Salisbury’s Hidden Bishop’s Palace

The Bishop’s Palace in Salisbury is one of its oldest buildings…but it is not at all well known. Hidden behind tall walls and gates, with only faint glimpses of stonework through the trees planted in front of it, the Palace is better known today as ‘Salisbury Cathedral School.’ There is no access, other than for students and staff, other than during a rare event in the grounds.

The Palace was the earliest building in the Cathedral Close, started around 1219 by Bishop Richard Poore around the same time as the cathedral itself. He called it, rather unimaginatively, ‘New Place.’ The Palace was renovated several times by subsequent bishops and had a large overhaul in the 15th c, including a tower with a decorative turret, still a striking feature today. Medieval features include a late medieval bedroom turned into a Tudor chapel, and a vaulted undercroft known as Bishop Poore’s Hall.

The Cathedral school took residence in the building in the late 1940’s. It already an established school, begun in 1091 by Bishop (and saint) Osmund, at the former cathedral site of Old Sarum. When Sarum was abandoned, the school moved to The Chorister’s House in the Cathedral Close, then, as it grew in size, to Wren Hall, and finally to the Palace. Osmund’s tomb can be seen in the Cathedral–he was canonised in 1456. The tomb is interesting for its large ‘holes,’ into which pilgrims would insert their hands.

There has long been a rumour than Richard III stayed in Salisbury Cathedral Close when he arrived in the town for the execution of Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham. Traditionally, it is said he stayed at King’s House, which belonged to the Bishop of Shaftesbury, although there is no actual record to back this up. King’s House is now the wonderful Salisbury museum. After having viewed the Palace, I am now convinced that it is far more likely that Richard lodged there for the night. It is far more grand and spacious…and the resident bishop at the time, Lionel Woodville, had recently fled owing to his involvement with Buckingham’s Rebellion, leaving it handily vacant….

Bishop’s Palace, Salisbury
Possible tomb of Bishop Richard Poore

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