Mainly ACE Trains, TCS, Narborough Road - November 2014




Old Sarum - historically, ‘Old Salisbury’ - is a scheduled Ancient Monument just to the north of the modern city of Salisbury.  A superb natural defensive position, it was adapted as a hill fort in the early Iron Age, and it enjoyed a revival at the end of the 10th c., a troubled period, when its defensive attributes again became of value.  It was under the Normans, however, that it achieved its greatest fame. A town of sorts already existed, as there was a mint there, and probably a market, although it is not recorded until 1130.  However, the Normans also appreciated the site’s strategic significance, and a royal castle was constructed, where the kings of the late 11th, 12th and early 13th c. held court on many occasions (Henry II also had his queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, imprisoned there), and, furthermore, in 1075 the see of Sherborne was moved there, the eventual cathedral being said to be of great beauty. Placing the twin houses of spiritual and temporal authority next to each other like this was quite typical - another see was moved from Dorchester-on-Thames to Lincoln at about the same time, and Lincoln Castle and Lincoln Cathedral continue to stand facing each other a few yards apart to this day, but at Old Salisbury the castle and cathedral seem to have been too close for comfort, and the relationship was strained - it is said that on one occasion the clergy, returning from a procession, were even locked out by the garrison. In any case, the elevated position that made the hill such an excellent defensive site also made a bleak and windswept position for a church.  A contemporary churchman, Peter of Blois, wrote:-

“This election for the borough of Old Sarum was held in a temporary booth erected in a cornfield, under a tree which marked the former boundary of the old town, not a vestige of which has been standing in the memory of man, the several burgages which give the right of voting, being now without a dwelling for a human being. Mr. Dean, the bailiff of the borough having read the precept for the election, and caused proclamation thereof, read the bribery act, and gone through all the legal ceremonies, the Rev. Dr. Skinner rose and nominated Nicholas Vansittart, and Henry Alexander, Esq., from a thorough conviction that their public conduct would be such as would give satisfaction and do honour to their constituents. The other electors acquiescing in this nomination and no other candidates offering, the proclamation was thrice made for any gentleman disposed to do so, to come forward, the bailiff declared the above two gentlemen to be duly elected.

There were five electors present at this election, (beside the bailiff of the borough who lives at Wimborne) viz., the Rev. Dr. Skinner, of the Close; the Rev. Mr. Burrough, of Abbot's Ann; William Dyke, Esq., of Syrencot; Mr. Massey and Mr. Brunsdon, both occupiers of land within the limits of the borough. The above account is thus particularly given to rectify several prevalent mistakes relative to this celebrated borough, and to show that the election is conducted in a manner every way consonant to the law of the land and the constitution of Parliament.”

The result, of course, had been a foregone conclusion - the last contested vote was a by-election in 1751, when a dissatisfied member of the Pitt family registered a futile objection to the chosen candidate - but whilst it must remain a mystery whether Nicholas Vansittart - later 1st (and only) Lord Bexley - really gave satisfaction to the electors of Old Sarum, he did go on to serve as Chancellor of the Exchequer (1812-23), other distinguished statesmen who once served as M.P.s for the borough including Richard, Earl of Mornington - later Marquess Wellesley -  Foreign Secretary 1809-12, whose distinguished career was nevertheless overshadowed by that of his younger brother Arthur, the Duke of Wellington, and above all the eminent 18th c. statesman William Pitt the Elder, who first entered parliament by means of the ‘family borough’ 1735-47.  It was on the basis that such promising young men could thereby gain entry to parliament, and the fact that the system was ultimately benign, as it had not stopped the county’s commercial and constitutional progress, that many continued to defend the old system. For many others, though, Old Sarum, the ultimate ‘rotten borough’, was symbolic of a rotten system, and eventually the calls for reform became unstoppable. The last time the electors of Old Sarum were able to choose M.P.s for their building-less borough was at the General Election of 1831.  The parliament thereby elected passed the Great Reform Act, which removed the worst of the abuses; Old Sarum, fittingly, had the dubious honour of heading the schedule of boroughs to be disenfranchised.

Curiously, though, despite - or more probably because of - its notoriety, there remains to this day a certain affection for Old Sarum amongst parliamentarians. The original ‘Parliamentary Tree’ lived on until 1905, and in 1931 - a century after the last election had been held under its shade - a memorial stone was unveiled at the site, at which ceremony the Conservative party leader, Stanley Baldwin (the former and future Prime Minister, but at that time in opposition) made a speech that curiously echoed some of the defenders of the old system of 100 years earlier:-

Today, the site of Old Sarum is in the hands of English Heritage, and is open to the public.  The castle and cathedral are little more than foundations marked out in the grass, parliamentary elections are no longer held under one of its trees.   But we have, at least in model form, now given it a railway station to serve its non-existent townspeople.

In the end, it was too much for the clergy - in 1219 they secured permission to move.  Work started on the Salisbury Cathedral we know to-day in 1220, and by 1226 work was far enough advanced for the formal transfer to take place (although it appears parts of the old cathedral were not finally dismantled until about 1330) and a new town quickly grew up around it.

This was the beginning of the end for Old Salisbury - but it was not yet, as is sometimes suggested, the end. Certainly, the town - perhaps already in decline - was badly affected.  Tax records show it was reduced to poverty, and complaints in 1275 by Wilton and Old Salisbury about the - as they saw it - unfair competition from New Salisbury illustrates how successful the new town was - but it also shows that there were still people in Old Salisbury who felt that they had commercial interests they needed to defend, and from 1295 all three boroughs were represented in parliament.  Although it no longer enjoyed the importance it once had, the castle continued to be used by the Sheriff of Wiltshire, and would, therefore, have been an important administrative centre, and records suggest that some degree of civic and commercial life continued in Old Salisbury throughout the 14th c. and well into the 15th c.. After about 1440, however, there is an ominous silence.  If any urban life did survive into the 16th c., the decision in 1514 to sell the castle for its materials would surely have been its death blow.  In any event, when the antiquary John Leland visited Old Salisbury in 1540, he found it deserted, although he said this had taken place within living memory.

This abandonment, however, did not prevent the borough from famously continuing to return two Members of Parliament for almost another 300 years!  At first, it would seem a mystery how this was even possible, given that the town had no residents left to elect them, but Old Sarum was a ‘burgage borough’, in which the right to vote was attached to ownership of land in the town, meaning that Old Sarum was not only a ‘rotten borough’ but - unsurprisingly - a ‘pocket borough’ as well, as the local landowner effectively controlled the whole process.  From 1692 to 1802 this was a member of the Pitt family. One minor difficulty, though, was finding a suitable location for the vote; normally the election would be held outside the town hall - voting being open at that time - but in the case of Old Sarum, there was no longer even a town, let alone a town hall.  Therefore, a designated tree was used.  A witness to the whole bizarre procedure at the time of the 1802 General Election described the scene as follows:-

“…barren, dry, and solitary, exposed to the rage of the wind; and the church as a captive on the hill where it was built, like the ark of God shut up in the profane house of Baal.”

“New Sarum began, with its new life and buildings, and Old Sarum began to crumble…Yet…into the lifetime of the fathers of many of us, Old Sarum returned her two members of Parliament.  In the long roll are many names not unknown to fame.  There is one that stands out far above the others…I have not the presumption nor the time to speak of William Pitt.  I should want all day…If Old Sarum had no other claim to fame in these islands, it would have it in this, that it sent William Pitt for the first time to the House of Commons.

Old Sarum was one of the many boroughs in England which were called ‘rotten boroughs’.  I am going to say a word for the ‘rotten boroughs’.  Let us not condemn a system until we have looked at the fruits of it.  After all, a very great proportion of the House of Commons was for centuries sent there by these boroughs.  And what did they do?  They watched over the growth of England from her earliest struggles to a century ago…

Coming from the House of Commons this afternoon, I look around and ask myself : What is the site value of Old Sarum?  The site value arrived at by any valuer…can be but small.  But the value to us and to all England is infinite.”


Of course, in reality, Old Sarum never had a station - it is not even close to a railway line.  But New Sarum - Salisbury - has a station that was and remains very important. Although originally built by the London & South Western Railway, and retaining a Southern dominance in the days of steam, the Great Western also had a route into Salisbury, and used the former LSWR station from 1932.   

Our ‘Old Sarum’, therefore, is intended to be an echo, to some small degree, of the real Salisbury.  More prosaically, it is also intended to provide a vehicle for the ACE Trains E/9 - the ‘West County’ / ‘Battle of Britain’ class - and, to represent the GWR interest, the same manufacturer’s E/7 ‘Castle’ class - the opportunity having been taken to have one of the E/9s done as 34002 ‘Salisbury’, and one of the E/7s as 5097 ‘Sarum Castle’! Other BR-liveried locos appropriate to the Southern and Western regions by ACE Trains and Bassett-Lowke (from the Corgi/Hornby era) also feature.  As vintage 0 Gauge was in rapid decline by the BR era, and not very much stock appropriate to this layout was made (especially in terms of locomotives), Old Sarum uses exclusively modern stock, and, in fact, at its first outing, which was at the TCS Autumn Show in November 2014, it was presented as a representation of what is possible using only modern 3-rail 0 Gauge.

The station itself uses three ACE Trains canopy sets, with modern Bassett-Lowke resin buildings (based on the Hornby ‘Skaledale’ range) being used for the buildings.   These are arranged to create five through platforms on what is essentially a two-track layout.


This layout would occupy approximately 10’ x 20’.

We don’t feel this particular layout would work well in a smaller area.