The story of the Collegiate Church of St Edmund very much reflects the story of Salisbury. It was the first new church in the city, both St Martin’s and even St Thomas’ having aready existed in some form before the Cathedral was started in 1220.
The city was immediately successful in many respects, after the move from OLd Sarum. As the Cathedral grew in its south western corner and as the chequer-board pattern of streets began to be laid out between 1220 and 1260, becoming crowded with homes, shops and workshops, so it soon became clear that a new parish would have to be formed in the north east corner. An open space, between Bedwyn Street and the northern city boundary, was possibly the only space left in that area, and in 1269 Bishop Walter de la Wyle founded the church “for the increase of Divine Worship and in honour of the blessed Edmund, Confessor and Prelate, formerly Treasurer of our (cathedral) church.”
In addition to the parish church there was a college for up to 13 priests which put it on a par with the friaries on Bugmore and with De Vaux College (by Harnham Gate) which was for a while a nascent university. Their courtyard of domestic buildings was where the Bourne Hill Council Offices are now.
The streets leading from the Market Place to the city boundary and beyond would have been, for obvious reasons, the earliest to be settled, prospective owners and tenants vying for the best plots, especially for their businesses. Weaving had long since been important in the county, and many weavers settled in the north east corner, close to the ramparts where, via Bedwyn Street, they were quickly on the route out to London or up Milford Hill to Winchester. Unlike the dyers they didn’t need copious supplies of flowing water to get their work done. St Edmund’s became their church, which was, perhaps, to seal its future.
The building we see today, and even the one in the etching from 1834 (above), is not the building from 1269. More about the history of St Edmund’s and the surrounding area soon.
Meanwhile, let us remind ourselves that, although the last service was in 1974 and the building is now an Arts Centre, it is still a delightful place to be, especially on a sunny day, sitting eating their wonderful cheese scones in the peace and quiet of that corner of the city.
The Milford Street Bridge Project website is, as always, so interesting in its content about this part of the city, and there are some lovely memories of St Edmunds, from local residents, are here.
Information from John Chandler ‘Endless Street’ 1987, Newman and Howells ‘Salisbury Past’ 2001, ‘A Short History and Guide to St Edmund’s Church Salisbury’ and other sources.