As our peregrine falcons settle in on the south side of the Cathedral Tower with their clutch of five eggs, our Archivist Emily Naish takes a timely look back through our library and archive at the Cathedral’s avian relationships across the centuries.
There are nine fully authenticated records of peregrine falcons breeding at the Cathedral mentioned in Bird of Wiltshire compiled by Wiltshire Ornithological Society. These go back as far as 1864 but, due to persecution and the use of pesticides, there appears to have been no breeding peregrines from 1953 to 2013, an absence of sixty years.
This absence coincides with a general decline in peregrines numbers across the country – a process that has been reversed since the birds were afforded the highest degree of legal protection under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
Prior to 1953 the birds were still persecuted and their nests robbed but their numbers were sustainable. Amongst the material Emily has collected includes a gruesomely entertaining diary entry by the Revd Francis Kilvert, written on Saturday 11 July, 1874:
“To-day after 23 years I went to Britford again. The Vicar has in his house a fine collection of stuffed birds among which are a pair of peregrine falcons which were shot, of all places in the world, on the spire of Salisbury Cathedral.”
Those stuffed peregrine still exist in a glass case, not yet on display, in Salisbury Museum stores.
Other avian references come from the annual accounts of the Clerks to the Fabric of Salisbury in 1670 - 72 and include extracts from records kept by Mr F R Fisher, Clerk of the Works. Mr Fisher refers rather intriguingly to ‘eagles’ owned by the Dean and Chapter in 1670:
“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.”
So his entries continue until what appears to be a deadly twist to the plot.
Some original documents will be on display afterwards for all to see – and Emily’s talk won’t just focus on raptors, she’ll also discuss Jackdaws and other birds with a Cathedral connection.
For any other enquiries contact Marie Thomas firstname.lastname@example.org or 01722 555148.