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A common question from visitors to the ‘Constable in Context’ exhibition concerns the wagon which is a prominent feature in ‘Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows’. Its unusual design prompts the question, what was it used for?

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Visitors have speculated that, due to the proximity of Fisherton brickworks, it may have been used for transporting bricks. However, one would think that a more obvious shape for this purpose would be square, much more like Constable’s haywain. A more plausible use was suggested by one of our volunteers, who thought that it may have been used for transporting cut reeds from the river.

The accompanying exhibition notes describe it either as a ‘typical Wiltshire wagon’ or as a ‘local cart’. In view of this, I contacted the Breamore House and Countryside Museum and received the following reply from Michael Hulse:

“I am afraid we do not have a cart like the one in Constable’s painting and have never seen a similar one. Although it is possible it is a local cart I do not believe it should be described as “a typical Wiltshire cart”.

However, a pencil and wash drawing of this pub by W. Bothams (Plate 6 in ‘Endless Street’, John Chandler, 1983) shows that this wagon is of a completely different type to that depicted by Constable.However, in Timothy Wilcox’s catalogue, ‘Constable in Salisbury’ on p152, it says, “The wagon… was also a common sight here… . Its everyday presence is underlined by the name of the nearest pub, on Fisherton Road (sic), backing on to this stretch of the river, the Wagon and Horses”.

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Indeed, the wagon shown on the inn sign seems to be more like the covered wagon being driven by Mrs Ridout in the painting of ‘Mrs Ridout and the Coombe Express (Salisbury Museum).

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So, it’s probable that, rather than being connected with Constable’s ‘Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows’, as suggested by Wilcox, the Wagon and Horses inn was really just one of several inns used for accommodation by carriers and their horses, and as a safe repository for their laden carts.

It seems to me more likely that the wagon in ‘Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows’ is an invention of Constable’s own, created for artistic licence. Thus, elsewhere in the catalogue, ‘Constable and Salisbury’, (p152), Wilcox writes, “Changes to appearance of the wagon, given a local form with a high enclosed rear end, introduce more prominent curves; it is as if the masterstroke of the rainbow is predicted before it makes its spectacular appearance.

Useful Dates

Fisherton Brickworks. 1706-1903

‘Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows’, Constable. 1831

Photo of Wagon and Horses Inn. <1870

‘Mrs Ridout and the Coombe Express’, Brooks. 1878

 

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