Old SarumSalisbury
English Heritage
Castle Road
Wiltshire SP1 3SD
The 5,000 year old earthwork, Old Sarum, near Salisbury in Wiltshire is unique. Nowhere else in Britain can you find substantial remains of a settlement on top of a prehistoric hill-fort.
Throughout the UK there are a number of spectacular prehistoric hill-fort sites. Their huge grassy ramparts and ditches are all that are left for the visitor see of these millennia old settlements but Old Sarum was occupied until the 13th century.
This spectacular location was the original site of Salisbury and was a walled town with a castle and a cathedral. English Heritage now looks after Old Sarum and has done a wonderful job of explaining the site and making it accessible.
From the top of the earthwork there are spectacular 360 degree views across Wiltshire. Old Sarum is a must see for the visitor to Britain.
History of the Site
- Early History
Around 3000 BC the location of the hill beside the River Avon and at the junction of two trading routes was of great strategic importance to the Neolithic tribes of the area. Even though the site was extremely exposed to the elements, they occupied the hilltop, carrying on hunting and farming and in 500 BC constructed enormous banks and ditches around the hill to create an Iron-age hill-fort. Other hill-forts were constructed across the plain but Old Sarum was the most important.
When the Romans invaded Britain in 43 AD they too recognised the strategic importance of the location and held the site as a military station. By this time it controlled the junction of five major roads.
When the Romans left Britain the Anglo-Saxons took up residence and in 552 AD King Cynric of Wessex purportedly captured the place. It became one of the most important towns in the kingdom of Wessex. Following the conversion of the Saxons to Christianity it was one of the first towns to gain ecclesiastical establishments and in 960 AD Saxon King Edgar assembled a national council at Old Sarum to plan a defence against the invading Danes (aka Vikings) in the north.
Norman Conquest
When Saxon King Harold was defeated by the Normans in 1066 Old Sarum was once again chosen by the invaders for its strategic importance. A stone curtain wall was built around the Iron-age perimeter and a centrally placed castle built on a motte (mound), protected by a deep dry moat.
These and subsequent structures constitute the remains we now see on top of Old Sarum.
In 1086 William the Conqueror gathered together all the churchmen, nobles, sheriffs and knights of his dominions at Old Sarum to pay him homage. It is believed that part of the Doomsday Book was written at this time.
A cathedral and bishop’s palace were constructed between 1075 and 1092, and in 1130-39 a stone royal palace was built on the castle motte. This was frequently used by the Plantagenet kings; in fact, King Henry II used it to imprison his meddlesome wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine!
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Medieval Sarum
Despite the fact that the majority of the local population lived in Old Sarum, it was described as a fortress rather than a city, placed on a high hill, surrounded by a massive wall. The site was exposed and had a limited water supply. In 1194 King Richard I put forward a plan to move the Norman cathedral from the hilltop to a more suitable location nearer the river.
After a dispute between the clergy and military officials at the nearby castle, Bishop Richard Pore decided to move location. An official mandate for the cathedral’s destruction was given by the king and the move began in 1219.
The townspeople left Old Sarum and settled around the new cathedral near the river, creating the town of New Sarum (the present Salisbury). The castle fell out of use and was sold for materials by King Henry VIII.
The foundations of the castle and the cruciform Norman cathedral testify to the turbulent history of this ancient site.
Plan Your Visit
Accommodation - Search & Book through Expedia here:    External Link
Open all year except 24-27 December & 1 January.
Check opening times on  Web:  English Heritage/ Visitor Information    External Link
English Heritage Members free. Up to date details on  Web:   English Heritage/ Visitor Information    External Link
Disabled Access
Disabled toilets, shop accessible via ramp.
The Outer bailey and cathedral ruins are accessible to wheelchairs via car park.
The monument itself has grass slopes, narrow paths and loose gravel surfaces. The Top wing point is accessible from one location via steep grass slope.
Parking is 55 yards (50m) from entrance, via loose gravel surface and steep wooden bridge with non-slip surface. Disabled visitors may be set down near bridge with prior arrangement. Details at  Web:   English Heritage/ Visitor Information    External Link
Gift shop selling snacks, hot & cold drinks and souvenirs; toilets; picnic tables.
Accommodation - Search & Book through Booking.com here:    External Link


Contact & Further Information
Telephone   +44 (0) 3703 331 181
Mail   This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Website   English Heritage/ Old Sarum    External Link
Getting There
- By Car
2 miles(3.2 km) North of Salisbury, off the A345.
The English Heritage web site has excellent information on the many ways of getting to Old Sarum. Go to Web:  English Heritage/ Old Sarum/ Directions    External Link
Goodle Maps - Old Sarum

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