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Salisbury City Defences

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Novae Sarum

In the civil parish of Salisbury.
In the historic county of Wiltshire.
Modern Authority of Wiltshire.
1974 county of Wiltshire.
Medieval County of Wiltshire.

OS Map Grid Reference: SU14763038
Latitude 51.07203° Longitude -1.79011°

Salisbury City Defences has been described as a certain Urban Defence.

There are cropmark/slight earthwork remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.


Scant traces of C13 Earthen defences of 'new' city of Salisbury. Turner says probably only a boundary ditch until late C14. Licence to crenellate granted 1328, 1372 and ratified in 1377, may have resulted in bank and palisade. Grant of timber to town in 1378. Ditch and fences broken down by evil doers in 1381. Salisbury's town defences comprised an Earthen rampart and ditch. The ditch was dug in 1310 and all the defences completed about 1388. The rampart extended from St Martin's Church to St Ann Street, along Rampart Road to Winchester Street, across the Greencroft to St Edmunds College and on to the River Avon at Castle Street. Entrances through the defences were present in Castle Street, Winchester Street and St Ann's Street, these were demolished in 1771 and 1784 (PastScape).

The royal charter of 1227 granted the bishop the right to enclose the city with adequate ditches (fossatis competentibus). The expression presumably means 'defences' since a ditch with an accompanying bank or wall, or a combination of both, would have been normal, and without it would scarcely constitute an effective defence. (For a fuller account of the history of the defences, see V.C.H., Wilts. vi, 88–9) Although work may have begun in the 13th century it was certainly unfinished in 1306–7. (Benson & Hatcher, 740 '. . . . fossatum . . . . olim inceptum'. ) A deed of 1331 concerning a tenement at the N. of Endless Street speaks of novum fossatum, presumably a newly built part of the town defence, on its N. side. (Sar. Corp. MS., deeds 1331) In 1367 Bishop Wyvil gave the citizens permission to fortify the town with four gates and a stone wall with turrets and also 'to dig in his soil on every side to the width of eight perches for a ditch'. (Benson & Hatcher, 83) Such an enterprising scheme was altogether too ambitious and it remained unrealised. In 1378 the citizens sought help of the king to complete the ditch around the city and also a wooden fence or palisade, presumably to surmount the rampart. Despite a grant and subsequent levies on property-owners within the city, the work was still unfinished as late as 1440, but it was probably completed soon after that.
On the W. and S. of the city the R. Avon formed a natural defence; on the E., where the ground rises steeply, and on the N., earthwork defences were constructed. From the marsh at Bugmore on the S. a rampart and ditch extended along the E. side of the city to a point N.E. of St. Edmund's Church, where it turned and continued westwards to the E. arm of the R. Avon, in reality the leat of the Town Mill. The marshy nature of the ground foiled an attempt to carry it as far W. as the R. Avon proper. Two fragments of the rampart still survive, immediately N.E. and S.E. of the Council House. The bank (Plate 17) is about 60 ft. wide at the base and stands up to 18 ft. high; the surrounding land, and especially the ditch, has been much altered by shallow quarrying and by garden landscaping. Along the W. side of Rampart Road, remains of the bank (6 ft. to 8 ft. high) were revealed and demolished during the construction of a road in 1970; evidence of 13th-century occupation was found in a number of places under the bank. An incomplete section of the ditch (at SU 14852982) showed that it had been recut once and suggested that it was 40 ft. across and nearly 20 ft. deep at that point. (WAHNM 1973)
There were eight entrances to the city (Plate 16 and map on p. xxxix) and control over some of them is evident as early as 1269 when there is mention of 'the eastern bars of the city' and of a bar in Castle Street. (Benson & Hatcher, 53, 736) Bars or barriers, presumably mainly of wood, served to protect most of the entrances even in the 15th century, and formal gateways appear to have been built only in Wynman Street (modern Winchester Street) and Castle Street. The gateways are shown on Speed's map (Plate 1) as rectangular towers with embattled parapets. Wynman Gate was demolished in 1771, but part of its N. side may have survived until late in the 19th century, appearing as a rubble wall in an old photograph (Plate 15). An 18th-century painting (Plate 9) shows the round-headed archway. The ground was excavated in 1971 for the building of the inner ring-road, but no trace of the former gateway was found. Castle Street Gate was partly demolished in 1788, (S.J., 21 July, 1788) but the E. abutment remained until 1906; its thick walls are recognisable in a 19th-century plan preserved in the City Engineer's office. In the upper part of the abutment was a stone panel with the royal arms (Plate 20); presumably it was originally over the archway. Since 1908 the panel has been reset in an adjacent building. It probably dates from 1638, (Council Mins., Ledger C, f 408) and it appears to have been taken down during the Commonwealth and re-erected in 1662, (Council Mins., Ledger 4, f 133v)
Upkeep of the defences seems to have been neglected from the end of the 15th century, but precise information on the stages of their demolition is lacking. Encroachment on the ditch had started by 1499 and in the following century parts of it on the E. side of the city were regularly leased out. Excavations on the S. side of Milford Street have shown that the ditch was filled with rubbish in the 15th and 16th centuries. (WANHM 1973) Naish's plan of 1716 (Plate 16) shows defences only on the E. side of the city; those on the N. had presumably been levelled already. By 1880 (O.S.) about 150 yds. of rampart on the E. side of Barnard's Cross Chequer and the present fragments near the Council House were all that survived. (RCHME 1977)

May 30. 1378. Grant to the mayor and commonalty of the city of New Sarum, on their petition to the king and Council for help to complete the trench round their city and wooden fence, of the profit of sealing cloth in that city for a year, and twenty oaks from the park of Claryndou or the forest of Bukholt or Grovele, wherever the justice of the forest shall deem least damage will arise by the same. (CPR (1377-1381) p. 229)
March 20. 1381. Commission to Robert Bealknap, Thomas Hungerford, John de la Mare, Thomas Dru, Nicholas Bonham and John Upton, to enquire touching a complaint by the mayor and commonalty of Salisbury, co. Wilts, that certain evildoers came to the city by night, set guards at divers places and entrances, so that they could not go out, broke a great portion of a trench that they had begun to make for the protection of the city, and assaulted them. (CPR (1377-1381) p. 631)

A Royal licence to crenellate was granted in 1227 Jan 30 (Click on the date for details of this licence.).
A Royal licence to crenellate was granted in 1328 April 12.
A Royal licence to crenellate was granted in 1372 Nov 26.
A Royal licence to crenellate was granted in 1377 July 20.

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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:20:09

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