Old Sarum, the rise and fall of an ancient settlement

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Old Sarum near Salisbury is one of England’s most ancient and mysterious settlements with a rich and dark history

Old Sarum Postcard

Old Sarum, near Salisbury, is one of the oldest settlements in England, and this is reflected in its inclusion in some of England’s earliest records. There have been several discoveries showing that Old Sarum is a prehistoric settlement and has stood since about 3000BC.

The settlement stands near great monuments like Avebury and Stonehenge, further proof that it has stood for the ages. Old Sarum had been used by the Saxons as a stronghold against the Vikings. And that was all before the Normans took up the land and built a motte, castle, stone curtain wall, a royal palace, and a magnificent cathedral. After these were built, the area began to have some problems, in large due to the strife between the religious and civil authorities.

History of Old Sarum Salisbury

After being established in the Bronze Age, Old Sarum went through a range of inhabitants, from the Romans to the Saxons, the Danes, and then the Normans.

In 1075, Old Sarum became a bishopric, and Saint Osmund began the Cathedral there. He was later succeeded by Bishop Roger, who was a completely different man to Osmund. He became widely popular after Henry I stopped at the Cathedral to hear mass where Roger was officiating. Henry I enjoyed the sermon, mostly because of the speed and made Bishop Roger the Royal Chaplain. He was highly skilled, and it was not long before he was appointed as the Chancellor and then awarded the Bishopric at Sarum. 

Old Sarum from the sky
Old Sarum from the sky

The rise and fall of Old Sarum

In a short period, Bishop Roger had become one of the richest and most powerful men in the whole of England. He went on to rebuild the entire Cathedral of Sarum and then fortified the castle. He later awarded his mistress and their son with positions of influence. 

Unfortunately for him though, the man who made him so popular, Henry I, died. After his death, the officers of the new king Stephen arrested Roger and charged him with treason. They stripped him of all his wealth, and he lost his stance as a powerful man. It was not long after that Roger died of a broken heart. After his death, Old Sarum went into a decline, and there was regular conflict between the government and the religious leaders. Old Sarum had degraded significantly, with even water becoming a scarce commodity. 

So the Dean and the Chapter decided to raise a petition for the Cathedral to be moved away to the plain that stood below Old Sarum. Their main complaint was that there were strange winds that made loud noises as they blew into the building, making it almost impossible for the clerks to hear the singing of each other. They also said that the ground on which the building stood severely lacked trees and grass, so it gave off a blinding glare.

Quite literally as well, as they said some of the clergies had gone blind as a result of the glare. They pleaded and begged to be allowed to descend into the plain, and in 1220, they were finally allowed. The clergy, led by Bishop Poore, began the removal. Legend says that an archer was asked to shoot an arrow from the top of Old Sarum, and wherever it landed was where the new Salisbury Cathedral would be built.

As the Cathedral moved from the top of Old Sarum to the plains below, so did the people also move. And before long, Old Sarum was nothing more than a deserted town. The hill was retaken by nature with nettle and bracken and bramble growing all over the buildings in Old Sarum.

Today, that area has a strange aura surrounding it, with many saying the bizarre serenity in Old Sarum almost makes you feel as though invisible eyes are staring at you.

Even with the strange feeling, Old Sarum remains a natural beauty, with its beautiful grass and hard rocky mounds.

Old Sarum Drone Footage

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