A SELF GUIDED WALKING TOUR OF HISTORIC SALISBURY
As one of England’s medieval cities, Salisbury in Wiltshire is an ideal destination for culture enthusiasts. We have put together a walk of all of the free heritage sites in this market town, which you can complete in a few hours, or in a day if you want plenty of time for relaxing, dining and further exploration.
The cathedral city of Salisbury often crops up under travel headlines such as the 'loveliest town in England' (Telegraph) or one of the 'Top Ten Cities to visit in the World' (Lonely Planet) as well as the Best Place to live in England 2019 (Sunday Times). With accolades like this, its fame as the home to Salisbury Cathedral with the tallest spire in England, and the nearest city to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Stonehenge, it is no surprise that the city receives many tourists throughout the year.
There is more to Salisbury than the Cathedral and its Close, with other historic sites dotted around the town, particularly medieval ones. We have put together a one day itinerary for those looking to see the best that Salisbury has to offer for the history enthusiast, all of which are free to visit. The itinerary focuses on the historic centre of the city, avoiding some of the places where city planners have not been kind to the area.
Locations of the venues are given using what3words.
Start your tour at the church of St. Thomas and St. Edmund, which is a 9 minute walk away from the train station.
THE CHURCH OF ST. THOMAS BECKETT
what3words: speak.caked.cross Cost: Free, but please do leave a donation if you can
The church is as old as the city, with a wooden structure on the site to serve as the place of worship for the builders of the cathedral. The current church mostly dates from the 15th century, and although the interior has undergone some changes over the years, you can still see the medieval wall paintings showing the badges of the guilds.
There are some fascinating objects in the church, but what stands out the most is the Doom Painting above the chancel, which is the largest and best preserved one in England. It was painted around 1470 and has recently been restored. Doom paintings were once a common feature in churches, an ever present reminder to the congregation as to what the afterlife could have in store for them.
Read more about the Doom painting and what it means here >>
When you leave St. Thomas’ turn left out of the church, walk around the corner to the Haunch of Venison.
THE HAUNCH OF VENISON
what3words: quarrel.prime.heave Cost: Free unless you buy food or drink here
One of the regions oldest hostelries, the pub dates back over 700 years with its first recorded use being in 1320 to house workmen who were working on the cathedral’s spire. The huge oak beams throughout the pub actually pre-date the building by several hundred years and come from sailing ships.
At the front of the pub is a ‘horsebox’ bar, called a ‘Ladies snug’ as it dates back to when women were not allowed in public drinking houses. The pewter top of the bar counter is one of only six left in the country, and the arch of gravity fed spirit taps are one of only five left in the country. It was here that Churchill and Eisenhower are said to have met to plan D-Day in 1944, when nearby Wilton House was Southern Command for the invasion.
The pub also has a former bread oven which houses a smoke preserved mummified hand holding 18th century playing cards, which was found when the building was undergoing some modifications in 1911. Reputedly the hand of a card player who was caught cheating and had it chopped off and thrown in a fire, it has been stolen several times from the pub, but always found its way back, where it is now under lock and key.
The pub has a secret tunnel which leads to St. Thomas’ church, which is said to date from the days when the pub was a brothel, as well as a secret bar that is only occasionally opened to the public. It is also said to be one of the most haunted pubs in England, haunted by the ‘Demented Whist Player’ as well as several other ghosts.
As well as a fascinating historic place to stop for a drink, there is a restaurant that serves some excellent food. It is independently owned and so perfect for the Slow Traveller. Find out more >>
Opposite the Haunch of Venison is the Poultry Cross, less than a 30 second walk away.
THE POULTRY CROSS
what3words: goods.woods.times Cost: Free
Poultry Cross is a Grade I listed market cross, one of four which once stood in Salisbury, the others being a cheese cross, Barnards Cross (livestock) and a wool cross. They all marked the venues of the markets in the city. Salisbury was granted a market charter in 1227 and there has been a market cross on the site since 1307.
The structure you see today dates back to the 15th century with some 19th century additions. On Tuesdays and Saturdays it is still surrounded by market stalls; otherwise it is used by locals as a meeting place or a good place to sit for a rest, or shelter if it is raining.
Walk through the narrow lane between buildings to reach the market square, it is less than a 30 second walk.
THE MARKET SQUARE
what3words: trace.ropes.ashes Cost: Free
Salisbury’s Market Square has been in continuous use since about 1269, and was larger than it currently is, as Fish Row, Ox Row, Butcher Row and Oatmeal Row have crept into the original space, probably built to hold permanent shops to replace the temporary stalls. Salisbury’s Market is still held on Tuesdays and Saturdays, as it has been for over 700 years.
The lime trees you see around the market square were planted in 1867 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. The square now is fronted on two sides by an eclectic mix of building styles and shops, many of which are cafes or pubs with large outdoor seating areas.
The Market Square has a statue to Henry Fawcett, husband to Millicent Garret Fawcett, author, politician and Postmaster. Read about his connection to Salisbury >>
THE GUILDHALL SQUARE
Next to the Market Square is the Guildhall Square, which contains the Guildhall and the war memorial. Erected after World War I in 1922, it was unveiled by TE Adlam, a Salisbury resident who was awarded the VC for his bravery in battle. It is Grade II listed and is somewhat unusual for war memorials as it is horizontal in style, with a bronze sculpture. The names of the fallen in World War II were added later. The memorial is still the focal point for remembrance services within the city.
Behind the memorial is the Guildhall, Salisbury’s civic building. There are a couple of rooms which are usually open to the public and which display works of art, the city’s silver, and an impressive oak court room. Unless there is an event on, you can just walk inside and ask to look at the rooms which are open to the public.
Read more about the Guildhall >>
When you leave the Guildhall, turn right. Opposite you is Queen Street. It is less than a ten second walk away.
what3words: minus.hint.legal Cost: Free
No. 8 Queen Street, the double gabled medieval house, was built in 1425 and restored in 1930.
The house is known as the House of John A’Port, a wool merchant who was Mayor of Salisbury six times and is one of the rich merchants houses which overlooked the market place.
Now a clothing shop, it still has a few original features, but has sadly covered up much of its wattle and daub walls. For these, you need to go next door to No. 9 Queen Street. Now a Cotswold Outdoor shop, go inside if it’s open and walk up to the first floor.
Here, there are some magnificent examples of original wattle and daub on display, the timber beams and brick walls showing the craftsmanship involved in the work. It is really worth a look.
Just a couple of shops down is the entrance to Cross Keys Mall. Go inside.
Ahead of you is a wonderful 17th century wooden Jacobean staircase. This is all that remains of Salisbury's rather exotic Turkish Baths, which were built in 1874. This Mall was once the yard of a popular pub, The Plume of Feathers, and the entrance to the baths was through a narrow passageway and up the stairs.
They were once the height of fashion and consisted of "Three hot rooms, maintained at 130°F, 170°F, and 230°F, and a shampooing room, all led off the cooling-room located on the first floor of the building. Additionally, there were hot baths and a range of spray, wave, and rose showers which could also be used by those not wishing to have a Turkish bath, and by those separately attending for hydropathic treatment or massage." (source)
The baths closed in 1912, the building demolished in 1974, and all that remains is the wonderful stairs and the balcony you see ahead of you.
Head south down Queen Street and turn right onto New Canal. Over the road you will see the Odeon. It is less than a 2 minute walk.
THE HOUSE OF JOHN HALLE/THE ODEON CINEMA
what3words: police.merit.hosts Cost: Free unless you choose to watch a film
Built in 1470, this building was once the home to John Halle, a local wool merchant, mayor and Member of Parliament for Salisbury. The frontage that you see is actually mock Tudor and was added in 1881 by Pugin; you need to go inside to see the Grade I listed medieval hall.
You don’t need a ticket to go in and see the hallway, so it is worth popping in for a minute to admire the medieval fireplace, beamed ceiling, stained glass windows and swords and spears which decorate the walls. The cinema also runs free guided tours once a week, or you could even book a ticket to see a film there.
Read about doing a tour behind the scenes of the Odeon >>
As you leave the Odeon, turn right and walk two minutes up New Canal Street.
THE RED LION
Photograph © The Red Lion Hotel
what3words: marked.modern.fakes Cost: Free unless you buy food or drink
The first thing you will notice about the Red Lion Hotel is the stunning entrance. Through the coaching doors you can see a small stone courtyard with ivy draped down the medieval walls, wrought iron tables and chairs dotted around and an abundance of plants. The effect is spectacular.
The Red Lion has the distinction of being the longest running, purpose built hotel in the country. Built to house the draughstmen and stone masons working on the cathedral, when the cathedral was finished, the ‘White Bear Inn’ was then used to house visitors to the cathedral and the city of Salisbury.
The building has been altered and embellished throughout the years, with the south wing being the oldest part, full of timbered beams and some wattle and daub and a medieval fireplace. Outside the inn was the local Cage and Ducking stool, as one of Salisbury’s watercourses ran outside. This was a way of punishing short-changing shopkeepers, scolds and ‘disorderly women’, who would be dunked in the sewage filled water.
The building became The Red Lion in 1769, when the local postmaster took over the inn, and it became the main entrance for all of the mail coaches travelling to and from the city. The carvings on a clock in the main reception were carved by Spanish prisoners in Dartmoor Jail following the 1588 defeat of the Armada.
When you leave The Red Lion Hotel, turn left and then left again onto Catherine Street. Walk down Catherine Street then turn left into Ivy Street. Walk on, cross over at the crossroads and into Trinity Street. About halfway down on the left is the next destination, the Trinity Almshouses. It is about a four minute walk.