Salisbury Cathedral and Close

Built between 1220 and its consecration in 1258, Salisbury Cathedral has the highest spire in England.

Salisbury Cathedral painted by John Constable c. 1825

The Cathedral holds one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, which is on display in the Chapter House. This document asserts the fundamental supremacy of the rule of law over the power of kings, and is a precursor to the American Declaration of Independence some 561 years later.

Within the Cathedral there is a diamond-shaped commemorative stone to Sir Philip Sidney’s sister and inspiration for The Arcadia (1590), the poet Mary, Countess of Pembroke, inscribed with an epitaph by William Browne, and a bust of writer and naturalist, Richard Jefferies.

There is also a memorial to Henry Fielding’s close friend, the critic and philosopher James Harris.

More recent memorials include a Prisoners of Conscience window, unveiled by the violinist Yehudi Menuhin in 1980, and a sculpted statue to poet George Herbert installed in 2004.

Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy features Salisbury Cathedral and Close in Jude the Obscure (1895), The Hand of Ethelberta (1876) and wrote two poems, ‘The Impercipient’ and ‘A Cathedral Façade at Midnight’ expressing his sadness at the Cathedral’s seeming irrelevance. His sisters went to a training college for schoolmistresses at the King’s House in the Close, and he used this as the basis for the college that Sue Bridehead attends in Jude the Obscure. The poor critical reception of Jude, principally due to what was considered its fierce criticism of religion, led Hardy to abandon novel writing and concentrate solely on poetry. 

Looking at the Cathedral as evening casts it into shadow, David Gascoyne’s ‘Requiem’, written in 1938-40 and set to music by Priaulx Rainier, comes to mind.

‘Requiem’ anticipates the prospective victims of the world’s lost ideals and hopes in the impending Second World War. Gascoyne (1916-1996), a chorister at Salisbury Cathedral School, absorbed a mystical spirituality from the place. ‘Requiem’ concerns the unrealised yearning of the human spirit, and a movement out of darkness to a wholeness that is beyond reach until death. Musically it is close to plainsong and aspires to a world beyond reach. Gascoyne also wrote ‘Sarum Sestina’.

henry fielding

Novelist Henry Fielding (1707-54) had a house near St Ann’s Gate, at the Close, from which he wooed the Craddock sisters, who lived at Vicar’s Moral, in the Close. He holidayed in Salisbury when the London theatres closed down for the summer.

Well-known as a good-natured libertine at home in the coffee houses and brothels of Covent Garden, and making his name as a dramatist, Fielding wooed Charlotte Craddock with a long poem, ‘Advice to the Nymphs of New Sarum’ (1727)

Sarum, thy Candidates be nam’d,
Sarum, for Beauties ever fam’d,
Whose Nymphs excel all beauty’s flowers,
As thy high Steeple doth all Towers

He married Charlotte and lived at her mother’s house, 14 The Close, in February 1734.

He returned in the summer of 1746 and wrote part of The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (1749). Charlotte (amongst others) was the model for Sophia Western, and local friends inspired much of the novel’s characterisation. The couple lived happily together, despite Fielding’s recklessness, until Charlotte died of a fever in Bath in 1744. He married her former maid, Mary Daniel, who was six months pregnant, in 1747.

Loving, forgiving, yet strong and spirited, Charlotte was also the basis for Fielding's characterisation of Amelia in Amelia (1752).

William Golding

William Golding (1911-93), who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1983 and knighted in 1988, worked at Bishop Wordsworth’s School, by the Close, teaching English in 1938, 1940 and from 1946 until 1962.

The school, founded by John Wordsworth (1885-1911), a great-nephew of poet, William Wordsworth, bought No. 11, The Close in 1946. Known affectionately as Scruff, Golding came to fame with Lord of the Flies, published in 1954.

He published The Inheritors in 1955, Pincher Martin (1956) Free Fall (1959) and The Spire (1964), the title of which refers to Salisbury Cathedral Spire. Often using symbolism to enhance and dramatise issues raised within his narrative, in this novel the spire functions as a symbol both of obsessive lust and the quest for Heaven - and its cost.

The first part of an historical trilogy, Rites of Passage (1980) won the Booker Prize. From 1958 until 1985 he lived at Bowerchalke, where he is buried.

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