The Sowter Collection at Sarum College Library

In the late 1990s the library acquired several thousand books from the former Sowter and Clerical library in Church House, Salisbury. Among these were the majority of books that now make up the local history collection at Sarum Library. Other book donations have added to the collection.

As might be expected, a number of these books relate to Salisbury Cathedral. ‘Brown’s series of Strangers’ handbooks no. 1 Salisbury Cathedral’ of 1880; Gleeson White’s guide of 1898; Francis Price’s ‘a Series of particular and useful Observations, made with great diligence and care, upon that admirable structure, the Cathedral-Church of Salisbury’ of 1853; Britton’s ‘History and antiquities of the Cathedral Church of Salisbury…. Including anecdotes of the bishops’ of 1814.’ A useful book for family historians is ‘Copies of the epitaphs in Salisbury Cathedral, cloisters, and cemetery’ by J. Harris, 1825.

Other aids for genealogists are the Crockford Clerical Directory, of which we have a selection starting from 1895. Walker’s Sufferings of the Clergy of 1714, ‘an attempt towards recovering an account of the number and sufferings of the clergy of the Church of England…..etc. who were sequester’d , haras’d etc. in the late Times of the Grand Rebellions’ included a section on Wiltshire. Under this is an account of John Hern, who was imprisoned and lost his living: ‘he died very poor, leaving behind him ten children, and a widow who came afterwards to be Relieved by the Charity of the Corporation for Ministers Widows.’

Those with an interest in ecclesiastical history can find much to occupy them. ‘A new set of diocesan maps’ by James Thos. Law published in 1864; ‘Taxation ecclesiastic Angliae et Walliae’ of 1291, published in 1802. ‘Liber Regis’ by John Bacon, 1786 which gives accounts of all the valuations of all the ecclesiastical benefices in England and Wales, including the value and the amount given in tithes, and the set of ‘Sarum Almanack’ from 1857. These include some rather wonderful adverts, such as the one for ‘Rowlands Macassar oil’ which was reputedly ‘universally known as the only article that can be depended upon for the growth, restoration and for improving and beautifying the human hair . (It was, of course, also renowned for spoiling the backs of chairs, hence the use of ‘antimacassars’.)

There are also plenty of books of interest to the general local historian, such as the ‘popular history of Old and new Sarum’ by T J Northy of 1897. The oldest of these is ‘Antiquitates Sarisburienses: or, the history of antiquities of Old and New Sarum’ of 1777. This includes the ‘Salisbury ballad’ with the ‘learned commentaries of a friend to the author’s memory’. The ballad begins:

Salisbury People give Ear to my Song,
And Attention unto my Ditty,
For it is in the Praise of your River Avon,
Of your Bishop, your Church, and your City

It continues for rather a long time in the same mode! The book also includes a chapter ‘eminent men, natives of Salisbury’. To redress the balance of the above we have a volume from 1882 entitled ‘eminent ladies of Wiltshire history’ by the Revd Canon J E Jackson.

Among the Sowter collection, which dates from 1816, are several boxes of pamphlets. Some of these relate to local disputes and local contributions to national controversies. Others include ‘the indents of lost monumental brasses in Wiltshire’; ‘Recollections of village life on Salisbury Plain’; ‘Incumbents of the Salisbury Churches during the period of the Commonwealth’ and ‘the Close gates of Sarum.’

From the latter we learn that ‘There is no known reference to the construction of the gates; but it is generally supposed that, like the Close wall, they were constructed out of material taken from Old Sarum in accordance with Edward lll’s licence of 1327’. Those of us who think 10.30pm is early to be shut out of the Close can consider ourselves lucky that we didn’t live in Salisbury in 1404, when the gates closed at 7pm, the curfew hour.

The collection is wider than just Salisbury; it includes for instance several books on Wilton; Thomas Cox’s ‘A topographical, ecclesiastical, and natural history of Wiltshire’ from the 1700s; Hutchins’ ‘history of Dorset’ in 4 volumes, from 1861. It also includes a series of Richard Colt Hoare’s ‘the history of modern Wiltshire’ for different areas of the county.

‘Wiltshire notes and queries’, subtitled ‘an illustrated quarterly antiquarian and genealogical magazine’ which we have from vol. 1 1893 to vol. 8 1914/16, is a fascinating read.

– Jenny Monds

For more library titbits, go back to the From the Stacks main page

One Response to The Sowter Collection at Sarum College Library

  1. Dear Sarum College Staff,
    The Brentwood Library, USA, received a donated, rebound set (vol 2-7) of “The History of the Reformation of the Church of England,” 1829 by Burnett. Each volume has the bookplate, “Clerical and Sowter Library, Church House Salisbury, and also a stamp ” Sowter & Clerical Library Tele(?) Wilton 3230″. The books have no markings that they were ever withdrawn from your collection. Are they a missing piece of your special collection? or books previously discarded?
    dennis luther, brentwood library, USA
    p.s. I emphasize USA because we have previously had a UK Brentwood Library mistakenly contact us:)

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