John Leland

John Leland.jpg

The report of John Leland, the “Father of Local History”, of his visit to Stratford and Old Sarum sometime around 1540 in his “Itineraries”.


John Leland was a Tudor antiquarian and a chaplain to Henry VIII and is known as the “father of local history”. In 1535 he was made prebendary to Wilton Abbey till its dissolution in 1539 when the land was given to Sir William Herbert, later Earl of Pembroke, who built Wilton House on its site. He was given a Salisbury Cathedral prebend (a benefice for a prebendary) in 1543, lost his sanity by 1547 and died, still insane, in 1552.

The Dissolution of the (Abbeys and) Monasteries prompted him to prepare an inventory of books held in their and other libraries and he later combined this with his magnum opus on the antiquities of England and Wales researched in his “Itineraries”


In “The Laboriouse Journey and Serche of JOHAN LEYLANDE FOR ENGLANDES ANTIQUITEES, Geven of hym as a Newe Yeares Gyfte to King HENRY the viii. in the xxxvii Yeare of his Raygne” he writes of his visit to Stratford and Old Sarum sometime in 1539-1543:

The cite of Old-Saresbyri standing on an hille is distant from the new a mile by north weste, and is in cumpace half a mile and more.

This thing hath beene auncient and exceding strong : but syns the building of New-Saresbyri it went totally to ruine.

Sum think that lak of water caussid the inhabitantes to re-linquisch the place; yet were ther many welles of swete water.

Sum say, that after that in tyme of civile warres that castelles and waullid townes wer kept that the castellanes of Old-Saresbyri and the chanons could not agre, insomuch that the castellanes apon a tyme prohibited them cumming home from Procession and Rogation to re-entre the town. Wherapon the bisshop and they consulting togither at the last began a chirch on their own propre soyle: and then the people resortid strait to New-Saresbyri and buildid ther : and then in continuaunce were a gr[eat] numbre of the houses of Old-Sare[sbyriJ pullid doun and set up at New-Saresbyri.

Osmund Erie of Dorchestre and after Bisshop of Sares-byri erectid his cathedrale chirch ther in the west part of the town: and also his palace. Wherof now no token is but only a chapelle of our Lady yet standing and mainteynid.

Ther was a paroch of the Holy Rode beside in Old-Sares-byri : and an other over the est gate wherof yet sum tokens remayne.

I do not perceyve that ther were any mo gates in Old- Wiltshire. Saresbyri then 2, one by est, and an other by west. Withoute eche of these gates was a fair suburbe. And yn the est suburbe was a paroch chirch of S. John : and ther yet is a chapelle stand inge.

The ryver is a good quarter of a mile from Old-Saresbyri and more where it is nerest onto it, and that is at Stratford village, south from it.

*There hath beene houses in tyme of mynd inhabitid in the est suburbe of Old-Saresbyri : but [now] ther is not one house nother [with]in Old-Saresbyri or without in[habite]d.

Ther was a right fair and strong castelle within Old-Saresbyri longging to the Erlee of Saresbyri especially the Longespees.

I reede that one Gualterus was the first Erie after the conquest of it.

Much notable ruinus building of this castelle yet ther re-maynith.

The diche that environid the old toun was a very deepe and strong thynge.


Erie and Erlee mean Earl. The Holy Rode means Holy Rood or originally pole, (think of Black Rod’s staff in Parliament), a relic believed to be from Christ’s Cross. Neither Holy Rood church remains. The A345 runs over the site of the Holy Cross Church he mentions, just outside the east gate. St John’s Church lay the other side of the (Old) Castle Road, between the roads to Amesbury and Ford, now a corner of Old Sarum Pig Farm. He tells us there had been occupied houses within living memory ie within the outer bailey to the east of the inner but by the time he visited no one lived within either.

Leland recorded bridges meticulously so in not mentioning one at Stratford we can assume around 1540 there was none. He wrote:


The Course of Avon Ryver.

Avon Ryver risith by north est not far from Wolphe-Haul yn Wyleshir. The first notable bridg that it cummith to is at Uphaven.

Thens a 4. miles to Ambrosbyri, a and there is a bridge.

Thens to Woddeford village a 4. miles, standing on the right ripe, and Newtoun village on the lift ripe.

The Bisshopes of Saresbyri had a propre maner place at Wodford. Bisshop Shakeston pullid it doun by cause it was sumwhat yn ruine.

Thens to Fisscharton b bridg of vj. stone arches a 3.miles.

Thens a very litle lower to Crane bridge of a vj. arches of stone.

Thens a forowgh lenghte lower to Harneham bridge of vj.gret arches of stone, a mayne and stately thing.


Ripe means bank (of a river) and riparian rights refer to the water use privileges accorded to landowners alongside the water. Newtoun is now Netton. Wolf Hall, the home of the Seymour family, took its name from the Wolf in their family motto and is now famous because of the Hilary Mantel novel. The current Wolfhall Manor is on the site of the Seymour Manor, just east of Burbage.


Kerry O’Connor

Local History Group

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