Like all cathedrals, the walls and floors of Salisbury are filled with memorials, tombs and epitaphs to the great, the good and the now completely obscure. Behind each one lies a story; of national disasters, heroes, saints, war poets and prisoners. Here are just a few of them.
The Salisbury Rail Crash 1906
On July 1st in 1906, 28 people were killed and 7 were injured when the Plymouth to Waterloo train approached a curve in the tracks at Salisbury Train Station at 70mph, despite a 30mph limit, and crashed into the London to Yeovil milk train, which crashed into a stationary goods train. The noise is said to have woken up the townspeople, fire broke out and the scene was of total destruction, with mangled and burnt corpses strewn around the area. The train was full of American passengers who had docked at Plymouth, and included a prominent New York lawyer who lost his entire family in the crash - you can see the five Sentell names on the memorial.
The ladies waiting room on Platform 4 was used as a morgue for the following week, and others were turned into first aid rooms.
The crash is the worst to have happened in Salisbury and the reason for the excessive speed is still unknown - the papers at the time say that the Americans would offer the driver money to get them to London as quickly as possible, which may have been the case, although there is no way of knowing. Trains did not have speedometers at the time, and drivers would tend to approach the station at speed to get a good run up the hill. A 15mph speed limit was put in place for trains leaving Salisbury Station after the crash, which is still in force today.
Sir Edward Heath 1916 - 2005
Former Prime Minister (1970 1974) and resident of the Cathedral Close, Ted Heath was buried here in 2005. His funeral was attended by his political arch enemy, Margaret Thatcher, who had offered him a seat in her Shadow Cabinet which he permanently refused, in what the press at the time called 'the long sulk'.
He was also an author, musician, sailor and collector of fine things. His house in the Close, Arundells, is open to the public and is well worth a visit. His tomb is near the south transept.
Henry Fawcett 1833 - 1884
Henry Fawcett was an MP, Postmaster General and husband to suffragist Millicent Fawcett.
He was born and lived in Salisbury, was blinded in a shooting accident on Harnham Hill just a few miles away from the cathedral, and frequently returned to the city throughout his life. The cathedral has a plaque to him, his sister and one to both of his parents, who lived in the Cathedral Close. You can read more about Henry Fawcett and his life in Salisbury, as well as follow a walking trail of the Salisbury places in his life here >>
St Osmund ? - 1099
Osmund was a Norman nobleman who arrived in England with William the Conqueror. Chancellor of the realm in 1070 and a chief commissioner for the Domesday Book, he was made Bishop of Salisbury in 1078. He was responsible for the completion of the first cathedral, the foundations of which you can see in present day Old Sarum, and was buried there when he died in 1099. His remains were transferred to the 'new' cathedral in 1226.
He was made a saint in 1457 by Pope Callistus III and was the last English person to be declared a saint until the canonization of Saints Thomas More and John Fisher in 1935. He is the patron saint of of insanity; mental illness; paralysis; ruptures and toothache, which seems oddly specific.
After his canonisation, a magnificent shrine was built in his honour, which was subsequently destroyed in the English Reformation, when the worship of saints was forbidden. All that remains is his tomb, which has moved between several locations around the cathedral. The holes in the side are foramina, which were to enable people to reach in to get closer to the body of the saint to receive its healing powers.
Richard Brassey Hole 1819 - 1849
There is a very simple plaque to Richard Brassey Hole MD, resident of The Close, who died at the age of 30 of cholera. Cholera was prevalent in Victorian England, but Salisbury suffered particularly badly and with one in 45 citizens afflicted, Salisbury in fact suffered more than any other English city of comparable size.
The reason for this was that Salisbury at that time was filled with water courses which ran through virtually every street in the city, giving it the nickname 'The Venice of England'.
Built around 1220, these channels supplied water and drainage for the inhabitants, but by the early 19th century they had become little more than open sewers. The local paper, The Salisbury Journal, had deliberately hidden the severity of the outbreak from its readers, until an editorial in the London Times revealed the truth.
Richard Hole MD was a surgeon who worked at the Salisbury Infirmary, where over 1300 cholera sufferers were hospitalised; it was perhaps inevitable that he could also fall victim to the same illness.
His son William, who was only 2 when his father died, went on to become an artist, best known today for illustrating books by Robert Louis Stevenson, J. M. Barrie and Robert Burns.
Andrew Bogle Middleton 1819 - 1879
It was another Salisbury physician, Andrew Middleton, who ensured that the water courses were eventually filled in, the outbreak of 1849 being clustered around water courses and rivers having persuaded him that they were responsible for carrying the disease. Also a resident of the Cathedral Close, he wrote a paper and contributed to a public enquiry, writing in 1868, ‘
I shall always be happy to plead guilty to any charge of having caused the destruction of the “English Venice”, since by that destruction a “New Salisbury” has been created, and very many hundreds of human beings saved from untimely death'.
There is a stained glass window in the cathedral in memory of Andrew Middleton.
It shows the biblical King Hezekiah who cut the Siloam tunnel to provide Jerusalem with a water supply, as well as Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well at Sychar, in Samaria, with the words
"To the Glory of God and loving memory of Andrew Bogle Middleton born Oct 8th 1819: died Dec 13th, 1879. "
There is a plaque to him and his first wife in the north cloister of the cathedral.
His idea about filling in the water courses were so controversial that the Salisbury Mayor would not allow the public enquiry to be held in the Guildhall, so instead it was held in the Assembly Rooms (now Waterstones, where there is a blue plaque to him). Middleton's ideas were supported by the Inspector for Public Health, and the water courses were replaced in 1852 - 1875.
It is worth noting that Middleton’s work preceded that of John Snow who is credited with discovering its method of transmission in 1854, that of Louis Pasteur who discovered the bacteria in 1864, and that of Robert Koch who discovered the bacterium Vibrio cholerae in 1884.
Andrew Middleton truly is an unsung hero.
Edward Wyndham Tennant 1897 - 1916
The eldest of three sons of Lord Glenconner who had been an MP for Salisbury, Edward was educated at nearby Winchester College, joining the Grenadier Guards at the outbreak of World War I. After training in London then nearby Bovington Camp, he was sent to France, where he was killed by a sniper on the Somme at the age of 19. He is one of the War Poets, producing several poems about life in France before his untimely death.
He was clearly a popular man; above his memorial is an additional plaque which states:
When things were at their worst he would go up and down in the trenches cheering the men, when danger was greatest his smile was loveliest.
His two brothers went on to make the most of the Roaring Twenties, with both of them being front and centre of the 'Bright Young Things'. His brother Stephen was said to be the 'brightest of them all' and the inspiration for characters in Brideshead Revisited and Love in a Cold Climate, his brother David was founder of the Gargoyle Club in Soho.
Do you know what these rats eat? Body-meat!
After you’ve been down a week, an’ your cheek
Gets as pale as life, and night seems as white
As the day, only the rats and their brats
Seem more hungry when the day’s gone away
The Mad Soldier June 13th, 1916, 3 months before his death
Rex Whistler 1905 - 1944
The memorial to Rex Whistler, killed in action in World War II, is a glass prism of the cathedral, crafted by his brother, the famous glass engraver, Laurence Whistler.
The prism is in the Morning Chapel in the northeast transept. It slowly revolves, each turn creating a new image of the cathedral.
Both of the Whistler brothers have a connection with the Cathedral, with their parents living in the Walton Canonry in the Close, where there is now a blue plaque dedicated to them.
Rex Whistler was a painter, designer and illustrator who had studied at the Slade School of Art, where he became best friends with Stephen Tennant. His works include the (now controversial) café of the Tate Gallery, society portraits of the 'Bright Young Things' and he also painted the mural in nearby Mottisfont House, his last artwork before his death.
He served in the Guards Armoured Division during World War II, and was killed in France by a mortar bomb as he was going to the aid of some his men, just a month after D-Day.
Sir Robert Hyde 1595 - 1665
Born in Heale House in the village of Woodford just outside Salisbury (which has beautiful gardens open to the public), Sir Robert was a judge and recorder of Salisbury. He was a loyalist during the Civil War, who helped saved the cathedral from the Roundheads, and was imprisoned in the Tower of London until the Restoration, when he resumed his previous occupation.
He died suddenly in 1665, probably of the Plague, which had spread to Salisbury from London, Southampton and Winchester. Just a few months later, King Charles II and his court fled to Salisbury to escape the plague in London, before they then moved on to Oxford when the plague spread further throughout Salisbury.
Translation of Sir Robert Hyde's Memorial:
A man of primitive manners, a protector of destitute Widows, most observant of the laws, and an avenger of them when broken : he was not dismayed at the disorder of the state; in public calms and storms the same. At length justice revisiting the land, emulous of his paternal uncle, and his exalted paternal cousin, he rose by due steps to the highest state of his profession Chief Justice of England. Perhaps you may enquire whether captivity in the Tower was more honorable to him, than the tribunal purple; where being intimately acquainted with the common and statute law, he was a faithful guardian to both, an asylum to the people, and protector of the clergy.
Richard Colt Hoare 1758 - 1838
Looking rather like an elderly woman in her dressing gown, the statue of Richard Colt Hoare is in the north transept.
Traveller, artist, antiquarian and owner of the magnificent Stourhead estate in west Wiltshire, he is primarily remembered for his work as a Wiltshire archaeologist.
In 1785 he had an annus horibillis losing his wife, a son and his career, so he started to travel - grand tours of Europe were followed by explorations across England and Wales, ending with his own county of Wiltshire.
Developing an interest in its history, he excavated 379 barrows on Salisbury Plain, was the first archaeologist to excavate Stonehenge, and bought Glastonbury Tor, repairing the tower on the top.
He pursued the scientific in a time of gothic romance, his motto being "We Speak from Facts not Theory". His seminal work was The Ancient History of Wiltshire, written between 1810 - 1821, which played a critical role in the development of archaeology as a science.
He suffered from rheumatic gout in his later years but was described as "always cheerful and resigned, he conversed with vivacity and pleasure on his antiquarian pursuits". He is buried in the small church at Stourton on the Stourhead estate, which is now owned by the National Trust and open to the public.
Susan Elizabeth Gilbret Harris 1936 - 1956
Over the entrance to the ticket office from the cathedral cloisters is an angel with a trumpet engraved into the glass, with the words "In memory of Susan Gilbret Harris who gave her life to save that of another".
In 1956, Susan Harris was a 20 year old trainee teacher at Sarum St. Michael College (now Salisbury Museum) in the Close.
She was out riding her bike by The Old Mill when she saw a 9 year old boy struggling in the water, shouting for help. Being a strong swimmer she went to his rescue and although she managed to reach him, they were both sucked under the weir, and Susan did not reappear. The 9 year old was saved by a passing teenage boy.
Her shoes and bike were left on the bank and her body was recovered the following day. She was posthumously awarded the Queens Commendation for Brave Conduct.
The angel in the cathedral is not the only memorial to her; in 2008 a bench with a plaque in her memory was installed at the place where she drowned (you can find it at w3w: sofa.risen.curry)
Arthur Corfe Angel 1846 - 1866
On the south wall of the Cloisters is a memorial to Mr A .T. Corfe, organist of Salisbury Cathedral, and underneath that is one to Arthur Corfe Angel, his grandson. Arthur was an officer on board the SS London, a British steamship which sank in the Bay of Biscay in 1866.
Overloaded with a heavy cargo and caught in a terrible storm, only 19 of the 263 people onboard survived. The last thing that survivors heard was the hymn, Rock of Ages, coming from the ship, before the ship swiftly sank.
Messages in bottles were later found on the French coast from those who had died, such as one from a Mr. H.F.D. Denis who wrote, "Adieu, father, brothers and sisters, and my dear Edith. Steamer London, Bay of Biscay. Ship too heavily laden for its size, and too crank. Windows stove in. Water coming in everywhere. God bless my poor orphans. Storm not too violent for a ship in good condition.
Arthur Corfe Angel also has a memorial plaque in Exeter Cathedral, which describes him as a 'true hearted and dauntless sailor, counting duty more precious than life, he remained at his post to the last and was seen by the survivors with his hand still upon the engine of which he was in charge, calmly awaiting death when the waters closed over the ship'.
The tragedy was commemorated by the world's worst poet, William McGonagall, and I would urge you to read it for its sheer awfulness. You can read the full poem here, but here is a stanza to whet the appetite:
'Twas in the year of 1866, and on a very beautiful day,
That eighty-two passengers, with spirits light and gay,
Left Gravesend harbour, and sailed gaily away
On board the steamship "London,"
Bound for the city of Melbourne,
Which unfortunately was her last run,
Because she was wrecked on the stormy main,
Which has caused many a heart to throb with pain,
Because they will ne'er look upon their lost ones again.
Want to read about other things to look at in the Cathedral? Try our Definitive Guide to Salisbury Cathedral which has everything you need to know.
Want to read about more of the memorials, including their translations? Try this free online book written in 1825.
Visiting Salisbury Cathedral
Getting to Salisbury Cathedral
Train: There are regular trains from cities such as London and Bath. Book your tickets 12 weeks in advance to get the largest discounts. Salisbury train station is an easy 10 minute walk to the cathedral, or you can get a taxi from the taxi rank outside the station - no pre-booking required.
Bus: There are regular buses into and around Salisbury with several bus stops just outside the Cathedral Close. Find your bus >>
Car: It is not advisable to park in the Cathedral Close. Instead your best bet is to park in the central car park at SP1 3SL and walk the 5 minutes to the cathedral. If you are coming from out of town, consider using one of the Park & Ride sites, as traffic in Salisbury can be busy and confusing at times.
Opening hours: Monday - Saturday, 9.30 - 5pm
You can book in advance or just show up - tickets are cheaper if you book in advance.
Adults: £8 advance, £9 on the day
Students (13-18 years): £5 advance, £6 on the day
Children under 13: Free
Residents in SP1, SP2 and Laverstock: Free (with proof of residence)