Celia Fiennes from NewtonToney, wrote of the cities Sarum old and new when she visited Salisbury in the late 17thC

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Celia Fiennes was born in 1662 at Newton Toney, the daughter of one of Cromwell’s colonels.

It was exceptional in the 17th century to:

  • Travel long distances just for the sake of travel as a tourist. Pilgrimages and the inns and signposts that served them were already in decline in these Puritan times.  

  • Visit every county in England

  • And as a woman (and so riding side saddle)

  • And unmarried (she never married) and with no male companion (she had female servants with her).


She wrote of her travels, but was not published in her lifetime. Her travel notes were not published till the 19th century.

She visited Salisbury between William (III) landing at Brixham, Devon, on 5 November 1688 and a recorded subsequent visit in 1698.

She wrote:

"From Newtontony I went to Sarum 8 miles which is a Citty and Bishop's Seat, pretty Large town Streetes broad but through ye midst of them runs a little rivulet of water which makes ye Streetes not so clean or so easye to pass in, they have stepps to Cross it and many open places for horses and Carriages to Cross itt - itt takes off Much from the beauty of ye streetes - the Cause of it was from the burning of the old town called Salsebury which was on a hill about a mile off this and it was so drye and farre from springs that it was destroyed by fire and only the ruines of the Castle is to be seen like a high wall with fortifications."

It was the first Sarum Cathedral that burned down and not the castle nor whole town and both cathedral and castle had wells. The reason for the cathedral’s and city’s move downhill was more complex than insufficient water and even that cause was not for firefighting. The water conduits along Salisbury’s streets were not primarily designed to protect against the same supposed fate of inflagration as the old city.

She goes on to describe Salisbury in greater detail.

It is possible she was the “fine (? Fiennes) lady upon a white horse” who Rode “a Cock-Horse to Banbury Cross” (Broughton Castle at Banbury being the Fiennes family seat). The actors Ralph and Joseph Fiennes and perhaps less surprisingly the explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes are from the same family (her full name was Celia Mary Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes).



Photo. Memorial to her in Cheshire.


Her text from Celia Fiennes, Through England on a Side Saddle in the Time of William and Mary (opening page) http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/fiennes/saddle/saddle.html

Banbury Link from Celia Fiennes by Philippa Gregory 2020 https://www.philippagregory.com/news/celia-fiennes


Kerry O’Connor

Local History Group

October 2020

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