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The Ballad of Salisbury by Walter Pope, 1713

Walter Pope (c. 1627 – 1714) was a poet as well as professor of astronomy at Gresham College, London, succeeding Sir Christopher Wren, and Fellow of the Royal Society. He was a great friend of Seth Ward, Bishop of Salisbury, lived with and received a pension from him and wrote his biography (The Life of the Right Rev. Seth, Lord Bishop of Salisbury, London, 1697).

He wrote a poem, The Ballad Of Salisbury, that was published in 1713. In the second part he deals with Old Sarum and why the church wanted to leave it. He addressed it to Seth Ward


Old Sarum was built on a dry barren Hill

A great many Years ago

T’was a Roman Town of Strength and Renown,

as its ſtately Ruins ſhow


Therein was a Caſtle for Men of  Arms,

And a cloyſter for Men of the Gown;

There were Friars and Monks and Liars and Punks,

Tho’ not any whoſe names are come down.


The Soldier and Church-Men did not long agree,

For the ſurly men with the Hilt on,

Made Sport at the Gate when the prieſts that came late

From Shriving the Nuns of Wilton.


Whereupon Biſhop Poor went to the King,

And told him his piteous Tale

That rather than abide ſuch a Thorn in his Side,

He’d build a New Church in the Vale.


I'll build a New Church in the Vale, ſaid he,

If your Highneſs would give me Scope:

Who, I, ſaid the King? I’ll not do ſuch a Thing

Without our Old Father the Pope.


Then I'll go to that Whore reply’d Bishop Poor

With a Purſe full of old Gold 

For why ſhould I beg, and make a low Leg,

Where every Thing is to be ſold?


He went, he prevail’d; he return’d in a Trice

With ample Authority ſeiz’d,

To remove Sarum stones and St Oſmond's Bones,

And to build a New Church where he pleas’d


To the Abbeſs of Wilton he ſhowed his Bull

And how much he was in the Pope’s Grace;

And they two conſulted their Bellies full,

Yet they could not agree of a Place.


One time as the Prelate lay on his Down-Bed ,

Recruiting his Spirits with Reſt

There appear’d as ‘tis ſaid a Beautiful Maid

With her own dear Babe at her Breaſt .


To him thus ſhe ſpoke, (the Day was ſcarce broke,

And his Eyes yet to Slumber did yield)

Go build me a Church without any Delay

Go build it in Merry-field.


He awakes and he rings; up ran Monks and Friars

At the Sound of his little Bell;

I muſt know, ſaid he, where Merry-field is;

But the Devil-a-bit could they tell.


Full early aroſe on a Morning grey,

To meditate, and to walk,

And by Chance overheard a Soldier on the Guard,

And he thus to his Fellow did talk.


I will lay on the ſide of my good Yewen Bow

That I ſhoot clean over the Corn,

As far as that Cow in Merry-field

Which grazes under the Thorn .


Then the Biſhop cry’d out, where is Merry-field?

For his Mind was ſtill on his Vow:

The Soldier reply’d, by the River-ſide,

Where you see that Brindle-Cow.


Upon this he declared his pious Intent;

And about the Indulgences ran,

And brought in bad People to build a good Steeple

And thus the Cathedral began.


The principle Stones in a fortunate Hour

For the Pope, King, and ſome of the Peers,

Were laid by Pandulfo’s Legantine Power

And ‘twas finſh’d in Thirty Years


Then the Men of Old Sarum came down

From the Hill where there was neither Well nor Spring

That they might have a Mill and water at will

And hear the ſweet fiſhes ſing.


But if I proceed, as I once had decreed,

And foolishly undertook

To let my Vein run I ſhall never have done,

and inſtead of the Song make a Book.


Oh pardon me, pardon me, Biſhop Ward

For putting thy Name in my Song;

For I am Alas! but a ſilly Bard

And my Verſes cannot live long.  


(All of Part I and verses XX to XVI of part II have been omitted)





I There is no evidence of a Roman town up on Old Sarum. Perhaps there was a mansio or temple but the Roman settlement was outside the hill fort.

II Punk is an old word for prostitute

III The Abbey of Wilton was an order of Benedictine nuns and included the Shrine of St Edith. As Nuns they required priests to hear confessions and grant absolutions (shriving).

IV Richard Poor(e) was Bishop of Chichester, Salisbury and Durham (sequentially). The King was Henry III, of Winchester, son of John, grandson of Henry II, Plantagenets and his widow Eleanor (of Provence) became a nun and was buried at Amesbury, another Benedictine Abbey.

V The pope was Honorius III born Cencio Savelli

VII. Bishop Osmund’s bones were transferred but he was not canonised till the 15th C.

VIII The maid and babe were the Madonna and Christ.

X Merry-field may have been as it says, a pleasant field or possibly Mary Field and the new Cathedral was dedicated to the Virgin.

XIV Brindle is a tiger-stripe colour pattern.

XV The steeple was 14th C

XVI Pandulf Verracio was a papal legate, born in Rome, who became Bishop of Norwich and died also in Rome 1226. In between Henry III’s two coronations he was one of a triumvirate regency government. He was buried in Norwich.

XVII Singing fishes are probably frogs.


Kerry O’Connor

Local History Group

October 2020

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