From Abbeys, Castles and Ancient Halls of England and Wales, by John Timbs, by John Timbs, re-edited, revised, and enlarged by Alexander Gunn; Frederick Warne and Co.; London; pp. 1-3.
In the Saxon times, Sarum is frequently mentioned. Kenric, son of Cerdic, defeated the Britons in this neighbourhood, A.D. 552, and 2 established himself at Sarum; in 960, Edgar held a great Council here; and in 1003 the place was taken and burned by Sweyn, King of Denmark, who pillaged the city, and returned to his ships laden with wealth. In 1085 or 1086, William I., attended by his nobles, received at Sarum the homage of the principal landowners, who then became his vassals. In 1095, William II. held a great Council here; Henry I. held his Court and Council here; and in 1142, Sarum was taken by the Empress Maud. A castle or fortress here is mentioned as early as the time of Alfred, and may be regarded as the citadel.
The decline of Sarum originated in a disagreement between the civil and ecclesiastical authorities. In the reign of Henry I. the Bishop of Sarum was entrusted with the keys of the fortress; but he fell into disgrace, and the King resumed the command of the Castle, and the military openly insulted the disgraced prelate and the clergy. New animosities increasing, the Empress Maud bestowed many gifts upon the cathedral, and added much land to its grants. Herbert, a subsequent Bishop of the See, attempted to remove the establishment; but this was done by his brother and successor, Richard Poor, about the year 1217, from which time many or most of the citizens also removed, and the rise of New Sarum (Salisbury) led to the decay of the older place, the inhabitants pulling down their dwellings, and with the materials constructing their new habitations. Old Sarum returned members to Parliament 23 Edward I. and again 34 Edward III., from which latter period it continued to return them until it was disfranchised by the Reform Act of 1832.
Old Sarum used always to be quoted as one of the most flagrant examples of the absurdity of the old system. But till about 120 years ago, there was not even one inhabitant of Old Sarum; and it was puzzling at first how to reconcile this fact with the record of “contested elections” which occurred there in the reign of Charles II., and again in the reign of Queen Anne. Still, on examining the point one sees that these were cases rather of disputed returns than of contests in the modern sense. Not but what there were materials for even these. It did not follow in those days that because there were no residents, therefore there were no voters. And on the site of Old Sarum still flourished fourteen freeholders, who were likewise “burgage holders,” and who met periodically under the “Election Elm” to choose their representatives in Parliament. Sarum had once been a place of great importance. Its castle was one of the chief barriers of the south-west against the incursions of the Welsh; and before the removal of its cathedral into the valley where it now stands, it must have been one of 3 the finest cities in the kingdom. But when no longer required as a military post, it is easy to see that its inaccessible position, on the summit of a very steep and very lofty hill, would soon lead to its desertion. As early as the reign of Henry VIII., the old town was in ruins, and not a single house in it inhabited. And we may suppose that by the end of the seventeenth century it had become just the bare mound that it is at present.
Bishop Seth Ward gave Aubrey a curios account of Old Sarum: he told him that the cathedral stood so high and “obnoxious to the weather,” that when the wind blew, the priests could not be heard saying mass. But this was not the only inconvenience: the soldiers of the Castle and the priests could never agree; and, one day, when they had gone out of the fortress in procession, the soldiers kept them out all night, or longer. The Bishop was much troubled, and cheered them up, and told them he would accommodate them better; and he rode several times to the Lady Abbess at Wilton to have bought or exchanged a piece of ground of her Ladyship to build a church and houses for the priests. The Bishop did not conclude about the land; and the Bishop dreamt that the Virgin Mary came to him, and brought him to or told him of Merrifield; she would have him build his church there, and dedicate it to her. Merrifield was a great field or meadow, where New Sarum stands, and did belong to the Bishop, as now the whole city belongs to him. The first grant or diploma that ever King Henry III. signed was that for the building of Our Ladie’s Church at Salisbury.