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Beyond the Archive Door: Mr Fisher, Clerk of Works 1837-1872

Nineteenth Century Clerk of Works' Mr Fisher's notebook on aspects of the history of Salisbury Cathedral
Posted By : Emily Naish Wednesday 10th December 2014

Many of the records in the Archive are concerned with the building and upkeep of the physical structure of the Cathedral referred to as the 'Fabric'.  This has from the Cathedral's earliest history been overseen by the Clerk of Works.  One nineteenth century Clerk of Works was a Mr Frederic R Fisher from 1837 to 1872.  Mr Fisher must have been particularly interested in the Cathedral’s history as he used the archive to create his own collection of personal research notes on many aspects of the Cathedral’s past.  These personal notes have now found their way into the archive themselves.

Typically Mr Fisher arranged his notes around different aspects and fittings of the Cathedral such as The Spire, Tower, Cloisters, Monuments, altars, choir fittings, the organ and many others.  He kept a series of six notebooks he called Memoranda of Salisbury Cathedral.  These include six books of notes taken mainly from the 16th, 17th and 18th century Chapter Act Books and which are now stored together again for the first time in many years having previously been dispersed across the archive collection.  The photograph at the top of this blog is one of these books.  There are also a number of extra notebooks including one which Mr Fisher did not give his own title to but which I have called Notes on the Altars, Choir Fittings and Other Parts of the Cathedral.  Mr Fisher has added the following, rather cryptic, inscription on the front cover:

I cannot bring to mind what I intended this extract for, they must have been made after I gave up business, during the time I was free from any anxiety about business

Another notebook, also with no original title, I have called Notes on Eighteenth Century Alterations and Work Together with other Notes Including the Organ.  The following is a summary of its contents taken from the new catalogue entry which will, I hope, give a flavour of the type of information Mr Fisher’s generally notebooks contain:

Notes and reports regarding the 'Town Mill Property', including when occupied by a Miss Ball, Mr Ball and later Mr Alford; an 'Insographic Projection' of the stars in the northern heavens by Richard A Proctor; 'The probable circumstances that led to the discovery of the Box in the capstone of Salisbury Cathedral Spire' (refers to a reference in the Chapter Act books on 15th October 1761); memorandum re organs: 'Some account of the organs in Salisbury Cathedral extracted from the Records of the Dean and Chapter; notes taken from Chapter Act books of the eighteenth centuries re alterations to the fabric and decoration of the Cathedral: 'Copy of the Contract for Painting and Glazing the Choir AD 1673'; 'Extracts taken from my memorandum of work in the choir and church from 1777 to 1792'.

Mr Fisher’s papers also include a very small number of letters which although of limited interest in themselves are important because in the archive as a whole relatively little nineteenth century correspondence seems to have survived.  One is a letter dated 7th May 1866 from the firm Ward & Hughes concerning the manufacture of a piece of glass.  There are also two letters from Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878).   Scott (1811-1878) was an English Gothic revival architect, chiefly associated with the design, building and renovation of churches and cathedrals.  He was Cathedral Architect from 1856 to his death in 1878 and the repairing and restoration of the Cathedral was during this time done under his direction recreating a Gothic interior and removing much of the work undertaken by James Wyatt in the previous century.  Disappointingly the two letters with Mr. Fisher’s papers do not contain anything of interest regarding the Scott’s changes to the Fabric rather they are concerned with the deposit of Mr. Fisher’s research papers with the Cathedral archives.

Finally there is also a bundle of papers which a Mr Harding compiled based on Mr Fisher’s notebooks, so these are notes on notes concerning the Cathedral’s fabric and history!  Again these are arranged by feature and subject.   On the first page is written

Selections from Extracts made by the late Mr F R Fisher from the annual accounts of the Clerks to the Fabric of Salisbury Cathedral between 1473 and 1698 and from other papers copied by him into three books numbered 3, 4 and 5 in the possession of the Chapter…arranged with some explanatory notes by John Harding July 1891".

Together with references to more expected subjects such as The Close, Repairs to Cathedral, Belfry, Clock, The Organ etc. there are also references to the Tower on fire in 1672, Floods and rather intriguingly ‘Eagles kept (1670-72)’: with the following text:
…at that time the Dean & Chapter were the owners of two Eagles, whether by gift or purchase does not appear, neither is it stated where they were kept, nor for what purpose they were had.  The first notice of them is in 1670 as follows – Paid Peter for looking to the Eagles whilst they were at Mr Froomes 1s 5d.  Paid for carriage of the Eagles from London, and for Meate whilst they were at Mr Froomes 13s.  Paid for Meate for the Eagle for one week 1s. (Here and subsequently one only is mentioned) In a Bill of Mooring’s (Smith) for 1671 is a charge of 1s for a Shackle and Ferule for the Eagle.  The charges of “Meate for the Eagle” continued pretty regularly until July 1672, after which date it does not appear.  There is however one “for a pound of shot” which may account for the omission.