The benefits of having an arranged trip to Salisbury Cathedral manifests themselves with small nuggets of information that evade the casual visitor. Such things came to the fore when members and wives/partners of the Probus Club of Basingstoke visited Salisbury Cathedral and to Arundells, situated in Cathedral Close, the home of the ex-prime minister Sir Edward Heath who is buried in the cathedral.
A guided tour of the cathedral was only able to gloss over the surface, but it was enthralling learning about the foundation of what has become known as the cathedral that moved. The original cathedral shared space with the local garrison but relations soured so much that the Pope gave permission to build a new place of worship. An arrow was fired and where it landed would be the site, but it hit a deer that eventually died where the cathedral now stands.
The foundation stone was laid in 1220 but the eight hundredth anniversary could not be celebrated as the building was a vaccination centre during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The dimensions and logistics are extraordinary. It took only 38 years to build and used 60,000 tons of stone, 2,800 tons of oak and 420 tons of lead and all this sits on foundations of only four feet.
Several rivers pass beneath the building and the presence of water maintains the firmness of the ground. The water level is regularly checked with a dip stick.
This constant supply of water is used in the modern font which is over ten feet across and has overflowing spouts at four corners clearly demonstrating the style of infinity pools. In opposition to this is the world’s oldest working mechanical clock which has no dials but rings the hours. For a church of such size the cathedral does not possess a change ring of bells typically seen in our churches.
Salisbury Cathedral houses what is claimed to be the finest of the four remaining copies of the Magna Carta, signed by King John in 1215. This is on permanent display in the Chapter House. Photography not permitted.
A short stroll diagonally across Cathedral Close sits Arundells, now known as the Prime Minister’s home. It was home for the last twenty years of ex-prime minister Sir Edward Heath and was bequeathed to a charitable foundation set up in Sir Edward’s name following his death in 2005.
Parts of the house go back to the 13th century and six architectural periods are visible and it is set in a two-acre walled garden that stretches down to the confluence of the rivers Avon and Nadder, with amazing views back towards the spire of Salisbury Cathedral.
Inside the house has been largely left as it was when Sir Edward lived here with gifts displayed from world leaders such as Richard Nixon, Chairman Moa and Fidel Castro and many photographs depicting a life spent in politics.
Only taking up sailing at the age of 50 Sir Edward became a successful sportsman. There is a collection of models of Morning Cloud yachts, which is the name most people remember when Sir Edward was the owner and skipper of the winning British crew of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race. Because the sail number 2468 was allowed to be transferred, Sir Edward named four subsequent boats to also be called Morning Cloud.
As well as paintings of his boats the house is decorated throughout with original paintings, some by famous artists including two by Sir Winston Churchill, L S Lowry and Augustus John. There are beautiful collections of ceramics, glassware and sculptures and treasures from the Far East – including hand painted Chinese wallpaper, and a stunning collection of Japanese woodblock prints.
Many bronze sculptures can be seen in an adjoining building with life size busts of Sir Edward Heath and HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. Some depicting other famous people are available to buy but need a fat wallet.
The house is open from the middle of March to 1st November this year, with guided tours on Tuesdays which provide the visitor with a greater sense, not only about its last inhabitant, but also the great history of this house so connected to Salisbury Cathedral.