One Week in Salisbury

Originally published in HAFS Newsletter 11 February 1996, pp5-8: see One Week in Salisbury, by Judith Fitz-Henry [E.8.3a.5b.1c].

There’s nothing quite like an interest in family history to discover all sorts of interesting places and people on one’s travels; and from previous brief visits we knew there would be no place quite like Salisbury, in Wiltshire, for finding out more about the Hungerfords. Thus, my husband John and I spent a memorable week there last August [1995] in hot summer weather, exploring the town on foot and the surrounding country-side by car, where we saw hay being harvested in quantities not achieved since the summer of 1976. We met many interesting people, two in particular, Ron Mathieson 1 and Steve Slater, who helped us greatly in our Hungerford searches.

Salisbury Cathedral - Photo by Ross Donald, 2013
Salisbury Cathedral – Photo by Ross Donald, 2013

Salisbury Cathedral is set in parklands between the River Avon and the town. To appreciate once again the lovely views that Constable painted, we walked first to the Old Mill along the town path through the Water Meadows, and then made our way to the Cathedral, admiring the soaring spire, at 404 feet the tallest in all England, which is visible for miles around. Once inside the cathedral, we read the inscriptions on the Hungerford tombs on the north nave aisle, particularly that of Walter, 1st Lord Hungerford, Speaker to Parliament, Ambassador to the Council of Constance; who had fought at Agincourt with Henry V; was later executor to his will and Treasurer to Henry VI. He founded the Almshouses of the Hospital of St John, Heytesbury (of which more later) and died in 1449. Beside is the tomb of his wife, Catherine Peverell, and in the floor adjacent are the memorials to Sir Giles Hungerford of Coulston, fifth son of Sir Anthony Hungerford of Black Bourton, who died aged 70 years 6 months on 7 March 1684 and of Dame Margaret, relic of the said Sir Giles who died 4 December 1711.

All these tombs were originally in Walter, [1st] Lord Hungerford’s Chantry Chapel (now known as the Iron Chapel or “Iron Cage”) and were left in situ when the Chapel was relocated on the south choir aisle and restored by the Earl of Radnor as his family’s private pew in 1778. Both the Earl and his Countess were of Hungerford descent on the maternal line. The distinctive black heraldic shield divided by two white bands (silver bars) with three white spots (silver coins) [Blazon: Sable, two bars argent, and in chief three plates of the second] above, the device inherited by the Hungerfords from Walter, Lord Hungerford’s grandfather Sir Walter of Heytesbury’s marriage to Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Adam Fitz-John of Cherill, is prominently displayed on each upper corner. The interior heraldic ceiling which Ron Mathieson and Ron Prentice have had so much fun deciphering could only be seen with difficulty through the iron bars. Nearby is the relocated and still splendid stone effigy and ancient wooden casket of Robert, [2nd] Lord Hungerford, who died in 1459. He once had his own Chantry Chapel at the eastern end of the Cathedral in the Trinity Chapel until architect James Wyatt demolished it, and others, during the restoration works carried out between 1789 and 1792. We also spent some time in the Chapter House, where a medieval frieze of sculptures representing scenes from the first two books of the Bible are said to be one of the finest examples of medieval stone carving in Europe; and where you can see one of the four surviving original texts of Magna Carta, the agreement made between King John and the barons at Runnymede in 1215.

The next day we drove to Devizes, to find the Museum with the Library of the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society above, where the originals of the Jackson Papers are kept. Librarian Pamela Colman was on leave, so we were unable to thank her personally for all that she did for HAFS when we had these copied, after Ron and Joan Prentice discovered these bound volumes in 1992. We were invited to examine other shelves of Hungerford materials which would well repay closer study than we had time to give it. Perhaps the most exciting book we looked at was Sir Richard Colt Hoare’s own copy of the first edition of Hungerfordiana, the Memoirs of the Family of Hungerford, with original hand painted illustrations by Thomas Trotter. This large volume subsequently passed into the hands of one John Norice, whose library was sold up in 1844. Canon Jackson learnt that a Mr Thorpe had bought it, quickly located him and arranged to purchase the volume for fourteen pounds. Practically very page in it is now annotated in Jackson’s handwriting, the first entry reading: “The materials for this book were collected chiefly by Mr. Henry Wansey of Warminster though it was printed at the expense, and bears the name of Sir R.C. Hoare. Marginal corrections by J.E. Jackson” .2

None of these “corrections” would have been incorporated into the 100 copies of the 1823 edition of Hungerfordiana and may never have been properly studied. A treasure trove, indeed.

In addition, we saw a copy of the rare Repertorium Wiltonese 3, of which only 25 copies were printed by Richard Crutwell in 1821. Sir Richard Colt Hoare produced it “to facilitate enquiry into the Topography and Biography of Wiltshire”. It lists everybody who was anybody under the name of the reigning monarch from 1298 to 1552 and thus many Hungerfords appear – of course! Also to be seen are two volumes of Canon Jackson’s collection, veritable scrapbooks of historical material on many subjects. One that caught my eye was an 1884 letter to the Bath Chronicle all about the Wellesley family in England and Ireland, citing its origins near Wells where their estate was a “legh”, an open field or large pasture.

The following day was memorial indeed. After a visit to the Salisbury Library to list all Hungerford related materials held in the public libraires of Wiltshire, we met Ron and Anne Mathieson for lunch at Michael Snell’s restaurant and delicatessen opposite the old and lovely church of St Thomas and St Edmund. Ron is a Cathedral guide and most knowledgeable local historian, with abiding interest in heraldry, particularly in Salisbury. He is an expert on the Hungerfords although not of that descent himself, and has already shared much information with HAFS through his lively correspondence. It was so good to meet them both.

After lunch, leaving Anne to her own devices, we had a quick look inside St Thomas’s, then walked to the Cathedral where Ron was due at 2pm to conduct the tour we were to join. On the way, Ron was constantly pointing things out to us and advising us what else to see and do. In particular, he suggested that we should get in touch with Steve Slater of Andover who he said was a “real” expert in heraldic matters in Wiltshire generally and those pertaining to the Hungerfords in particular. All this we did in due course, but first the tour. It was fascinating – you should all have been with us! What a wealth of information we were given. We heard about the building of the Cathedral between 1220 and 1258 after it had been decided to leave the hill fort and town of Old Sarum, two miles to the north, for the plains below. Labourers carted down the stones from the old cathedral and other great buildings up there for re-use.

When the tower and famous spire were added to the new Cathedral 100 years later, the limitations of the marshland foundation became apparent. The load of 6,400 tons caused movement in the four main piers of the crossing. This can be observed by standing beside the Purbeck marble columns and looking upwards. We were assured that progressive strengthening had stabilised the structure so that there had been no further movements since Sir Christopher Wren had surveyed the tilt of the spire in 1668.

We were told one story after another about the treasures of the Cathedral and the lives commemorated there. We saw Sir Richard Colt Hoare perusing a large book (Hungerfordiana?) while sitting studiously on his memorial in the transept, and shown fascinating little details in the stone carvings such as the tiny monkey equipped with a large stone to hurl at would-be body snatchers, and a pair of shears in an arch of roses, for how else would they flower eternally if not kept pruned?

Courtesy of Neil Munns Photography, Somerset.
The Keys, courtesy of Neil Munns Photography, Somerset.

We were admitted into the Iron Cage by means of an enormous key, flourished by Ron in triumph. It seems that those in charge were impressed that at least one person of Hungerford descent was afoot in the cathedral that day! Now we could clearly see the entwined sickles and distinctive Hungerford heraldry all over the ceiling of this old Hungerford Chantry Chapel, and marvel at it.

After the tour was over and we had enjoyed tea and scones with Ron at the Cathedral and thanked him for what had been a truly fascinating experience, we followed his suggestions and found, first, Salisbury’s picture theatre, part of which was the house build by the wealthy wool merchant, John Halle, between October 1470 and March 1471, by Ron’s heraldic detective work. Just beyond the booking office on the left hand side are many original stained glass windows and we noted Hungerford heraldry in many of them.

Hall of Halle (Odeon Theatre) Salisbury

John Halle was a powerful man with both loyal friends and bitter enemies who was many times Mayor of Salisbury. His daughter Chrystian, married Sir Thomas Hungerford of Down Ampney, the eldest son of Sir Edmund Hungerford who in turn was the third son of Walter, Lord Hungerford and Catherine Peverell. Ron has made a particular study of this stained glass and has generously provided this information to our Society.

We also found the 15th Century Poultry Cross, an open circular building of stone, where an elderly woman told us she could remember when chickens and ducks were still sold there; and the half-timbered house of John A’Port from the same era, one of the oldest houses in Salisbury. Then we returned to the Church of St Thomas and studied its famous Doom wall painting, and the many bosses on the wooden ceilings, some still blackened with age.

Next day, more sunshine and we visited Old Sarum early. This elevated site, a fortified place of human habitation from Neolithic times, is said to be where William the Conqueror paid off this army in 1070. In the Norman town that developed here, 30 generations of people lived and died before Old Sarum was finally deserted for Salisbury on the plains below, in the reign of Henry VIII. We climbed up high to the ruins of the Great Tower and the Royal Palace, where we could look down on the site as a whole, appreciate the immensity of the Iron Age fortifications, and take in the view of the Salisbury Plains. Below to our left we could see the imprint of the cathedral built here by Bishop Roger after gales ruined the first one only days after its consecration; while to our right, through the heat haze, we could see the spire of Salisbury Cathedral, two miles distant to the south. It was here, at Old Sarum, that the Book of Common Prayer had its genesis in the Cathedral ceremony know as Sarum Use, which was compiled by Bishop Roger’s predecessor, the Bishop who was to become Saint Oswald.

That evening we were visited by Steve Slater, and a merry time we had around our kitchen table over many glasses of beer. A professional photographer with the Army, Steve found himself working outside Salisbury, and became interested in heraldry after noticing that there was rather a lot of it about. He set himself the task of copying all heraldic records wherever they occur in Wiltshire and sometimes beyond. Some fifteen years later, now an expert in the field, and a sought-after lecturer in heraldry, he still has more than 20 churches to examine. He has been granted his own coat of arms which incorporate a little bit of Hungerford because he soon found proof of their presence all over Wiltshire in churches, almshouses, farm buildings and walls; thus he had to become a Hungerford expert whether he liked it or not! Steve produced slides and photos of a number of his Hungerford finds, now copied for our records, and told us much about each one of them while I took notes. Some, such as those at Wellow and Farley, were known to us; many were not, while others illuminated what we had already seen, such as the cleaned roof bosses in St Thomas’s. Steve had been able to photograph these at close range from the workmen’s scaffolding, showing that the Hungerfords had left their mark up there also. Steve shared so much with us that evening, just as Ron had in the Cathedral the previous afternoon. It is heartening to know that so much Hungerford information is being accumulated in the land of our forebears by such capable and friendly people, just for its own sake.

Our time in Salisbury was running out. Only Friday morning was left free and on Saturday we were off to Bristol. Once again we were out early, to look more closely at those bosses, and to explore what is said be the largest and finest Cathedral Close in Britain within its walled square entered by medieval gateways. This was where houses were built for the clergy when the Cathedral was under construction. We noted the No 54 was called The Hungerford Chantry. This is where the Precentor of the Cathedral still lives, in a building rather altered from the original. Until the Reformation, it housed the priests who daily said prayers for the repose of the souls of those who had endowed the Hungerford Chantry Chapels.

The Salisbury Museum is in the Close and warrants far more time than we had to give it. There is so much of interest to see and learn about the history of Salisbury and Old Sarum and Wiltshire generally and all of it is so well displayed. The Hungerfords in their heyday were very well situated. As the wool trade developed during the 14th century, Salisbury grew to be the wool centre of the region, becoming one of the wealthiest English cities by the late medieval period. By 1400 there was cloth manufacturing and a flourishing textile industry, and powerful Tailors’ and Weavers’ Guilds, as well as raw wool production. By 1600, however, the wool trade suffered a depression and never regained its dominance in the economy of the region. Our branch of the family then took off for Ireland!

Next day we packed up and set off for Bristol via Heytesbury, a village which is just off the A36, to the south. This is very early Hungerford territory, occupied by them from the time a Walter de Hungerford had married Maude, daughter of John de Heytesbury; many years before Sir Thomas Hungerford, First Speaker of the House of Commons, their great grandson, bought Farley in 1369. We quickly located the almshouses build by Walter, 1st Lord Hungerford, (son of Sir Thomas), whose memorial we had read in Salisbury Cathedral on our first day, by means of the distinctive black and white quarterings on the heraldic shield under the clock tower surmounted by crossed sickles. Steve had told us that some of the door handles have sickles on them also, which is remarkable considering that the almshouses had to be rebuild after a fire in 1765 which destroyed most of the buildings in Heytesbury. Further along we came to the lovely Collegiate Church of St Peter and St Paul where a wedding party was just emerging on this perfect summer’s day. Inside, in the North Transept, we found the stone screen with delicate fan tracery and crossed sickles above, where the Hungerford Chantry Chapel had been. No Hungerford inscriptions remained, only those of their successors, the Holms A’Court family. Now we know why that Australian company is called Heytesbury Holdings. Steve told us that both Robert, and later his widow, Janet Holmes A’Court, had unsuccessfully tried to buy back the gaunt grey Georgian mansion that had passed out of their family’s hands only in the 1930’s. It still stands vacant by the A36 on the Manor lands once owned by the Hungerfords. A lanovia, a large and ancient barn once used as a wool store, is a reminder of past prosperity.

We then continued on to Bristol, calling at Trowbridge but finding the main Wiltshire Library, and the County Record Office closed, it being by now Saturday afternoon. But there was to be one more Hungerford reminder that day. As we drove into Bristol and looked up the Avon Gorge, spanned by Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Suspension Bridge, we recalled the 1845 photo of the Hungerford Suspension Bridge across the Thames at Charing Cross taken by pioneering photographer William Henry Fox, which we had seen in the Museum of London in the Barbican; and we remembered that the very same cables were now, 150 years later, performing the same function above the River Avon.

  1. The name “Ron Mathieson” will be well known to most HAFS members, and for a few, was a good friend. Apart from being a great supporter of HAFS, Ron was the “honey” that “HAFS bees” flew to whenever they were in Salisbury UK indulging in Hungerford activities,  As Lesley Abrahams’ book has its source in Salisbury Cathedral, it was thought appropriate to reprint Ron’s obituary from an earlier HAFS Newsletter.
  2. Accessioned in the Wiltshire Museum DZSWS:Book.15451. It is one of nine Grangerised copies of Hungerfordiana held in the Museum Library.
  3. Now accessioned in Wiltshire Museum DZSWS:Book.14022.

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