Battlefield History Tours

Battlefield History Tours
Incorporating History and Heritage tours

Cathedrals and Abbeys of England on 6 September 2019


We woke to overcast skies and the treat of rain. As we were sitting having breakfast in the dining room of the Grasmere House Hotel, the rain started and was quite heavy. Enough to make the hotel’s old cat forget about stalking the pigeons and to scurry back into the hotel. I was not happy about the rain at that time as at 0900 we were to walk the kilometre to the Cathedral as there is no parking for our coach anywhere closer and the route to the Cathedral although very pretty passing old thatched cottages and walled gardens, is in the open with no cover at all.

Our day was going to be memorable and adventurous, as are most days when one travels with Battlefield History Tours. So, 0900 comes and we are ready and gather outside the hotel in the car park before setting off. As the rain had ceased, we decided to take a punt and leave umbrellas on the coach. The walk to Salisbury Cathedral from Grassmere House Hotel take you past a very old pub, a series of thatched cottages, over the river via the toll bridge, through a lane between beautiful old cottages and walled gardens before breaking out in the open with that magnificent Cathedral there in front of us with its very high spire. A breathtaking view. We skirted the Cathedral through the attached parklands and entered via the side door, paid our "donation", admission is not referred to as a cost and entered the Cathedral.

Once inside we were met by James who was to be our guide for our tour of the Cathedral. The Cathedral is of Early English Gothic which takes it away from the Norman or Romanesque style. Foundations were put down in 1220 and the Cathedral was completed and then consecrated 36 years later. The foundations lay on a bed of gravel 28 feet thick which makes it much more stable and does not have the issues that caused Winchester to need reparation work. The spire is the highest in the UK, Lincoln was higher but its spire collapsed many years ago and there was another Cathedral with a higher spire, but it was burnt down. The spire at Salisbury weighs 6,400 Tonnes.

William 1st in his promise to build 20 Cathedral first built a Cathedral on the site of a mighty Iron Age hillfort that crowns a ridge and offers now sweeping views towards Salisbury. Salisbury was not there at the time the Cathedral, at Old Sarum, the name of the hillfort, but once Williams Cathedral was commenced in 1092 and the completed, the town of Salisbury was founded. However, in 1217 Bishop Richard Poore petitioned the Pope to remove his Cathedral to a new site due to Old Sarum being without water and being too exposed. The stones from Old Sarum were used for the foundations of the new Cathedral.

Building changes and extensions have been carried out over the centuries with each Bishop adding their wants to the structure. This work still goes on today and in 1980 there was a new glass window installed in the Chapel by Gabriel Loire of Chartres for all who had suffered for their beliefs in the 20th Century entitled, “Prisoners of Conscience”. A photo of this stained glass window is included in the attached photos. More recently the font by William Pye, with its flowing water, dramatically focuses baptism at the heart of Christian faith and worship.

Lady Jane Gray's sister and her husband Edward Seymour are interned in the Cathedral. The Cathedral name comes from the ancient Greek, Cathedra, Seat of Power. Where the Bishop has his seat, it is therefore called a Cathedral. A Minster does not have a Seat of Power. Only York Minster and Westminster Minster can be also called Cathedrals as both have a Seat of Power.

Our visit to the Cathedral was a great success and James was most pleased with the number of questions put to him and we even lead him to areas of the Cathedral where he had not been or not visited regularly. One such area was the Chapel for the Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment. Andrew noticed the second Queen’s Colours on the wall, we had seen one previously, so we went to have a look to find both the Queen’s Colours and the Regimental Colours of the Regiment. Our visit came to an end, we said farewell to James and made our way to the Refectory where we had a cup of tea and lunch, plus a look at the Gift Shop.

After lunch our adventurous day started with 2 visits which were outside our original itinerary. A visit to Old Sarum and to try to find an ancient Saxon Church south of Salisbury. Our first stop was at Old Sarum. The Hillfort had been extended and fortified further by William 1st as it was a very impressive defensive position from which he could control the area from miles around. The Iron Age dry moat around the position is very deep and on top of the moat, William had erected very high and thick walls. It is interesting to note that even though gun powder was not discovered, all the walls in the castle and other buildings were very thick indeed. Most has been destroyed but also there is enough there for the archaeologists to piece together what the castle actually looked like.

The rain kept threatening us, but did not break and we pushed on to try to find St Mary Church at Breamore. Find it we did. It is a beautiful Saxon Church with a central tower dating back to 1000AD. The door was open and we entered an ancient world. The Church is in spectacular condition following its age and organisation within. On the front gate was a sign stating that within the cemetery that surrounds the Church, there is one grave controlled by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. We tried to find the grave but it was not until Mr Richard Williams drove up we were able to find the grave. Richard was also the Church Warder and was able to take us to that grave.

We made a donation to the church said goodbye to Richard and headed back towards Salisbury.

Tomorrow, 2 Abbeys and a Military Museum, should be a great day.


Graham Fleeton


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