From the early Middle Ages, Salisbury was an important centre for theological training, its great cathedral and Close attracting students and scholars from the whole of Europe.
The history of theological study begins with St Osmund and the completion of the first cathedral at Old Sarum in 1092. After Old Sarum was abandoned in favour of New Sarum (or Salisbury, as it came to be known) and the new cathedral was built in the 1220s, several colleges were established as well as a medieval school of theology here on the site of 19 The Close.
The oldest part of Sarum College is the main building at the front of the site which was built in 1677. Attributed to Sir Christopher Wren, it was built for Francis Hill, a distinguished London lawyer and Deputy Recorder for Salisbury. He chose a particularly striking site, at the north end of Bishop’s Walk, facing directly down to the Bishop’s Palace, now the Cathedral School.
The establishment of the theological college in 1860 began with a gift. Walter Kerr Hamilton, Bishop of Salisbury used an anonymous donation to buy the house (then no. 87) from Miss Charlotte Wyndham – and the first students arrived in January 1861.
In the 1870s William Butterfield, foremost church architect of his day, and best-known for Keble College, Oxford, was commissioned to add a residential wing to provide accommodation for students, and then, in 1881, a chapel and library.
In 1937 further extensions designed by William Randall Blacking were added, study bedrooms for students and a meeting room that became the new library and is now the Common Room.
Eight students of Salisbury Theological College were killed in the Great War (1914 -18), and a fine memorial in the Chapel records their names.
During the Second World War (1939 – 45) the College was taken over by the women of the Auxiliary Territorial Service, the women’s branch of the British Army, and Queen Mary paid them a visit. Apparently the creepers which covered the front of the building were hastily removed, as the old Queen did not like them!
In October 1971 the two theological colleges in Salisbury and Wells merged and became Salisbury & Wells Theological College. The additional students required more space, and two further extensions were built: a three storey block of flats and study bedrooms at the eastern end of the Butterfield building (the East Wing), and a new chapel (now the Royal School of Church Music’s administrative centre), refectory and library were added.
In 1994 the Salisbury & Wells College closed, and the following year Sarum College was established to provide ecumenical theological education, including courses, conferences, events and hospitality as well as a home for ministerial training through STETS (Southern Theological Education and Training Scheme). STETS closed and merged with Sarum College in February 2015. Training courses for ordained and lay ministry are now offered through the college’s ministry and mission programmes.
Work to restore and improve the buildings continue, stewarded by the college’s architect Keith Harnden. In 2006, the new link building joining the 1677 and 1877 buildings and incorporating lift access won the 2006 Salisbury Civic Society’s Conservation award.
In early 2007 the five guest rooms in the Wren building were transformed from servants’ attic quarters to beautiful en-suite bedrooms with wonderful views across the Close to the cathedral. In 2008, two of the four meeting rooms in the Wren building were refurbished.
2010 marked the 150th anniversary of theological education on this site and 15 years of ecumenical learning as Sarum College.
The college dining room was refurbished in 2011, and in 2013 the Victorian wings with residential accommodation were renovated, bringing the total number of en-suite bedrooms to forty.
In 2015, the College library was given a comprehensive make-over thanks to a legacy from a keen library member, the late Heather Mathews.
The Common Room is undergoing refurbishment in early 2016 and there are plans to redecorate guest rooms in the Baker Wing.