Salisbury’s Medieval Market

The open-air market began in the early 1200s, when what we now call “farmers’ markets” were merely “markets” and “eating local” was merely “eating”

The olive bar at Salisbury Market
The olive bar at Salisbury Market Photo courtesy of the author

I knew exactly what the Salisbury Cathedral would look like before I ever stepped foot in Salisbury. In college, I studied under a charismatic professor of British art who lectured enthusiastically about John Constable and his romantic depictions of the English countryside, including several paintings of the Salisbury Cathedral. I knew the spire, completed in 1320, was the tallest in England. I knew the main body was completed in the mid-1200s and that the cathedral itself sat on a lovely slice of countryside in Wiltshire.

What I did not know is that, in addition to housing the world’s oldest working clock, the cathedral sits adjacent to one of England’s oldest working markets: the Salisbury Charter Market. Surrounded by streets with names like Oatmeal Row and Butchers Row, the open-air market began in the early 1200s, at a time when what we now call “farmers’ markets” were merely “markets” and “eating local” was merely “eating.”

Today, the Charter Market (named for its consecration under the city’s charter in 1227 by King Henry III) operates on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 8:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m., selling everything from local honey to fresh doughnuts and farmhouse butter. Modern tents and food trucks have replaced the medieval food stalls, but most of the customers are still locals, picking up fresh meat, fish and veg as part of their weekly shopping routine.  You’ll also find your share of tourists wandering through the market before or after exploring the cathedral.

Given the history of the surrounding area, the market would be a great place to pick up some food for a picnic before touring the cathedral, to get a taste of Salisbury’s medieval market culture. And, being a mere two-hour drive southwest of London, Salisbury is a fun day trip if you want to explore the English countryside. (It is not, however, the source of Salisbury steak.) If you find yourself in the area and plan on picnicking around the cathedral, here are some options sure to satisfy your cultural cravings.

Pritchetts: You’ll smell this stand before you see it. Owned by the 97-year-old butchery of the same name, this food truck is known for its hog roast: a sandwich of sliced roast pork, onion-sausage stuffing and applesauce, all served on a soft, floury roll known as a bap. The cook, Scott McDaniel, makes all the components from scratch, from the pork sausage in the stuffing to the applesauce. Wiltshire is known for its pork, and McDaniel hails from Austin, Texas, another city known for its pig products. It will come as no surprise, then, that he takes his pork very seriously. The stand sells other items like burgers and bacon butties, but the hog roast is what draws the crowds.

The Olive Bar: It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the many barrels of olives at The Olive Bar. There’s the Sorrento (basil, garlic, hot chili), the Black Maroc (herbs de Provence, orange peel, cardamom), and the Greek Mammoth (basil, garlic), all swimming in huge barrels of olive oil. There are dozens of other olives, too, not to mention the hunks of feta with herbs de Provence and vats of butter bean salad and hummus. Grab a loaf of their ciabatta or focaccia, and you’ll have a filling meal on your hands.

Long Crichel Bakery: Long Crichel is, first and foremost, a bread bakery. Their organic breads, made by hand from locally-sourced ingredients and baked in a wood-fired oven, have won several awards, and the bakery’s Five-Seed Sourdough remains one of the most popular. The stand at the Charter Market also sells pastries and savories, everything from quiche and sausage rolls to the award-winning treacle tart and flapjacks. The latter two would make excellent picnic desserts.

Fonthill Glebe Wines: English wine? You bet. This stand sells everything from Pinot Blanc to fruit wines made from elderflowers, gooseberries and apples. The adventurous among you might want to try the mead, the ancient alcoholic beverage made from fermented honey and water and said to be the ancestor of all modern fermented drinks. A word of advice, however: Steer clear of the booze if you plan to climb the cathedral’s 400-foot spire. The hike is a doozy.

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