In my Salisbury Cathedral Pt 2 review I gave James Wyatt a bit of a rough time for his so-called improvements to the church, but I’m going to give ’Wrecker’ Wyatt a bit of credit here for a change.
Between 1789 and 1792 he embarked on his mission to improve the Cathedral and its surroundings including the churchyard which was situated in an area of swampy marshland. He removed the tombstones, drained the swamp, and created a landscape fit for a Cathedral.
It now stands in the centre of a large enclosed Green known as ‘The Close’, which is entered by one of three gates – the North Gate, St. Ann’s Gate, and Harnham Gate. Inside these gates is an oasis of peace and tranquillity no matter how many people come to visit the Cathedral. This is the largest Close in England with plenty of room for everyone and the buildings surrounding it are an absolute architectural delight. They’ve evolved over the centuries into a harmonious composition of different styles.
I would imagine most people will enter The Close through the North Gate, and so I’ll begin here with what you can see. On your immediate left is a building with a crest and a small octagonal tower which is the College of Matrons, an almshouse founded for the widows of the clergy in 1682. It’s possible, but not certain, that the architect was Sir Christopher Wren, who was born at East Knoyle, thirty miles away.
On the right-hand side is the attractive Chorister’s Green which includes Mompesson House, built in 1701 for local MP Charles Mompesson, and now in the care of the National Trust. Talking of MPs, if you carry on up West Walk past the Rifles (Berkshire and Wiltshire) Museum, you’ll come to Arundells, a medieval house rebuilt in the 18th century, and the home of former Prime Minister Edward Heath.
Further along West Walk at No 63 is The King’s House, so called because of its connections with King James I, and now the home of the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum.
The £8 entrance fee (July 2018) is a bit steep for a provincial museum, but it would be a shame if you were to miss the Wessex Gallery because of it.
This £2.4m gallery was opened in July 2014 to house an amazing local archaeological collection spanning around 500,000 years from the Stone Age through to the Middle Ages.
The area around Salisbury, Stonehenge and South Wiltshire have given up some nationally important finds from the Beaker period, and some, such as the ‘Amesbury Archer’, are of international importance. According to experts he was buried around 2300 BC with his possessions, including the oldest gold objects found in Britain.
Walking around the south end of the Cathedral will bring you to Salisbury Cathedral School. This building was the original Bishop’s Palace which has undergone various changes over the years since it was built in the early 13th century.
To complete the circuit, walk along the Bishop’s Walk to North Walk. Turning right will lead you to St. Ann’s Gate, and going left will return you back to Chorister’s Green and the North Gate
Wrecker Wyatt was guilty of some terrible mistakes where Salisbury Cathedral is concerned – but clearing the swamp full of gravestones and helping to create this marvellous setting for it, wasn’t one of them.