Sarum College: A Brief History

Sarum College: A Brief History

059  Sarum College 25thFeb14From 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.

Cathedral from Sarum College

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.

Sarum College facade with blossom May 2004

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.


Walter Kerr Hamilton, Bishop of Salisbury, established the Theological College here in 1860 – using an anonymous donation to buy the house (then no. 87) from Miss Charlotte Wyndham – and the first students arrived in January 1861.


Weigall, Arthur Howes, c.1836-1894; Walter Kerr Hamilton (1808-1869), Bishop of Salisbury (1854-1869)
Weigall, Arthur Howes; Walter Kerr Hamilton (1808-1869), Bishop of Salisbury (1854-1869)

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 Randoll 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).


Since then, restoration and alteration work has been carried out by architect Keith Harnden, including a new bookshop and reception area. 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 Wren rooms were transformed from servants’ attic quarters to beautiful en-suite bedrooms with wonderful views across the Close to the cathedral. In 2008, the Burnet and Hamilton meeting rooms 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 2013 saw the completion of the refurbishment of the Victorian wings, bringing the total number of en-suite bedrooms to forty. In 2014 the kitchen was also refurbished.


In February 2015 Sarum College merged with STETS to once again offer ministry training directly.

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Sarum College Library


The library at Sarum College was created in 1860 with the formation of the Salisbury Theological College. As an initial deposit it received the 274-volume collection of Bishop Walter Kerr Hamilton which mostly comprised nineteenth century pamphlets, tracts, sermons and charges. Over the next century the collection grew. The college merged with the Wells Theological College in 1971, and the library was given a further major boost in 1998 when it inherited several thousand books from the Sowter and Clerical Library that had previously operated from Church House.


Today the library is primarily an academic resource to support Sarum College courses, local clergy and anyone with an interest in theology, ecclesiastical and local history. Located in three rooms, the collection consists of books, journals, newspapers, a music resource, photocopying, word processing and internet facilities, as well as space to study.



Present Day


Sarum College is an ecumenical centre for Christian study and research where our passion is learning that nourishes the human spirit. Welcoming people of all faiths and none, we offer space and time for enquiring minds to grow in wisdom and courage.

Bookshop 3

Sarum College runs courses in specialist areas of Christian spirituality, leadership, liturgy and worship, ministry training, theology, and the arts.  We have five postgraduate programmes which can lead to a certificate, diploma or MA degree, as well as a diverse range of non-accredited short courses. Sarum college also hosts a number of special events throughout the year, including lectures and conferences, art exhibitions and lunchtime concerts.


Our education, accommodation and hospitality are available to all, whether you’re studying on one of our courses, staying the night as a bed and breakfast guest, hiring one of our meeting rooms or just popping in to enjoy a home-made meal.

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