How do I find Old Sarum
'Can you tell me the way to Old Sarum?' said a tourist, who was roaming
over Salisbury Plain, to a country yokel he came across.
'What!' answered the rustic, 'old Sarah! she be dead last year!' Being
somewhat deaf, he thought the stranger was asking after a cottager, who
had been well known in that part. The site of this old city was not
easily to be found on Salisbury Plain. Where the ancient Sarum once
stood, grew a field of oats, and the rougher ground was pasture-land,
dotted over with remnants of walls and heaps of rubbish. Sarum was a
city of the tribe called the Bilgæ; it existed before the Romans visited
England; it stood in a high and dry part of the large Wiltshire plain,
and the Romans seized it as a capital military position.
Many of those curious remains or tombs are near. They have had the name
of 'barrow' given to them, and in them are discovered, besides bones,
old weapons, jewels, pottery, and other objects. At no great distance is
the Druids' temple of Stonehenge, and the still more remarkable one of
Abury, of which but fragments are left, though it must have been far
grander than Stonehenge. The Saxon King, Egbert, lived chiefly at Old
Sarum, as did several other kings, and in 960 Edgar held a national
council in the city, to consider the best means of expelling the Danes.
William the Conqueror, in 1086, summoned to Sarum, prelates, nobles, and
knights from all parts of England, to discuss new laws. William Rufus
also held a council here. It was in the reign of Henry I. that Sarum
began to decline. The Empress Maud gave handsome gifts to the cathedral
and clergy, but the bishop offended the king, and there were frequent
quarrels between the clergy and the garrison, so that after about 1220,
the inhabitants began to forsake the place, by degrees, and to build
houses at New Sarum, the modern Salisbury.
The old city was very strongly fortified. Around it was a deep moat or
ditch; beyond this, two ramparts; on the higher and inner rampart stood
a wall of flint, chalk, and stone, about twelve feet thick, with
battlements. Only one entrance to the city existed, on the east side. On
the top of the hill, in the centre, was the castle or citadel. From
this, the streets branched off to the walls, Sarum being divided into
two parts, north and south, marked by gates and towers; there were also
ten more towers at equal distances, and alongside the walls ran a
circular street, which went round the whole city. On the north-west side
stood the cathedral and the bishop's palace. Altogether, Old Sarum was
one of the strongest cities England ever had.