On the western facade of Salisbury Cathedral, you will find, in stone, the likeness of Richard Poore. He’s the one clutching a model of the cathedral. Poore oversaw the construction of the new cathedral to replace the one in nearby Old Sarum. Old Sarum was one of England’s earliest settlements, and the decision to move the cathedral to the Salisbury plain proved fatal for the town. As a new settlement grew up around Salisbury Cathedral’s construction site, the stones ofOld Sarum were absconded one by one and absorbed into the new town, leaving Old Sarum absolutely bare.
Whether by good governance or luck, Richard Poore’s oversight of Salisbury’s construction went surprisingly well. The multi-generational construction schedule of many cathedrals meant that technology and styles moved faster than construction, causing an evolution in a cathedral’s character from start to finish. Not so at Salisbury. With a construction schedule of just 38 years — lightning speed at the time — Salisbury was able to remain faithful to its original early Gothic plan from start to finish, resulting in a cohesive motif and singular identity.
Another pitfall for many cathedral construction projects was their reliance on some earlier construction or constraints due to other structures. The selection of the open and flat Salisbury plain provided an unobstructed site for building and nothing impeded its speedy erection. Because of a high water table, the foundations are uncharacteristically shallow for a cathedral of such height, only about 4 feet, but this was surely known early on and accounted for in the original plan.