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.
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.
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.
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.