Posted by: travelrat | July 7, 2010

Salisbury Museum and Salisbury House

‘The Salisbury Museum is outstanding’ wrote Bill Bryson, in ‘Notes from a Small Island’ ‘and I urge you to go there at once’.

I’ve lived in this area nearly twenty years, and hadn’t yet got around to taking Mr. Bryson’s advice. Until the 19th June, 2010, when most of the attractions in Cathedral Close, including the Cathedral itself, held an Open Day, allowing free admission.

The Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum, to give it its full name, is located in a corner of the Cathedral Close, in the King’s House, part of which dates back to the 13th Century and which was, obviously, where Royalty used to stay when visiting Salisbury.

In the 1920s, King’s House caught the eye of a visiting American millionaire, one Carl Weeks. He tried to buy it, intending to dismantle it, and re-assemble it near his home. He was unsuccessful, so did what was, to him, the next best thing.

He built a replica. Not an exact replica, but based on the King’s House. He sourced all his materials from as near as possible to where those of the King’s House probably came from. Vast quantities of stone and flint were shipped over to the US, and old timbers were taken from houses in the Salisbury area which were being demolished or refurbished, and similarly transported.

Weeks was particularly delighted to find, carved on an old beam taken from the Rechabites Hall, the name ‘C.Weeks’ … probably Christopher Weeks, a former Mayor of Salisbury.

Naturally, all this shipping and reconstruction was ruinously expensive and, although Salisbury House, as it was called, was completed, Weeks was forced to sell it shortly afterwards, and it’s now run by a Trust.

But, what I found hard to believe is that, enraptured as Bill Bryson was with King’s House, he made no mention of Salisbury House … even though it’s located in his home town of Des Moines!

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Responses

  1. I really like your new header. It looks great!

    Those American millionaires have more money than sense.

    What is actually in the museum? Is it local artifacts? I love the windows!

  2. Interesting article…I’m glad I found it because I was about to write the same thing myself, having stumbled across the Salisbury House website last week. It’s curious that Bill Bryson doesn’t mention Salisbury House – he must have realised the connection. Perhaps it was a particularly ruthless bit of self-editing?

    Selma – the museum is largely locally based although there is a good collection of china from around the country. There is a Stonehenge exhibition, some temporary exhibition space. My favourite things there are the Giant and hobnob – two very old figures used in processions until fairly recently. They’ve got at least one Rex Whistler painting too

    • I found out about it by accident, too. Someone from Des Moines posted about it on a bulletin board I contribute to. In fact, he said his wife once worked there … with Bryson’s sister.


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