Wednesday, 25 January 2012

The Old Sarum

Earlier this week I visited the Old Sarum in Salisbury.

It is an English Heritage site (website so it did cost to get it but it was a reasonable £3.70.

The site combines evidence of a royal castle and a cathedral within an Iron Age fortification.

The earliest fortification was believed to have been around 400BC.  Once the Romans arrived the Old Sarum begins to appear in the historic records as Sorviodunum, it was occupied intermittently during the early Middle Ages when its defences were an advantage during the Danish wars of the early 11th Century.

It was William the Conqueror who decided in about 1070 to build a royal castle in the middle of the site.  He divided the old hillfort in two which created an inner set of fortifications (a complex of towers, halls and apartments with a huge outer bailey).  The hillfort was also to be the site of a new cathedral built under the instructions of Bishop Roger (1102-39).  The result was a very grand castle and cathedral.

However in 1220 the cathedral was moved to the village below, Salisbury.  This left only a handful of people living in the castle much beyond 1400.

The Old Sarum lived on though as a notorious 'rotten borough' it continued to elect members of Parliament until 1832.

There are three major things to see at the Old Sarum, these are the earthworks of the Iron Age hillfort, the inner stronghold of the Norman castle and the remains of the cathedral.

The Oath of Sarum

The Anglo Saxon Chronical states that on Lammas Day 1086 William the Conqueror came to Old Sarum with his council, and he was joined by all the landholding men of any importance from all of England, they all bowed down to him and became his men, they all swore oaths of fealty to him.

The Oath was an act of great theatre to assert William's right to the loyalty of his subjects but also an administrative exercise, an affirmation of the post Conquest patterns of landholding enshrined in Doomsday.

It won't take you a whole day to visit, probably just a couple of hours to walk round it all but it is well worth a visit.

Old Sarum info



  1. I think the gathering in 1086 was known as 'the Great Gemot' - 'Gemot' being an old English word for parliament. J K Rowling uses the word in 'Wizen Gemot' to mean the wizard parliament.

  2. Greetings Tansy - from a fellow kitchen witch! I leave near Old Sarum too - its been a while since I last visited - you've inspired me to pop along again.

  3. Hey Magickdiva!

    What a fabulous part of the country to live. Glad I inspired you. Have just had a peek at your blog too - lovely, have signed up :-)


  4. Nice photos. I think this would be a place I would like to see to. I was just reading about Guillaume le Bâtard on-line, and it seems that this Oath of Sarum was more or less a pro-forma kind of thing, because by the time the Domesday was published, less than 8% of the aristocracy was still Saxon.