Old Sarum


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:


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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Wiltshire (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SU 13726 32702

Reasons for Designation

Large multivallate hillforts are defined as fortified enclosures of between 5ha and 85ha in area, located on hills and defined by two or more lines of concentric earthworks set at intervals of up to 15m. They date to the Iron Age period, most having been constructed and used between the sixth century BC and the mid-first century AD. They are generally regarded as centres of permanent occupation, defended in response to increasing warfare, a reflection of the power struggle between competing elites. Earthworks usually consist of a rampart and ditch, although some only have ramparts. Access to the interior is generally provided by two entrances although examples with one and more than two have been noted. These may comprise a single gap in the rampart, inturned or offset ramparts, oblique approaches, guardrooms or outworks. Internal features generally include evidence for intensive occupation, often in the form of oval or circular houses. These display variations in size and are often clustered, for example, along streets. Four- and six-post structures, interpreted as raised granaries, also occur widely while a few sites appear to contain evidence for temples. Other features associated with settlement include platforms, paved areas, pits, gullies, fencelines, hearths and ovens. Additional evidence, in the form of artefacts, suggests that industrial activity such as bronze- and iron-working as well as pottery manufacture occurred on many sites. Large multivallate hillforts are rare with around 50 examples recorded nationally. These occur mostly in two concentrations, in Wessex and the Welsh Marches, although scattered examples occur elsewhere. In view of the rarity of large multivallate hillforts and their importance in understanding the nature of social organisation within the Iron Age period, all examples with surviving archaeological potential are believed to be of national importance.

Old Sarum is a well preserved example of its class, the prominent position and defensible capability of which has been exploited in later periods, both before and after the Norman Conquest. The hillfort appears to have been refortified during the Saxon period, and was the likely site for the Roman town of Sorviodunum, but is most obviously modified by the construction within its defensive circuit of the motte and bailey castle. Motte and bailey castles are medieval fortifications introduced into Britain by the Normans. They comprised a large mound of earth or rubble, the motte, surmounted by a palisade and a stone or timber tower. In a majority of examples an embanked enclosure, the bailey, (at Old Sarum formed by the defences of the hillfort) adjoined the motte. Motte and bailey castles acted as garrison forts during offensive military operations, as strongholds, and, in many cases, as aristocratic residences and as centres of local or royal administration. Built in towns, villages and in open countryside, motte and bailey castles generally occupied strategic positions dominating their immediate locality and, as a result, are the most visually impressive monuments of the early post-Conquest period surviving in the modern landscape. Over 600 motte or motte and bailey castles are recorded nationally, with examples known from most regions. As one of a restricted range of early post-Conquest monuments, they are particularly important for the study of Norman Britain and the development of the feudal system.

The motte and bailey castle built within Old Sarum is a well preserved example of its class, the importance of which is enhanced by its royal connections.

Together with these important defensive elements the monument includes the remains of the medieval town, the ecclesiastical precinct within which lie the cathedral and bishop's palace, and the extra-mural settlements close to both the eastern and western entrances. All will contain buried remains providing information about the construction and use of the site, its economy and environmental setting from the Iron Age to the medieval period.

Old Sarum is a prominent feature within the landscape around Salisbury. The monument is open to the public and is much visited.


The monument includes Old Sarum, a multivallate Iron Age hillfort with contemporary settlement outside the ramparts. It also has evidence of Romano- British occupation and documentary evidence of a Saxon burh and mint. During the medieval period it was rebuilt as a royal motte and bailey castle and includes a cathedral and bishop's palace within an ecclesiastical precinct together with extra-mural settlement remains. The remains of the castle and cathedral are Listed Grade I and the monument is in the care of the Secretary of State. It is situated c.3km NNE of Salisbury, at the west end of a westward facing chalk spur overlooking the River Avon.

The hillfort is roughly oval in shape, measuring an overall maximum of 580m (east-west) by 460m (north-south). The defences, enclosing an area of c.12ha, originally had a single bank and ditch but now include an internal bank, a substantial steep sided ditch up to 30m wide in places and, at a lower level on the slope, an outer bank. The hillfort had entrances at both east and west ends. Of these, that at the western end was later blocked and now contains an underground passage, while that at the eastern end has continued to function as the entrance into the fort and is protected by an outer hornwork or barbican. Excavations within the hillfort have produced evidence of early Iron Age settlement and of later Iron Age and Romano-British occupation from the 1st to the 3rd centuries AD. Included within the scheduling is an area of Iron Age activity located outside the hillfort close to the eastern entrance. A further area of Iron Age activity is located c.250m west of the hillfort, and is not included in the scheduling.

Old Sarum is the focus for a number of major Roman roads and the Roman town of Sorviodunum has been suggested as lying within the hillfort. There is, however, a lack of any substantial evidence for Romano-British occupation within the hillfort and current understanding does not allow this suggested location to be confirmed.

By 1004 coins of Ethelred were being minted at Old Sarum and, by the mid 11th century, documentary sources attest to the establishment of a Saxon burh, Seresberie. It is possible that defences were constructed at this time.

After the Norman Conquest in 1066 a royal motte and bailey castle was built within the hillfort. The defences of the hillfort were adapted to become those of the outer bailey while a mound was constructed in the centre of the hillfort. The mound is over 100m in diameter and rises to a height of c.5m above natural ground level. It is surrounded by a ditch, c.20m wide and over 6m deep, from which material to construct the mound was quarried. The inner bailey, the entrance of which is on its eastern side, now contains the ruins of a series of stone buildings dating from c.1100 AD to the 13th century. Of these, the earliest is the keep or Great Tower, a massive rectangular structure which originally had an earth filled ground floor and two further floors for accommodation and storage above. Access to the keep was provided through the Postern Tower and adjacent forebuilding which stood to the north of it. The Postern Tower stood above the postern passage which led out to a timber bridge across the inner bailey ditch. The forebuilding, added in the early 12th century, contained a staircase leading into a vestibule in the Postern Tower and thence into the royal apartments. The keep was extended on its southern side in the late 12th century by the addition of the garderobe or Treasure Tower built over a large arched cess pit. In the early 12th century the royal palace was rebuilt, replacing an earlier structure, known as the `King's House', which was already in place by 1070. The palace, which was built by Bishop Roger, the influential third bishop of Salisbury, consists of four ranges built around a central square courtyard. The courtyard, and the north and west ranges, were on the upper level and had one storey while the south and east ranges were on the lower level and had two. Covered corridors linked the four ranges of buildings which contained halls, chambers, chapels, kitchens and private royal apartments. A pair of garderobes was added to the west side of the kitchen tower in the 13th century. Contemporary with the palace and lying to its north is Herlewin's Tower, a rectangular building originally of two storeys, lying astride the defensive circuit of the inner bailey. Also of this period is the gatehouse, designed around a central passage from which guard chambers with vaulted ceilings led off to either side. Within the ditch of the inner bailey the stone bases for the wooden bridge date to the 13th century and now support a modern wooden structure. Within the southern part of the inner bailey the remaining bakehouse and the `New Hall' are of late 12th or 13th century date.

The outer bailey of the medieval castle includes earthwork banks radiating from the motte to the outer defences. Those to the north east and south of the motte may have defined the outer bailey of the post-Conquest castle. The Norman town may have been established within the south western quadrant and the north western quadrant includes the ecclesiastical precinct within which lie the remains of the cathedral and other associated structures. The cathedral now survives as low walls and reinstated areas marking out the composite ground plan of its two phases of construction. The first cathedral was built in 1078, after the transfer of the see at Sherborne to Old Sarum, and consisted of a nave separated from two side aisles by eight great arches on each side. At the apsidal east end, the main altar and two side chapels in the transepts were also enclosed by semicircular apses. This building was completed in 1092 and almost immediately largely destroyed. Rebuilding in the Norman style commenced in 1130 under Bishop Roger and involved the large scale levelling of this part of the hillfort interior. Utilising the surviving nave, the length of the cathedral was doubled, the transepts were enlarged and a higher central tower was built. In the mid to late 12th century Bishop Jocelyn added the west front and south porch and built a bishop's palace nearby. This had three ranges, a Great Hall, lodgings and a gatehouse, built around a central courtyard. The move of the bishopric to Salisbury in 1219 was followed by the dissolution of the old cathedral in 1226.

Outside the western limits of the defences aerial photographs show traces of what may be a contemporaneous suburb of Old Sarum. Although understanding of the extent, nature and survival of these remains is currently incomplete, artefacts recorded after cultivation immediately beyond the western hillfort entrance enable the eastern part of the possible settlement to be confirmed and included within the scheduling. Beyond the eastern limits of the defences, to the south of the main entrance, lie part of the remains of the east suburb, defined by surviving earthworks and by recorded finds dating from the 12th to the 14th centuries. Although understanding of the full extent of these remains is currently incomplete, and they have been considerably disturbed to the east of the Salisbury to Amesbury road, an area can be defined which is included within the scheduling.

By the early 14th century the town was largely abandoned and in 1322 the demolition of the castle was ordered by Edward II. By 1514 the site had been totally abandoned although the town continued as a `rotten borough' sending Members of Parliament to Westminster until disenfranchised by the Reform Act of 1832.

During the 20th century a number of archaeological excavations were carried out within the monument. The castle, the cathedral and other ecclesiastical buildings within the outer bailey were excavated over a number of seasons between 1909 and 1915 by W H St J Hope, W Hawley and D H Montgomerie for the Society of Antiquaries of London. Further excavations were carried out by J Musty and P A Rahtz in the 1950s.

All fence posts, display, security and custodial fittings and facilites, modern services and the surfaces of all paths, tracks and areas of hard standing are excluded from the scheduling although the ground beneath these features is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features, considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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Books and journals
Renn, D, Old Sarum, (1994)
Renn, D, Old Sarum, (1994)
Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, , Ancient and Historical Monuments in the City of Salisbury, (1980)
Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, , Ancient and Historical Monuments in the City of Salisbury, (1980)
Wessex Archaeology, , Old Sarum Proposed New Visitor Centre, Desktop Assessment, (1994)
Wessex Archaeology, , Old Sarum Proposed New Visitor Centre, Desktop Assessment, (1994)
Wessex Archaeology, , Old Sarum Proposed New Visitor Centre, Desktop Assessment, (1994)
Montgomerie, D H, 'Archaeological Journal' in Old Sarum, (1949), 129-139
Montgomerie, D H, 'Archaeological Journal' in Old Sarum, (1949), 129-139
Rahtz, P A, Musty, J W G, 'Wiltshire Archaeological Magazine' in Excavations at Old Sarum 1957, , Vol. Vol 57, (1960), 353-370
Rahtz P A, , Musty J, , 'Wiltshire Archaeological Magazine' in The Suburbs of Old Sarum, , Vol. Vol 59, (1964), 130-154
Stone, J F S, Charlton, J, 'Antiquaries Journal' in Trial Excavations in the Esst Suburb of Old Sarum, , Vol. Vol 15, (1935), 174-192


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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