Beyond the Archive Door: Cataloguing the Fabric Records | Salisbury Cathedral

Search form

Beyond the Archive Door: Cataloguing the Fabric Records

I’m Helen Sumping and I recently joined as Assistant Archivist.

You are here

Beyond the Archive Door: Cataloguing the Fabric Records

Posted By : Helen Sumping Wednesday 23rd December 2015

I’m Helen Sumping and I recently joined as Assistant Archivist. I have been employed as part of a grant to catalogue the Cathedral records.


My first task has been to rearrange, catalogue and rehouse the Cathedral Fabric records, which consist of documents recording work done to the Cathedral and its property. The Fabric Fund was overseen by two canons called the Masters of the Fabric, under whom was the Clerk of the Fabric. The Clerk was in charge of administering the Fund and compiling accounts. For more information about the management of the Fund, have a look at a previous blog post.


The records, which date back to 1464, are incredibly detailed and offer an insight into the workings of the Cathedral between the Fifteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. They reveal the salaries, activities and materials of craftsmen and other figures, and subjects range from building work, to tuning the organ, to making curtains. There are also payments for other activities such as the burial of Princess Augusta in 1840 (one of the six daughters of George III). There is even a bill for killing foxes and badgers.


There are quite a few unusual words and interesting spellings in the records (the cataloguing process has involved quite a lot of ‘Googling!'), not to mention records in Latin. The handwriting is often challenging too. One word in particular I haven’t quite managed to crack – although I have a few ideas in mind, one being a turnstile for the Close – is ‘whurley gog.’ Suggestions are welcome (see the gallery)! Another word I had to look up was ‘whitesmith’ – a craftsman that dealt with metal, especially tin, but in this case iron.


One item that I found particularly fascinating to work on was a 1673 memorandum between the Dean and Chapter and a joiner, Alexander Fort, concerning discrepancies in the payment made for the repair of the Cathedral Quire (also known as ‘Choir’). In addition to a list of work carried out (interesting in itself) there is a reference to a Doctor Wren, Surveyor General. On the reverse of the memorandum there is a statement from Doctor Wren himself – none other than Christopher Wren. Back in 1668, Wren had produced a report on the structure of the Cathedral and had made recommendations for work needed. In 1671-1672 the Quire was renovated, overseen by Wren, and Alexander Fort was employed (one of Wren’s acquaintances). Have a look at the gallery, where you can see the memorandum and Wren’s response.


To view the accompanying gallery, click here.