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George Herbert Walk

Updated: Mar 30, 2023

On a Monday morning I dropped the car off in Salisbury for a service. I’d decided to get the bus home as it was going to take all day. Since the garage was in the dreaded Churchfields Industrial Estate in Salisbury I decided to take a detour across the water meadows back to the City centre from where I would get the bus. Then I remembered that, just a couple of hundred metres up the road from the garage, nearly 400 years ago the poet George Herbert had been the rector of the local church, living in the Old Rectory opposite. I remembered reading about a George Herbert Walk linking his parish in Fugglestone-cum-Bemerton to Salisbury Cathedral so I decided to take this opportunity to follow this walk to the City centre rather than brave the horrors of the road through Churchfields.

St Andrew's Chapel, Bemerton and The Old Rectory

I have provided a link to the walk and rather than provide a lengthy commentary I’ll leave you to read the walk description, provided by The Friend’s of St Andrew’s Bemerton, for yourself. Since I was already in Bemerton I did the walk in reverse.

I began the walk at the little chapel of St Andrew’s which sits at the junction of Lower Road and St. Andrew’s Road. Opposite the chapel is the Old Rectory. The road squeezes between these two old buildings and is therefore very narrow with no footpath. Sadly, as Salisbury’s traffic gets progressively worse this road is now a notorious rat-run. It was especially bad the day I did the walk due to roadworks on the main Wilton Road which tempted impatient drivers to divert onto this wholly inappropriate alternative route. Any poor child walking to the primary school further along this road in the direction of Quidhampton in the mornings must surely be taking their lives in their hands. Fortunately for me it was 09:30 in the morning so the worst of the commuter traffic had passed.

The Old Rectory

After spending some time trying to get a few car-free photographs of the chapel, whilst trying to leave out the multitude of signs and street furniture, I ventured inside.

Porch, St Andrew's Chapel

I was stunned at the transformation. The din outside was replaced by a calm tranquillity, the thick stone walls providing great sound proofing. You are left in no doubt about the identity of this tiny chapel’s once famous rector. There is a beautifully simple stained glass window at the western end showing him standing whilst alongside him is his friend and fellow man of religion Nicholas Ferrar. Above the likeness of Ferrar is the name of the manor where he lived out his days, Little Gidding in Huntingdonshire. The list of rectors of the church duly displays Herbert’s name, and another plaque bears his initials.

Stained Glass Window, St Andrew's Chapel

Rectors of Bemerton

George Herbert Memorial Plaque

So who was George Herbert? Born into a distinguished family in the Welsh borders in April 1593, he was one of seven sons, the eldest of whom (Edward) was to become the Ambassador to France. George was a distant cousin of the 3rd Earl of Pembroke, of Wilton House fame, and also a Herbert. George was educated at Westminster School and Trinity College Cambridge where he began to write poetry. He held high office at Cambridge, whilst also spending time in London where his mother and step father lived, but he was destined for the priesthood. He was both ordained a deacon and, sponsored by his cousin the 3rd Earl of Pembroke, became a Member of Parliament in 1624. In 1626 he was given a non-residentiary post at Leighton Bromswold, near the religious community which Ferrar was creating at Little Gidding. In 1628 he left London to escape the plague and moved to Wiltshire. Here he met his future wife Jane Denvers, marrying in Edington Priory Church in March 1629. Then, in the same year, the parish of Fugglestone-cum-Bemerton became vacant. It was within the gift of King James I and once proposed by his cousin the Earl of Pembroke, the king gladly accepted Herbert and he took up his position in April 1630. Initially as a deacon he was not ordained a priest until September of the same year.

The Old Rectory Sign

Porch and Sign, the Old Rectory

So now we know how Herbert came to be in Bemerton. He lived in the Old Rectory opposite the chapel. This was a much smaller building than the house we see today and is said to have been in a very poor condition when he took up residency. It was certainly not what he was used to. Apart from the chapel of St. Andrew’s his ministry also included the Church of St. Peter’s at Fugglestone. This is the church we now see besieged by traffic on the A36 next to the garden centre at Wilton. Unfortunately for Herbert not only was the Old Rectory in dire need of repair so were the chapel and the church, for all of which he had to raise the funds.

Apart from his parochial duties Herbert continued to write, both poetry and a book entitled A Priest to the Temple in which he set out how he thought a country parson should perform his ministry. He was also an accomplished musician, writing hymns which he set to music. Twice a week Herbert would walk to Salisbury Cathedral to attend evensong. Whilst we cannot be certain of his precise route it is likely that rather than walk what even then was a main road along what is now the A36, he would instead probably have walked the more direct route across the water meadows. Sadly, never having enjoyed good health, he succumbed to consumption in the Old Rectory in March 1633 after an all too brief time in what was then a rural idyll. Using the old calendar that existed at the time his death was recorded as being 1632 hence the date on the plaque in the chapel. His body lies under the chancel floor.

It is no longer possible to follow Herbert’s likely precise route across the water meadows but this short 4 km (2.5 mile) walk is a pleasant way to enjoy something of what he may have seen. The route is simple enough to follow from the Friends of St Andrew’s Bemerton leaflet albeit, as I said, I did it in reverse. But in some ways I preferred to do it in this direction heading as I was towards the Cathedral which loomed larger in my line of sight the whole way. I looked out for the some of the landmarks described in the leaflet, the house with the green shutters in particular catching my eye.

The House with the Green Shutters

I would also have taken a photograph of the cruck house but the concrete tiles were particularly unattractive and I didn’t really want to stand at the end of the drive pointing my camera towards it whilst someone was standing in the window watching me! I also liked Bridge House. Built in the 1840s or 50s it's thought it was designed by the same architect who built nearby Belvedere House. Bridge House can be glimpsed just after turning onto the footpath from Lower Road.

Bridge House and River Nadder

I’ve included a few photographs from my walk, some well known others less so. For me one of the highlights of the walk are the views across the Nadder and water meadows towards the Cathedral.

Jetty over River Nadder

Salisbury Cathedral Across Water Meadows

Old Mill Harnham
Old Mill Harnham Detail

Island Cottage Framing Salisbury Cathedral

It is easy to imagine how this would have looked centuries ago, the meadows grazed by sheep and periodically flooded by the opening of the sluices, since this can still be seen today. After exploring the Cathedral Close, fittingly the final photograph is of the statue of George Herbert which can be found to the left of the main door of the Cathedral. The perfect way to connect either end of this short, if at times muddy, walk and to remember the life of one of great poets.

Sarum College Music School

Cycling Vicar

Statue of George Herbert at Salisbury Cathedral

George Herbert Walk Route Map (courtesy of Ordnance Survey)


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