Salisbury and the Doves of Peace
Salisbury is recovering from the recent poison attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter. The Cathedral, with the artist Michael Pendry’s inspirational flight of white paper doves soaring above the nave, is at the very heart of the process, spreading a message of peace and hope. Visitors are slowly returning to the ‘quiet mediaeval city’ or ‘the place where nothing ever happens’, to quote journalists in the recent months.
Our city has, however, coped with problems many times before.
Although sequestered in The Close, the first students knew about the many blazes in the city. Fire practice was a regular part of their lives and there are stories about perilous fire escapes in King’s House and in Wardobe. In 1901 a large and threatening fire burnt out a factory and destroyed buildings in the picturesque old Market Place.
In 1849 Salisbury suffered a severe outbreak of cholera and 192 people died. The city was densely populated and the open water channels were little more than sewers. Salisbury was known as ‘Little Venice’ until it was recognised that cholera was spread by water. The channels were drained, deep sewers were dug under the city in the 1850s and a piped water supply was created. There is no record of any college student suffering from cholera, but people remained fearful. Even in the 1880s, Canon Edward Steward, Principal of Salisbury Training College was concerned about the health risks associated with rubbish and stagnant water in The Close.
Fire and pestilence – what else? Salisbury has also known extreme weather conditions. The 1915 floods remain etched in the memory of the city. Continuous rain in the autumn had turned the five rivers into raging torrents and even the Cathedral didn’t escape the rising floodwaters. Clergy came into the Cathedral on horseback, whilst others moved across the nave by climbing from chair to chair. Such was the depth of water in the city that boats were used as ferries in Fisherton Street and Crane Street. Buildings that were damaged by the floods included the Infirmary in Fisherton Street and King’s House in The Close, home to Salisbury Diocesan Training College.
In later years students, including several from the Channel Islands, experienced the bitter winter of 1946/47. Heavy snow and power cuts swept the country for several months and rationing was still in force. It was a time of bleak austerity and of frozen hands and frozen faces, but one student (Kay Drake) wrote with passion about the Cathedral, ‘all filled with peace and love and grace ……in memory to be ever dear’.
As we sang in the Cathedral at the Reunion Service a few weeks ago, many of us lifted our eyes to the doves above us and rejoiced at their message of peace, optimism and reconciliation for our troubled world.