Guild - November 2017 report

"Salisbury Disasters"

Alan Clarke

Our speaker in November, Alan Clarke, gave us an interesting lecture with mostly black and white slides, many taken from the archives at the Museum.  These depicted moments of great drama in and around Salisbury dating back to 1653. Alan's first picture was of a comemmorative plaque over the main doorway of St Edmunds Arts Centre which said it was erected on "Sabbath day June 26th 1653". Alan checked the date and found that Google claimed that this was not a Sunday and, curious about its date,  research revealed that in 1752 the reformation of the  Calendar took place when 11 days were "lost".  Not exactly a disaster but if a certain discrepancy had not been picked up by our keen detective speaker, we might never have known about this.

We were shown pictures of the original Fish and Chip shop in Winchester Street where Alan Clarke was born; no longer there now following an ancient fire. There was a photograph of a partly repaired Cathedral wall with St. Ann's Gate in pieces, and then another, reassuringly showing it as we know it today.  Next came a picture of the corner of Devizes Rd and Highfield Avenue where the wall obviously had had an argument with something heavy, judging by the pile of bricks  in the road.  In Devizes Road a lorry appeared to be attempting to drive into the unfortunate owner's front door.  I was going to omit this bit, but fact is fact -  it was a lady driver.  She had apparently been driving for 30 hours and was extremely tired...

Moving to the town centre, when workmen were repairing the roof of the Guildhall,  some slabs were dislodged and came crashing down, fortunately missing the people on the paved area.  Some of us have probably, in the past, looked up at the Poultry Cross and noticed the torrent of rain rushing down upon pedestrians. An attempt to put things right  resulted in a large amount of rot building up inside since the water had to go somewhere. More repairs were thus made essential to preserve this unique and beautiful example of Salisbury's heritage.

We were then transported to Stratford-sub-Castle, where first we saw a photograph of the picturesque thatched cottage on the corner; then, in 1957, in the area opposite Hudson's Field where there are now many houses, an aeroplane had crash-landed, quickly followed by a photograph of another plane in 1952, a Bristol Brigand which had landed crashing into houses off Devizes Road, knocking down prefabs.   This one was heading for Boscombe Down but sadly hit overhead cables.  On another occasion a very good artist's impression illustrated the time the Station was accidentally targeted when a train could not stop. Then, once more bad luck for the unfortunate Fisherton Street Station, a boat train ran astray causing much damage all around the bridge.

In 1901 the Great Fire of Salisbury ruined the leather factory in Oatmeal Row and the Rainbow Dyeworks amongst other buildings; some of the original lettering can still be seen if we look up.  Unfortunately in some cases hoarding has covered this up.  In 1909 fire damaged the premises in Tollgate Road owned by the boot and shoe manufacturers, Moore Bros.  and demolished that of the Salisbury Co-op.  We saw pictures of a crowd of people viewing the fire damage which illustrated quite vividly the way people dressed in the early 1900's: very uniformly dull with long skirts, hats for ladies and gentlemen, babies in prams with steel wheels (bouncing babies!). 

In 1940 a German plane crashed near the Cathedral having first dropped  incendiary bombs.  In 1945  the Journal's windows were destroyed and other damage caused flooding in the cellars when telephone cables were put out of action. The roof of the Pheasant Inn burnt and St.Edmonds Church had a fire just after the war.  The old Moss Bros. shop was also damaged and in 1994 there was a fire next to the White Hart. The Market Inn and Fish and Chip shop fire involved 17 insurance companies, which is why it took so long to get the rebuilding started. Many of us, I  am sure, will remember the frustration felt of constantly having to look at untidy scaffolding.  On another occasion  the top of Watson's storage building lost its roof and trees were down or uprooted in the Council office grounds.  A garden shed was literally moved 5ft. by the strong wind and the river rose by a foot when blocked by trees. A garage lost its roof.

In 1841 the Great Till, which flows from Tilshead to Berwick St James, flooded which destroyed 72 houses and 200 people were made homeless.  Heavy rain in Water Lane (between Fisherton St and Mill Road/Crane Bridge St) raised the stream to a roaring flood.  In 1915  the Cathedral flooded and chairs were hastily moved to a higher level - dramatic pictures illustrated  this. Elizabeth Gardens flooded and Wilton also had its share, the list was endless. Finally we were reminded that so many parts of the world have disasters of their own, more often than not far worse than those we had witnessed that evening. 

Daphne Ponsford