of red brick, and the sides are tiled. The house is the most expensive in the Close, having sold for £6,000,000 in 2007. In the summer, the front garden is filled with roses and all you can do is peer through the railings and wish you could see what it looks like inside.
Now standing empty and looking rather forlorn, hopefully Leaden Hall will soon house a thriving community once again.
This Grade I listed building is the site of the oldest house in the Close, with a canonry built here in 1220 for Elias de Dereham, the man responsible for the building of the cathedral. Documents show that it was intended to be an example for others to follow. It had a great hall and chapel, and a lead roof, which made it unusual for the time. The building you see there today is mostly from the 1720s, with 19th century additions. In the early 19th century it was the home of Archdeacon John Fisher, who was friends with John Constable, who stayed here several times while painting the cathedral. For nearly 80 years the building was a girls boarding school until 2016 when it closed down. The large grounds back onto the river and have stunning views over the Harnham water-meadows.
Leadenhall now stands as an empty shell of its former self, with no plans made for its future; a sorry state of affairs for such an impressive building.
The Walton Canonry
This beautiful canonry has incredible views over the cathedral.
Built around 1720, the house is named after Canon Isaac Walton who was the son of Izaac Walton, author of The Compleat Angler, one of the most famous and valuable sporting books ever printed. The house was leased to Rex Whistler in 1938, until he died in the D-Day landings (a memorial to him by his brother Lawrence Whistler can be seen in the cathedral). The best-selling author Leslie Thomas lived there for ten years from 1988.
The whole three storey house is made of brick and has a parapet to hide the roof, with elevated front steps to the first floor to keep the 18th century occupants high above the riff raff outside. There is a large back garden which sweeps down to the river and the fields where Constable painted some of his most famous views of the cathedral. The house sold for £7,000,000 in 2015 and you can see the interior of the house in the marketing brochure.
On the western side of Choristers’ Green, Wren Hall was built as a school for the cathedral’s choristers.
The building you see today was completed in 1714 for use as the Choristers’ School and has a large schoolroom on the first floor which is reached by the steps, with dormitories above in the attic. Despite its name, it was built by the Clerk of Works of the cathedral and is unlikely to have had any input from Christopher Wren. The school used the building from 1714 – 1947 and trained the choristers for the cathedral. The building was used as a teacher training college from 1947 and after some years holding the Diocesan Education Centre, it is now Sarum Studio, a school for the fine arts and sculpting, who take advantage of the large space and natural light which floods in through the large windows.
The Gates of the Cathedral Close
North Gate (High Street Gate)
The North Gate from inside the Close is next to the Grade I listed College of Matrons which was built in 1682.
The North Gate leads on to Salisbury’s High Street and is the main access point to the rest of the city. Built between 1327 – 1342, it is a mixture of rubble stone and ashlar and has undergone several alterations throughout the centuries, with a portcullis added and then removed, windows added, a new roof and a door added to the Porters Lodge. The room above is used as an office. The buildings on either side were originally shops and houses for lay vicars; most of them are now private homes.
On the town side of the gate is the Stuart royal coat of arms which was added in the 17th century, and on the other side is a statue of Edward VII, which was put there in 1902.
St. Ann’s Gate
St. Ann’s Gate leads out onto the busy Exeter Street.
St. Ann’s Gate was built around 1331, although a gate existed there since 1293. A stone gatehouse of two storeys, the main room above the actual gate was once a chapel dedicated to St. Ann and the Blessed Virgin Mary, until it was converted to secular use after the Reformation. It is said to be the music room where Handel gave his first concert in England, being part of Malmsbury House from the 18th century onwards. Today, the building houses an architectural company who specialise in historic buildings. You can peer through the railings of the small brick building on the inside to see the huge stone archway and a very ancient looking wooden door which was once the main entrance.
Leading from Harnham to the south side of cathedral close, this gate is surrounded by residential houses.
Harnham Gate dates from the mid 14th century, although has been modified over the years, with the wooden gates you see being 19th century. The house to the left of the gate, if you are inside, was built in 1769 as a house for one of the lay vicars. The rest of the house continues outside the walls into De Vaux Place, which you can see in the photo above. On the right of the gates is another house built for a lay vicar, in 1754, and next to it is a house built in 1721 by a local gunsmith. The gates are still used for vehicular access, exit only, so be careful.
Plaques in Salisbury’s Cathedral Close
William Golding was a school teacher in the Close.
Sir William Golding, 1911 – 1993, was an English author, poet and playwright who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1983. His best known work is Lord of the Flies, his first novel which was published in 1954 while he was an English teacher at Bishops Wordsworth’s School, which is in the Cathedral Close. He lived in the nearby village of Bowerchalke, and even though he spent his last years in Cornwall, he is buried in Bowerchalke graveyard.
Charlotte Cradock lived in the Close before marrying Henry Fielding who immortalised her in his novels.
Charlotte Cradock, who lived in the Close, was the inspiration for the character Sophia Western in the Henry Fielding novel, Tom Jones. She was living in the Close when she met him, and they fell in love. She married Fielding in 1734, eloping against her mother’s wishes; apparently she followed them in hot pursuit but was too late to stop the marriage. After bearing five children, she died 10 years later, which left him grief stricken.
Hopefully he was also filled with guilt and remorse, for she “led no happy life, for they were almost always miserably poor, and seldom in a state of quiet and safety. All the world knows what was his imprudence; if ever he possessed a score of pounds, nothing could keep him from lavishing it idly, or make him think of tomorrow. Sometimes they were living in decent lodgings with tolerable comfort; sometimes in a wretched garret without necessaries; not to speak of the spunging-houses and hiding-places where he was occasionally to be found. His elastic gaiety of spirit carried him through it all; but, meanwhile, care and anxiety were preying upon her more delicate mind, and undermining her constitution. She gradually declined, caught a fever, and died in his arms.” (Lady Louisa Stuart)
Burnt at the stake for refusing to accept Catholicism, this memorial is on the wall outside Malmesbury House.
This plaque on the wall inside the Cathedral Close is a memorial to three men who were burned at the stake in Salisbury in 1556. John Maundrel was the devout son of a farmer, who carried a copy of the New Testament with him everywhere he went, despite not being able to read, and who spoke out about the use of holy water and bread at Edington Abbey; a ‘crime’ for which he was punished by having to wear a white sheet and carry a candle in Devizes marketplace. With the two other men on the memorial, he went to demonstrate against the use of idols in a church procession. They were put in stocks and sent to Salisbury, where they were imprisoned. At a hearing some time later, they refused to acknowledge the Pope’s authority, and so were condemned to death.
They were taken to a place between Salisbury and Wilton, probably near St. Paul’s Church, where ‘two postes were set for them to be burnt at’. ‘On coming to the place, they kneeled down, and offered their prayers secretly together, and being undressed to their shirts, John Maundrell spoke with a loud voice “Not for all Salisbury,” which words men judged to be an answer to the sheriff, who offered him the Queen’s pardon if he would recant. After that in like manner spake John Spicer, saying, “This is the most joyful day that ever I saw.” Thus were these three godly men burned at two stakes, where most constantly they gave their bodies to the fire and their souls to the Lord, for testimony of his truth’. (John Foxe in his ‘Book of Martyrs’)
The sundial was put up only a few years before the Reformation of the Calendar.
On the wall outside Malmesbury House, which is next to St. Ann’s Gate, you will see the plaque referring to the wall dial above it, on the exterior wall of the house. The vertical sun dial was put in place in 1749, just three years before the reformation of the calendar in 1752. The sundial is partially visible, as there is now a tree which grows in front of it, but it is worth trying to see it of you can. The text above is from Macbeth, “Life’s but a walking shadow”.
Malmesbury House was the site of a canonry in the 13th century. The building you glimpse today is 17th century, with its west front designed by Christopher Wren. King Charles II stayed in the house in 1665 when he fled London to escape the Great Plague. Twenty years later, a summerhouse in the garden was a place of refuge for the Duke of Monmouth, who hid there after the Battle of Sedgemoor. Handel performed his first English concert in the music room. The house went on the open market for the first time in 300 years in 2014 – for £5,000,000. The marketing brochure is online if you want to have a nose inside.
Green spaces to sit and admire the views
Works of art are often put up in the cathedral grounds, such as this one as part of their ‘Spirit and Endeavour’ exhibition.
The grounds of the cathedral had all of the gravestones removed in the 18th century, and are now flat, green lawns with benches dotted around inside the stone walls. People often sit in peaceful groups on the grass to enjoy an ice cream and the view, or under the trees to escape the sun. Bear in mind that it is a bural ground and there are restrictions on what you can do there – cycling, alcohol, ball games and drones are not allowed. There are frequent temporary outdoor art exhibitions in the grounds, some of which are very good.
Benches line the sides of the green for people to appreciate the architectural beauty around them.
The Choristers Green acquired its name from the adjacent Wren Hall, which was The Choristers’ School from 1714 – 1947. The green is surrounded by private houses in a variety of sizes and architectural styles, but all have beautiful gardens, old brick walls and chimneys aplenty. These buildings mostly stem from the 18th century, when Salisbury was a place of refinement, learning and culture, and the wealthy moved to the area and built their fine houses. There is often some temporary art exhibit in the centre of the green, as you can see in this picture, and only the excess of cars ruin the scene.
The West Walk
A walk around the Close can give you many different views of the cathedral.
The West Walk is at the far end of the Close and being further away, usually has far fewer visitors than anywhere else, making it a haven of peace in the busier summer months. A school playing field occupies the area, where if it is not in use, you can sit around the edges and enjoy the birdsong from all of the trees and hedges which surround the area. You can also get photos of the cathedral spire emerging from above the trees.
Visiting Salisbury’s Cathedral Close
How to get to Salisbury’s Cathedral Close
Train: Salisbury has its own train station which is on the main line from London Waterloo. The journey from London takes about 1h30m and tickets can cost as little as £12 for a day return if you book 12 weeks in advance. The walk from the train station to the Cathedral Close takes 12 minutes, or you can take a taxi from outside the station.
Car: Salisbury is on the main roads A36, A354 and A338
Parking: Although parking is sometimes available in the Close, it is best to use either the Park & Ride facilities or park in one of the town centre car parks.
Where to eat in Salisburys Cathedral Close
There is a refectory in the Cathedral which provides a wide variety of full meals and snacks, where you can eat looking up at the spire through the glass roof. The Bell Tower has light snacks and drinks on offer. Salisbury Museum has a cafe, and The Rifles has a restaurant, both of which you can access separately to the museums.
Where to stay in Salisburys Cathedral Close
Salisbury has plenty of accommodation to suit all budgets, but if you are looking for something specifically in the Close, then there is Sarum College which provides B&B accommodation overlooking the cathedral which is open to all, a B&B with Cathedral views, or the holiday flat at the top of the Rifles Museum.
Good to know before you go
As much of the grounds around the cathedral are burial grounds, they ask that visitors do not cycle, play ball games, drink alcohol or let dogs off leads. No drones may be flown anywhere in the Close.
The gates to the Close are locked from 23h00 to 06h00 every night