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 ca. 1225 : New Salisbury

Keywords: Salisbury topography rivers travel routes streets suburbs water supply marketplace cross Old Sarum town planning urban design cathedrals cities mesne boroughs burgage tenure charter liberties economy industry commerce commodities market licences fairs competition Wilton disputes prohibition administration buildings mayor


Present-day Salisbury represents the best, and best-known, example in England of an important provincial city that came into existence as a planned town. The challenging scope of the plan was grander than for other new towns of the period. Although the prime focus was the relocation of the cathedral from Old Sarum to a more hospitable site, where rebuilt on an impressive though not extravagant scale, the associated foundation of a market town – whose prosperity would provide revenue streams for the cathedral chapter, which in turn would serve as a major consumer of local goods and services and as a magnet for other consumers in the form of pilgrims (the medieval equivalent of tourists) – seems to have been an integral part of the project. The move would place those two components securely on episcopal land, where revenues and jurisdiction belonged solely to the Church, rather than being shared with the king, where there was more scope for future expansion, and no conflict with the keeper and garrison of a royal castle as there had been at Old Sarum.

This was not a sudden decision; lobbying to support the project began in the reign of John, when Herbert Poore was bishop (d.1217( and his capable and learned brother Richard was dean, before succeeding his deceased brother as bishop; the pair were probably sons of a former Bishop of Winchester. It was at first an uphill battle. Bishop Herbert had run afoul of John on several occasions, and twice had his episcopal estates confiscated temporarily. He had obtained approval from Richard I for the transfer, but this was abandoned once John took the throne. John, always needy for money, may have been reluctant to approve the transfer of the cathedral, knowing that it would adversely impact the economy of Old Sarum, which provided him with at least a modest source of revenues. Nor was the political situation favourable to a move: the royal rift with the papacy and John's hostility to clergy loyal to the pope (which included Herbert), as well as the uncertain environment created by the baronial revolt and foreign invasion, did not favour an immediate relocation. Richard Poore – who even before becoming bishop had been one of a group of executors appointed by John to help his underage son secure the throne and restore royal authority – was able to take advantage of Henry III's minority to revive and win approval of the plans for the transfer, and to see them to fruition during the 1220s, when close to the national centre of power and for some years a member of the regency group. The pope's authorization for the move was obtained the year following John's death.

The chosen location lay near the confluence of the Avon, Nadder and Bourne rivers and was largely flat and low-lying, much of it fields, meadows, and marsh. The cathedral precinct was in the southern part of the site, cuddled within a loop in the Avon, while the urban area was mostly north of it; the precinct, which was to house not only the cathedral-priory but also an episcopal palace and homes for the canons, was allocated almost half of what seems to have been the initial site for the project. On the eastern edge of the city survived a small pre-existing settlement around St. Martin's church (dated to the last years of the eleventh century); this settlement was in the fourteenth century occasionally, though imprecisely, referred to as the 'old town'.

The above-named rivers, along with the Wylye, which connected to the Nadder at Wilton, provided access to the grain-growing and sheep-raising villages of the region. There were also good connections into the hinterland by road: two led northwards to Amesbury and Devizes, passing on either side of Old Sarum; another north to Marlborough (whence to Oxford); one west to Wilton, following the Nadder, then branching north-west to follow the Wylye to Warminster; eastwards, another branching road linked to and Winchester (probably superseding the Roman road between Old Sarum and Winchester); while one heading south-east from the St. Martin's settlement made the important connection to the port of Southampton – moreover this connection preceded that to Wilton, giving Salisbury's market an advantage over that of the county town. Salisbury similarly preceded Wilton on the major route that ran from London to Exeter, enabling it to intercept trade goods and travellers and have first shot at their business. Whether an intentional part of the planning or just the natural consequence of the emergence of a major market town, some existing routes were diverted to pass through New Salisbury; Bishop Poore's successor built (1244) a large stone bridge over the Avon, at the south end of the city, that served – perhaps intentionally – to divert vehicular traffic away from Wilton [on this see K.H. Rogers, "Salisbury" in M.D. Lobel, ed. Historic Towns (Atlas), vol.1 (1969), p.3].

These road connections made Salisbury a convenient point for distributing, or redistributing, foodstuffs grown, raised or manufactured in the region, fish caught off the coast or farther afield (coming via Bristol), and imports of wine, as well as for collecting Wiltshire wool for export from Southampton and other south coast ports. Salisbury's trading relationships with Winchester and, particularly, Southampton were naturally key ones and inevitably resulted in some friction over the matter of market tolls. As usual, access to wool and involvement in the wool trade led to development of a cloth-making industry at New Salisbury. By the late fourteenth century it had a dominant position in that industry within the county. Nor should we ignore a possible role of Clarendon Palace, a few miles east of Salisbury, which Henry II had created and on whose improvement Henry III spent a good deal of money, at a key time in the development of the city's economy.

There is evidence the site for the new cathedral precinct had been decided upon by 1213, perhaps much earlier, but papal approval for the project was needed before any work could proceed. That obtained (1219), the speed with which the project then moved suggests plans were already drawn up. The first houses at New Salisbury were built, just outside the precinct, for the use of the bishop (a temporary residence) and for members of the chapter within the precinct, by 1219 if not before; this branch of the project continued throughout the century. Work on the cathedral itself began the following year and the transfer of episcopal tombs in 1226 symbolized the official relocation, though it would not be for some decades that the main building was consecrated and construction completed. A wooden chapel, dedicated to St. Thomas, had been erected before 1238 at the centre of one side of the space intended for the marketplace, presumably initially for the use of the clergy and construction workers, although there may have been some pre-existing settlement in the vicinity, and even market activity. The longer-term intent for the chapel was perhaps to service users of the marketplace, once the development of the new town – bounded, apart from minor suburban spill, partly by the river and partly by an earthen rampart – had made more progress (it was likely complete by the opening of the fourteenth century), though by 1246 the chapel had been rebuilt to function as the central parish church for the growing population of that part of town.

The bishop was naturallly desirous to stimulate both settlement and marketing, as revenue sources, from the beginning of the initiative. That traders and artisans were being targeted as new or relocating settlers is indicated by the bishop's acquisition in 1219 of a licence for a Friday market; although stated as for Old Salisbury, this was a name applied at that time to the episcopal estate, not to Old Sarum). He followed this up in 1221 with licence for an August fair. Over the next few years Bishop Poore was able to stave off a general order to suppress markets and fairs begun during Henry III's minority, for some of which the bishop had himself obtained provisional licences, at Ramsbury, Chardstock (Wilts.), and Wokingham (Berks.). In a position of greater influence at court 1223-28, he obtained in 1226 an extension of Salisbury's fair to eight days, and again in 1227 to ten days; later bishops would license additional fairs in 1270 and 1315.

The development of New Salisbury, and transfer there of personnel, took place in an atmosphere of uncertainty. The underage Henry III was, in the early years of his reign, not able to assert himself, and various persons of position were jockeyimg for influence in the regency government – Richard Poore was himself associated for some years with the faction of Hubert de Burgh. Many of the rebellious barons, lacking confidence in the new king and desiring a role in royal government, had not yet put aside their opposition, still controlled large areas of England, and continued to pose a serious threat, despite the withdrawal of their French ally. The Welsh, under Llywellyn the Great, were using force and diplomacy to regain lost independence in parts of Wales and the Marches, and the Crown's French possessions were also in jeopardy. This environment, perhaps together with expectations of opposition from Wilton to New Salisbury's market ambitions, may help explain why, upon obtaining the initial, and necessarily provisional, market licence in 1219, the bishop apparently held off paying the palfrey fee that had been agreed upon; the following year the Exchequer conceded that he should not be pressured to pay the fee until the king had come of age (and was thus in a position to confirm the market grant). <

The history of market grants to New Salisbury is somewhat confused and it is less clear if the aforementioned uncertainties were what prompted the bishop to seek renewals or confirmations of the original licence at various points over the next few years. Apart from the occasional lifetime grant, and setting aside provisional grants during Henry III's minority, market licences were not normally issued for brief, finite terms, so Bishop Richard was perhaps being cautious in a period of changes at the helm of government, or was responding to market competition complaints from Wilton. The latter seems implicit in a temporary extension of the market licence restored in December 1222 after an authorization earlier that year had been overturned; further extensions kept the market going into 1224. After Henry III had personally taken up the reins of government, a new market grant was obtained (ca.1227) and the devout Henry remitted to the bishop the 5 marks fee for the same. The new licence, however, was for a Tuesday market and it is not evident whether this was in lieu of or in addition to the Friday event. The latter possibility is perhaps supported by Wilton's complaint in 1240 of harm from the bishop permitting a market to take place at Salisbury every day of the week, for which Richard's successor (Richard having been translated to the see of Durham in 1228) was summoned the following year to explain to the king by what right he thus interpreted his licence. The same complaint, seconded by Old Sarum, would resurface in the hundredal enquiries of 1274/75, when Salisbury complained that Wilton men had been intercepting merchants en route to their city and coercing them into conducting their trade at Wilton instead, and in 1307; the sheriff was on both occasions ordered to remedy the situation in Salisbury, but there is no indication he was able to do so effectively. In 1315 a new licence was issued to the bishop, cathedral chapter, and citizens of Salisbury for a Saturday market, but in 1361 it was necessary to order the bishop that markets be restricted to Tuesdays and Saturdays; he agreed to do so, but we may doubt that on other days marketplace buying and selling came to an entire halt in a city as populous and prosperous a city as Salisbury; we must differentiate between formal market days when a wide range of tolls could be imposed and less intense commerce occurring in the marketplace at other times. In a 1306 settlement of disputes between the citizens and their episcopal overlord, the former recognized the latter as owner of market revenues and administration of the market, although by the close of the Middle Ages the city authorities were gradually gaining a measure of control ver these.

By 1240 the volume of commerce in the city had grown to the point that we can give credit to the Wilton complaint of daily markets at Salisbury, drawing business away from its own; Wilton was itself holding markets several days a week. It may be that the bishop's attorney was able to persuade the court that Tuesday remained the only official day when farmers of the region brought their produce for sale and when tolls were collected, even though a certain amount of commerce was taking place less formally on other days as demand from the large local population encouraged city traders to keep their stalls open from day to day, and as more permanent shops grew up around and even within the marketplace. One would think this might be a not uncommon issue, although complaints about it seem few; one instance was brought before the eyre of 1202, which heard that the market – unlicensed but perhaps of ancient standing – of the small Lincolnshire town of Wainfleet was operating on other than its customary day; on behalf of the king, the royal justices felt able to approve a Tuesday market, on condition it not prove a nuisance to others of the vicinity. In any event, repetition of the complaint against Salisbury during the hundredal enquiries of 1275 suggests that no action was taken to prevent trading outside of the official market day.

Wilton, however, necessarily persisted with its grievance, in the face of such intense competition from Salisbury, and despite Salisbury's episcopal lord having more influence at court than lords of Wilton. In 1305 Edward I ordered the sheriff to have it proclaimed in market towns of the region that anyone selling merchandize in Salisbury on the days when markets were rightfully held at Wilton would have them confiscated. Yet the Wilton authorities were soon able to provide the king with a list of 92 tenants of the episcopal estates who had ignored the prohibition; the list is interesting for showing the types of goods commonly sold through the market: dealers in fish, meat, and above all grain were the largest categories, but there were seven cloth merchants, and several each of sellers of livestock, skins, hides, ironwares, and wax. In 1307 the sheriff was again ordered to prohibit market activity (presumably outside the licensed day) and a number of prosecutions followed two years later, on the charge of depriving the king of toll revenues (from Wilton); once more the Salisbury authorities argued that the market only took place on Tuesdays, but acknowledged that some traders operated stalls and shops at other times – which must have been a common, and a necessary, practice in towns with large populations. The 1361 order to the bishop to restrict market activity to Tuesdays and Saturdays would have avoided direct conflict with Wilton, which claimed to have markets on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, while possibly Thursday was the market day at Old Sarum, said (by the Wilton complainants) also to be damaged by New Salisbury's unrestrained commerce. We may doubt that this renewed order changed anything, and it was probably too late to help Wilton's declining economy anyway.

Success in attracting settlers to New Salisbury is indicated by the bishop's charter of 1225, granting burgage tenure rights to "our free citizens of our new city of Salisbury" [J. Silvester Davies, ed. Tropenell Cartulary, Devizes: Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society, (1908), vol.1, p.187; my translation] , with a standard plot of about 7 perches in depth by 3 in width owing 12d. in annual quit-rent (in lieu of feudal services), though other sizes were available on a pro rata basis. This was followed, after the point-of-no-return transfer (1226) of episcopal tombs from the old to the new cathedral, in 1227 by a royal charter to the cathedral – obtained the more easily, one suspects, thanks to Bishop Poore's position at court.

The charter confirmed the existence of New Salisbury as a 'free city' under the bishop's lordship and granted its citizens freedom from tolls throughout the realm and all liberties and exemptions possessed by the citizens of Winchester, though prohibiting them from alienating their burgages in mortmain without episcopal permission; the bishop's Tuesday market was confirmed, the fair extended in length, and he was empowered to surround the city with a defensive ditch and to levy taxes from the citizens when the king did so to the rest of the realm. A clause requiring that English and foreign merchants be allowed to go to, stay in, and leave the city freely may have been, in part, a warning to residents not to expect a trade monopoly, but was also a precaution against obstructionism from the owners of competing markets; in 1275 the city jurors' loudest complaint at the hundredal enquiry was that Wilton's bailiffs had, for several years, been using intimidation and force to prevent merchants en route to Salisbury, Oxford, Wallingford or London from proceeding, instead obliging them to sell their wares in the Wilton market, and even hijacking the goods of merchants who resisted. Another clause authorizing the bishops "for the improvement of that city, to create, alter, or move roads and bridges leading into it, as they may consider necessary" [W. H. Rich-Jones and W. Dunn Macray, eds. Charters and Documents illustrating the History of Salisbury Rolls Series, vol. 97 (1891), p.177, my translation] was likewise aimed at giving Salisbury a competitive edge against other market towns of the region. A second charter later in the year confirmed the bishop's extensive jurisdictional powers over his estates. Through such grants, clearly drafted by the bishop and his counsellors, he thus on the one hand secured advantages appropriate for a trading community while on the other ensured its members were subject to his authority; they were weapons the bishop would later have to wield, to win a conflict with the restive citizenry in the opening years of the fourteenth century.

The new town was planned with what resembles a grid-pattern layout, although adapted to the topography and the presence of existing tracks, drainage ditches, and minor settlements; each block within the grid was divided into two rows of plots – most of standardized size, as noted above; certainly post-medieval residents perceived this kind of pattern, referring to the blocks of tenements as 'chequers', each with its own proper name. It seems likely that the sites for the cathedral precinct and the marketplace would have been the first major elements of the plan to be determined. The large marketplace was situated not far north of the cathedral precinct, on the west side of the urban area. Its south-west corner was close to the Avon crossing of the route to Wilton; nearby Bishop Poore had a grist mill built, or rebuilt. The (possibly pre-existing) road from Old Sarum arrived at the marketplace's north-west corner, then continued south to the north gate of the cathedral close; this was known as Minster Street, although the northern part was distinguished as Castle Street by 1339. Past the east side of the marketplace ran the High Street, the original spine of the city; in the fourteenth century this focus shifted to Minster Street, which was thereafter known as the High Street, while the part of the original High Street beside and south of the marketplace became known as Carter Street, reflecting its role as a main route by which goods would reach the marketplace. Along the marketplace's south side, the road to Winchester, although that street-name was later transferred to the northern side.

The High Street was the western-most of several north-south streets parallel to each other; the greater part of the street grid lay between the marketplace and the settlement around St. Martin's and incorporated six east-west streets, not as rigorously parallel as the north-south series. It seems that most burgage plots were laid out with frontages on one or other of the latter series, though changes over the centuries make it difficult to be sure. The dampness of the soil added a challenge to house-building and archaeology has shown that dry material was brought in and dumped prior to developing some sites; it may be that this problem inhibited expansion of the city south-eastwards, as well as necessitating some system for rubbish disposal, since digging pits to dispose of waste was not practicable (almost none have been found by archaeologists).

A document of 1269, marking the division of the city into three parishes of roughly equal size, shows that settlement had already spread beyond the initial grid: notably, north up Castle Street into a suburban area, west across the river creating another suburb, east along Winchester Street, and south down to New Street (first referenced in the mid-1260s) and later across the south end bridge into a suburb; a third church had had to be built to serve residents in the northern part of the city. An adjustment was made to the marketplace as part of this reorganization, so that it lay partly in the existing St. Thomas' parish and partly in the new parish of St. Edmund's. If the city's ditch enclosure, approved by the royal charter of 1227, had already been in place at that point, then this expansion could have been an anticipated possibility, even if streets and plots had not been laid out from the outset; on the other hand, part of the original ditch may have been enlarged, although not drastically, since the church of St. Martin's was always outside it. Most probably the royal charter of 1227 indicates the completion of an original episcopal site plan, even though construction of the cathedral would continue for several more decades and not all burgage plots had yet found tenants. It is unclear whether the plan incorporated – from the lesson learned at Old Sarum – the channels running along the middle of the streets to supply water (fed from the millstream dug off the river) to residents, while also combatting flooding of the flat, marshy site; one running past the south side of the marketplace was sufficiently wide and deep to require bridges, and was probably intended to deal with noxious run-off from the meat and fish shambles, which were assigned to that side of the marketplace. Though we cannot date these channels with confidence, the fact that the streets were designed with a somewhat greater width than in most medieval towns suggests that the water supply system was part of the original intent.

A little more than a century after its foundation, Salisbury was ranked as the ninth wealthiest provincial town in England. Its growth in size, population, and prosperity continued into the Late Middle Ages: its tax assessment in 1334 was over four times as large as any other Wiltshire town and the poll tax of 1377 recorded 3,226 contributors, ranking it sixth among provincial towns in number of tax-payers (although poll tax data is of limited reliability). Growth took the form both of extension of settlement areas around the peripheries and intensification within the city core. Not all parts of the planned layout were heavily built up before the late fourteenth century, archaeology has shown, some plots being used for gardens, storage, or industrial work areas; for instance, fullers' racks occupied a number of sites, while bronze foundries have been found at two locations at the eastern edge of the city – typical residences in the eastern chequers seem to have been of a cottage sort, suggesting this was where many of the poorer townspeople lived.

Unsurprisingly, intensification focused primarily around the main routes into the city centre and around the marketplace, one manifestation of the latter being that rows of stalls in the marketplace or adjacent streets were developed into permanent structures with shop below and living quarters above, retaining names – such as Butcher Row, Old Poultry, and Ironmonger Row – that show their original character. A number of market cross structures, such as the Poultry Cross, were erected to gather vendors of particular products, who were expected to stick to their designated locations. We have to be cautious in drawing conclusions from such names, however, as illustrated by a marketplace-fronting property known as Cheese Corner, for it was named after its owner, John Cheese (mayor in 1290), although his surname may point to a focus of his business, cheese being one of the leading products of the county. By contrast, reference in a grant of 1349 [Trinity Hospital Deeds, Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, 1446/15], to a shop across from that part of the market where the wheelwrights were based, seems less equivocal. It may not be coincidence that grain was sold on the side of the marketplace closest to the town mill on the Avon.

The significance of the marketplace to the city is reflected in the erection there, in opposite corners, of both the bishop's Guildhall – where the court's jurisdiction at first included market matters – and the citizens' Council House; the former was in place by the early fourteenth century and the latter by 1406, as civic administration matured and continued its struggle against episcopal overlordship. A merchant gild had existed from the early years of the city, but political aspirations of the community seem to have focused, within a couple of generations, around a mayor and, following the 1306 settlement of the episcopal-citizen disputes, the gild was obliged to take more of a back-seat role as a socio-religious association. One of the bones of contention was control of the market and its profits. The civic assembly acquired responsibility for enacting market regulations, although punishing breaches of those regulations, and the assizes of bread and ale, lay with the bishop's court; the 1306 agreement acknowledged that all revenues from market administration belonged to him. The mayor is later seen with the power to discipline offenders against craft gild regulations, and control of market profits would again become a disputed matter in the fifteenth century.



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Created: December 31, 2018. Last update: July 8, 2019
© Stephen Alsford, 2018-2019