If you are planning a trip to the Salisbury area to see Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral, why not drop into nearby Wilton and see this very interesting church?
Italianate Church – First Impressions
Your first impression will be a bit of cognitive dissonance: in the midst of an undistinguished Wiltshire market town is a very elegant Italian church complete with a free-standing campanile (bell tower). The church is set back from the street and has the rounded arches typical of Romanesque buildings. The rose window is a bit unusual for a Romanesque church and adds a bit of lightness to offset the solid, bulky look.
By the 1800s the medieval church of St Mary on this site had fallen into disrepair. The Hon. Sidney Herbert, a younger son of the 11th Earl of Pembroke, provided a large portion of the funds needed to build a new church. Herbert was apparently a fan of the Italianate architecture that was in vogue in the first half of the 19th Century contributed and commissioned Thomas Henry Wyatt to design a church in that style. The church was completed in 1845.
St Albans Cathedral was built on the site of a Saxon abbey. Construction started in 1077 CE and finished in 1089.
For most of its history it was known as St Alban’s Abbey before it became a cathedral in 1877.
Formal name: The Cathedral and Abbey Church of St Alban
First Impressions: St Albans is a rather squat building. It does not soar above the skyline, but hunkers down giving an impression of solidity and permanence, as though it rises directly from the bedrock.
It is hemmed in by the city and cathedral outbuildings on one side but a wide field on the Southwest side provides a good view.
Style: A melange. Started out as a Norman (Romanesque) abbey. The Norman arches are visible under the central tower and on the north side of the nave. The remainder of the construction is Gothic, mainly in the decorated and perpendicular styles. There is a chapter house but no cloister
Patron Saint: The first Christian martyr in Britain, Alban of Verulamium was a Roman citizen who was beheaded for professing his faith (c. 250 CE).
Materials. Most of the fabric of the St Albans Cathedral including the tower is constructed from bricks salvaged from the Roman town of Verulamium
Size. At 84 metres (276 ft), its nave is the longest of any cathedral in England
Massive Norman tower
Medieval wooden ceilings in the nave
Shrine and reliquary of St Alban
Replica of the medieval clock designed by Richard of Wallingford
Planning your visit to St Albans Cathedral
The Cathedral is open all year round and entry is free
Photography is permitted
The Abbot’s Kitchen tearoom provides good food at a reasonable price. We found it welcoming and cozy on a chilly day.
St Alban’s is about a 30 minute train ride from Blackfriars railway station, so it makes a very easy day trip from London. The city itself has an medieval downtown with some interesting shops and decent looking pubs.
As a thirsty tourist in Salisbury you will be faced with a large number of pubs eager to have your trade. Most of these are quite sound so it’s hard to make a really bad choice, but there are a few that are particularly reliable.
Having been here for two years and having visited most of the local establishments (purely for research purposes!) I can make a few recommendations. The following ratings are entirely subjective, but include things I consider important in a pub: mainly ambience, beer selection and food.
As the Americans would say, Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF): My top choices for Salisbury pubs are The Cloisters, The Avon Brewery, The Rai d’Or, and The Old Mill (which is actually in Harnham rather than Salisbury)
First, a word about food. The challenges faced by the pub industry (see sidebar below) have created a situation where many pubs have become restaurants in order to survive. This is not a bad thing – many of the pubs I visited on my first trip to Britain in the early 80s were proud to offer a full menu of crisps, ghastly packaged Scotch Eggs and peanuts. So the fact that in most pubs you can now buy something decent to eat is not a bad thing.
However my particular prejudice is that pubs should serve pub food. The “gastro pub” (soi-disant) can be an interesting place to eat but the better and more precious and “cheffy” the food is the less likely that you would want to drop in for a pint (even if they allow you to do so). If I want restaurant food I also want restaurant amenities – which as a minimum include table service by people who know about what’s on the menu and how to serve it, tablecloths and silverware, and most importantly a trained chef in the kitchen who makes the food rather than heating up prepared meals.
So… with one exception these pubs are rated on their ability to deliver the canon: good ales, a decent wine for my bride, and a menu that includes fish and chips, beef burgers, gammon steak with egg and chips, and Sunday roast.