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Flâneuring in Harnham

Updated: May 30

by Flâneurse Flo

The Harnham Bunker

My friend Florence is often telling me that Hidden Wiltshire needs to write more about the hidden urban areas of the county. She delights in observing the intricacies of the non-rural environment and hidden histories, as well as doing a bit of people watching. She fills me so full of the French ideas of the flâneur and dérives that at times my head spins. She recently sent me this email telling me all about an area of Salisbury that I really was not familiar with, and as she described it so well I asked her if she would be happy if I shared it with you all. Happily she agreed and provided a few photos too. I will refer to her by our nickname “Flâneuse Flo”. So here is the email written by Flâneuse Flo.

Dear Elaine,

We were so sorry that we missed you the other day when we visited Salisbury. No doubt you were out somewhere on one of your walks in the deep countryside. I tell you, you are missing such treats that are right on your doorstep, as Mr. Flo and I once again found to our delight. After a sustaining beverage in one of Salisbury's many delightful cafés, I decided we should head off and explore an area of the city. This day I was feeling nostalgic, and my senses drew me to Harnham and as predicted we found an interesting location with lots of history and the most glorious views.

Although not certain of its exact age, it is known that Harnham is an old settlement. It is thought it derives its name from a high ranking chieftain or Saxon lord called Hara, who held land in the area. While it is not accurately known when Hara existed, or at least I haven’t been able to find out this information, it is believed that he is buried in a barrow close to Stonehenge. He must have been of some standing as his barrow was located in a prominent position such that it afforded commanding views of the surrounding area. Indeed, it was thought to have aligned with the Stonehenge Avenue and was used by William Stukeley to observe the total solar eclipse of 1724, something in this for you to investigate, I think.

To reach Harnham, we headed from the city centre through the cathedral grounds and on to the Harnham Gate. I always find this such an uplifting area to walk, especially when it is sunny. Straight away on passing through the gate you feel the atmosphere of Harnham. It radiates history and in fact beauty. We immediately encountered wonderful flowers and the most magnificent of white wisterias that I have ever seen! The owner of the said wisteria was tending her garden near the path, and we were able to complement her on such a wonderful sight as the pendulous flower clusters adorned her wall in abundance. She likened the site to that of a waterfall, we had to agree that it was exactly like that.

The Waterfall of Wisteria

From the wisteria adorned cottage wall we crossed the road to take a look at the thirteenth century St Nicholas Hospital. Do you know it was immortalised in Anthony Trollope’s book The Warden? I must read that! I don’t think the exact origin of the building is known, but it is said that Ela of Salisbury gifted money in remembrance of her late husband William Longespee. This money may have been from the funds that Longespee had laid aside for a priory in Bentley Wood. It is fascinating to think of all this history in front of you. No doubt you are glad the priory wasn’t built in Bentley Wood, but I believe the clearing for it exists to this day.

Moving on we were soon on the Harnham (formerly Ayleswade) bridge observing the river but sadly we were not in luck to see any otters. The house by the bridge still bearing the name Toll House. I believe there is a painting in Salisbury Museum that shows a chain being placed across the bridge and a post with antlers on top erected once a year. Apparently, this was a “cheminage” a toll paid for passing through the forest of Cranborne Chase. Imagine passing along through the forest and emerging to find yourself so close to Salisbury.

The Toll House on Harnham Bridge

On passing over the bridge, we turned right and headed uphill past a simply gorgeous row of thatched Regency cottages. I don't think I can recall such a cute terrace of houses anywhere. At the top we crossed the main road and continued upwards on the Old Blandford Road up what is known as Harnham Hill and then we turned off the road into a lovely wooded area called “Harnham Slope. This area includes evidence of a Saxon village and burial ground.

A view from Harnham Bridge

Not long after entering the area we came across “The Bunker”. This somewhat muted coloured building is now a place for the younger folk of Salisbury to practice their music. Indeed, if you look more closely at the entrance, the motto “Music Awakens the Soul” is clearly visible. However, the bunker does have a more darker origin, that of a nuclear fall out shelter. For those of us who grew up during the Cold War, we will remember the nuclear threat and the concept of the four minute warning. Sadly, I feel this threat is just as real today as it ever was.

View from Harnham Slope

Moving on from the bunker, we found our spirits lifting as we walked along the high path above the Harnham Slope. Every now and then clearings in the trees delivered amazing and glorious views of Salisbury Cathedral. This area did truly enchant us and indeed we did find a small area where the fairies sleep. Such adorable figures lovingly placed for only those with the keen eye to see. I find real fairies behave in just the same way!

The Harnham Fairies

As we walked, we were taken by just how lovely and peaceful the woodland was. I feel sure you would love it! There were memorials to the bishop John Wordsworth who presented the area to the citizens of Salisbury and a chair mentioning the trek2b walkers and Jim's Smile project.

Eventually, the walk brings you out from the woods and takes you along a path above the Harnham Chalk Pit. It is thought that the pit was the origin for chalk used for the mortar for the cathedral. It is also the location of a sad find and a nod to England’s gruesome past and of course a ghost story. The narrative goes as follows, In late December 1767 a Jewish pedlar, known as Wolf Myers was in Salisbury to sell trinkets. It is not certain if he had done well but at the end of the day he went on his way, out of Salisbury along the Harnham Hill. That was to be the last time he would be seen alive. Sadly, he was murdered on Harnham Hill and his body cast into the Chalk Pit, where it became covered in snow and not observed until the snow thawed some days later. Not too long afterwards a sailor named John Curtis was found in Gosport in possession of a trinket box like Wolf’s. Although the sailor pleaded innocent it was known he had been in Salisbury at the same time as the pedlar and therefore he was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged and his body hung in chains and left to rot (known as gibbetting.) Unusually this took place at the spot where he killed Wolf Myers. This sorry tale and grizzly end of the perpetrator does lend one to the idea of the chance of hauntings where both bodies were left, but we felt no such presence as we looked down on the Chalk Pit.

Harnham Chalk Pit

After this we walked a little farther admiring the views before descending below the pit, returning to the wooded area and retracing our steps towards the city centre. Noticing along the way an interesting "Art Deco style" building contrasting and yet strangely fitting in the position between the Toll house and St Nicholas’ Hospice, its three chimneys regimented on the top of the building in such an enchanting way.

The "Art Deco style" house

All in all we had a lovely time “flâneuring” around parts Harnham.

Footnotes and updates:

What Flo refers to as an "Art Deco style" building is in fact a late/early 19th century refacing of what was once a 13th century building

For more information on the bunker please see this link :-


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