A walk around the Cathedral Close, Salisbury
A gentle walk around Salisbury's historic Cathedral Close.
Start your walk at the front of Mompesson House. The Close surrounding the Cathedral was originally built to house the clergy. Today the majority of houses are leased from the Cathedral by private residents. Turn right and walk towards the corner of Chorister’s Green.
It was under Bishop Richard Poore in 1220 that the building of Salisbury's new cathedral commenced, replacing the cathedral at Old Salisbury (Old Sarum), two miles north of the city. The main part of the Cathedral was built between 1220 and 1258, with the cloisters, chapter house, bell tower and west front completed by the 1270s.
Turn left and walk down the West Walk. On your right is the Wardrobe, now the home of the Rifles (Berkshire and Wiltshire) Museum. Its use as the Bishop’s store during the 14th and 15th centuries lends it its name. Next door is Arundells, the home of former Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath from 1985–2005.
The house has its origins as a medieval canonry and during the 17th century its lease was taken on by Sir Richard Mompesson, whose descendants would go on to build Mompesson House.
Half way down the West Walk you get a spectacular view of the west front of the cathedral. A little further down West Walk is the King’s House, the home of Salisbury and South Wilts Museum. Continue along the West Walk, passing the Walton Canonry, leased by the artist Rex Whistler in the 1930s, and Leaden Hall, depicted by the artist John Constable in a painting of 1820. He stayed here with his friend Archdeacon John Fisher.
The King's House
The King’s House dates back to the 13th century and was the inspiration for an episode in Thomas Hardy’s novel 'Jude the Obscure'.
At the end of the West Walk is the South Canonry, the home of the Bishop of Salisbury. Turn left here, walking past the car park to one of the four original gates in The Close wall, the Harnham Gate. The Close gates are still locked every evening.
The West Walk leading to the South Canonry
The current building dates mainly from 1890, although the orginal canonry may have been built between 1226 and 1244 by Stephen of Tisbury, archdeacon of Wilts.
Go through the gate into De Vaux Place and continue straight on. (If you don’t have time for the full walk, turn left here to return to Mompesson House via the west front of the Cathedral.)
Harnham Gate dates from the middle of the 14th century.
Where De Vaux Place meets St Nicholas Road, turn right to take a short detour to the Ayleswade Bridge. Take in the view across the River Avon with Harnham Hill in the distance.
Salisbury gained a license for its market in 1219. Until 1244 travellers from the west and south had to pass through Wilton to cross the river. The Ayleswade Bridge, built here at Harnham to cross two branches of the Avon, is said to have led to the demise of Wilton and Old Sarum as it provided a more convenient route into the city.
Return back the way you’ve just come, turning right to walk alongside The Close wall.
The close wall
Edward III gave permission for The Close to be walled in 1327. Stone from Old Sarum was used in its construction.
At the roundabout, turn left following The Close wall back towards the city centre. Along this section of the wall, you may be able to spot masons' marks, left by the original builders of the wall. As you walk along Exeter Street you pass entrances to the Cathedral School, housed in the original Bishop’s Palace, and then Bishop Wordsworth's School, where the Nobel-prize-winning author William Golding taught during the 1940s and 1950s.
At the south end of Exeter Street it is possible to spot markings left by those who built The Close wall.
Turn left through St Ann’s Gate to re-enter the Cathedral Close. On your right is Malmesbury House, with a splendid sundial on its south wall. Continue walking along the North Walk passing Sarum College. A college of theology has stood on this site since medieval times.
The sundial, put up in 1749, uses the Julian calendar. It bears the motto, 'Life is but a walking shadow'.
Cross Chorister’s Green to arrive back at Mompesson House. Why not visit the house, garden or tea-room? (Open Sat–Wed, 11am–5pm, last admission 4.30pm, Mar–Nov.)
Mompesson House was built in 1701 by Charles Mompesson, a local MP. His initials can be seen above the gate.
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