Old Sarnum, England

August 5, 2001

There's a historical re-enactment of some sort going on. The people dress and live like those hundreds of years ago. I've seen this in America before, but this time there's no fake old English accents.

I'm not sure exactly what battle they are acting out, with their clanging swords, flying rubber arrows and exploding canons, but it certainly livens the place up a bit! What's left of Old Sarum's building structures are merely just outlines of the stone walls, but what the earthwork that it is will remain for millenniums.

Built around 500BC, this was a man made hill, with a gigantic moat around it. All dug by hand! It probably doesn't sound so exciting, but to see an aerial photograph of this really makes you appreciate it.

There are interesting troubles about the ruins. After a decade of building a cathedral, it was destroyed in a storm only 5 days after it's completion. Perhaps they thought God wasn't pleased by it and started building a bigger and better one immediately that took over two decades to complete. Later in 13th century, it was decided that this place was too windy and it was really awkward to get enough water up to the city on top of this hill thing, so another cathedral was built in New Sarum (Salisbury) and the settlement here faded to the valley with plentiful water.

There are sweeping views over the ditch, across the farmland and out to Salisbury. I gather this is just a flat hilltop for some people, it's uniqueness obviously seen, but not obviously appreciated. On a good weather day, like today, the wind blows across it like a hill town in Tuscany, Italy.

Follup notes from a friend

'Old Sarum' will be forever etched in my mind, despite the fact I have never visited to the place. It is an answer to a question I got asked in countless history exams in school, "name an example of a 'rotten borough' before the 1832 parliamentary reform act". I later studied English and Welsh history 1830-1850 so you can imagine how often 'Old Sarum' was mentioned.

A rotten borough was a parliamentary constituencies that had declined in size but still had the right to elect members of the House of Commons. Plympton Earle had been a prosperous market town in the Middle Ages but by the 19th century it had declined to the level of a country village. Newtown on the Isle of Wight had been a market town but by the time of the 1832 Reform Act it had been reduced to a village of 14 houses.

Most of these constituencies were under the control of one man, the patron. Rotten boroughs had very few voters. For example, Dunwich in Suffolk, as a result of coastal erosion, had almost fallen into the sea and by 1831 only had thirty-two people had the vote. Old Sarum, the most famous example, only had three houses and a population of fifteen people. With just a few individuals with the vote and no secret ballot, it was easy for candidates to buy their way to victory.

Hope this is of interest,

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