Press Centre

Secrets From The Sky

  • Episode: 

    2 of 6

  • Title: 

    Old Sarum
  • Transmission (TX): 

    Fri 24 Oct 2014
  • TX Confirmed: 

  • Time: 

    8.00pm - 8.30pm
  • Week: 

    Week 43 2014 : Sat 18 Oct - Fri 24 Oct
  • Channel: 

The information contained herein is strictly embargoed from all press, online and social media use, non-commercial publication, or syndication until Tuesday 14 October 2014.
“Looking down from above gives a completely different perspective on these hauntingly beautiful sites. And it’s these breath-taking pictures which will reveal Britain’s Secrets From the Sky.”  Bettany Hughes
Episode two -  Old Sarum
Britain’s most historic landmarks and glorious landscapes are explored from a bird’s eye view in Secret From The Sky. 
Using an octocopter, a remote controlled helicopter carrying a camera, historian Bettany Hughes and aerial archaeologist Ben Robinson look down on sites of great historical interest to gain a fresh perspective and uncover the secrets of our ancestors. 
Britain’s landscape is dotted with historical monuments including Tintagel Stonehenge, Maiden Castle, Sutton Hoo, The Antonine Wall and Old Sarum.  This series investigates these monuments, showing Britain’s stunning landscapes through fantastic aerial views and revealing a new insight into our nation’s story. By looking down on these sites from above, the clues on the ground can be linked together to uncover the full story locked in the landscape. 
In episode two, we visit Old Sarum in Wiltshire, formerly one of the most important cities in Britain.  It is the site where Saxon kings produced their money, William the Conqueror flaunted his victory over King Harold and the Domesday Book was created.
Now all that remains of this glorious ancient city is an abandoned ruin, which overlooks Salisbury, the bustling city which replaced it.  The remnants of a medieval castle on top of a huge mound, surrounded by vast ditches and a cross-shaped ruin suggest that Sarum was once a place of great power and importance.
To discover more about the mystery of Old Sarum, Ben uses his octocopter, a high tech flying camera, to give him a bird’s eye view.  With a new perspective to the site he unpicks the centuries of history etched onto the hill.
The octocopter flies around the giant ditch surrounding the entire hill and Ben reveals the importance of huge banks, which were built around 2500 years ago. 
Ben says:  “They’re partly about saying, ‘Look how important we are.  Look what we can achieve.’ But they’re also partly about defence and refuge, so when you’re being threatened by the neighbouring tribe, this is somewhere to come. In their prime, these defences would have been exposed chalk rubble and that’s incredibly difficult to clamber up.  Even if you managed to get over that first bit of defence you’d be in the bottom of a massive ditch looking up at this great defensive wall and having all sorts of projectiles thrown at you. It’s a great big piece of prehistoric civil engineering.”
Coins from a local museum show that Sarum was a Saxon stronghold where major Kings from the 11th century based their mint. But in 1066, William the Conqueror took over control of Sarum, after King Harold was killed at the Battle of Hastings.  England now belonged to William and his Normans and it is possible that Sarum is the place where the greatest nobles in the land came to declare their allegiance.  William ordered his men to build a castle at the centre of the defeated Saxon city, to stamp his presence on the area.  
Ben says: “This became a very formidable Norman castle.  Built in stone, it gives the building a real sense of permanence.  You’ve got that well in the centre, so they’re in charge of a good water supply.  And look how thick those walls are on the right hand side. It’s really like a scaled down version of the Tower of London. This castle wouldn’t have just dominated the site of Old Sarum itself, but the surrounding countryside as well.”
Sarum went on to be the site where one of the most famous books in British history was created.  In the mid 1080s the Bishop of Sarum and his clerics worked with their King on a survey of England’s land and resources, which went on to became known as the Domesday Book.  The book was completed in 1086, and Sarum thrived under Norman rule, as new kings came and went.  
However, within 200 years of the castle being built, Sarum would start to crumble.  How could a prosperous city, under the watchful eye of its new Norman rulers, fade away? 
In the eleventh century Sarum was buzzing with life and today’s remains on the hilltop show the existence of a magnificent medieval cathedral.  Placed just a few hundred feet from the edge of the castle, the cathedral expanded to become an entire religious complex.  But the close proximity of the clergy in the cathedral and the soldiers in the castle caused tensions that became insurmountable.  
In addition, the great ditches built to protect the city had turned from an asset into a hindrance.  There was literally nowhere for the city to expand and the church and the castle began to tussle over their land.  
The church took the initiative and decided they wanted a new cathedral, away from the castle, on land without restrictions.  They wrote to the Pope, who granted permission for them to relocate and within a year, the foundation stones of the current, magnificent cathedral in Salisbury were laid.  
With the potential to expand as much as it wanted, the new city of Salisbury flourished around its new cathedral.  Up on the hill, Old Sarum began its slow, inevitable decline. The 2000 years of its history are now chronicled in the earthworks and ruins which remain for this beautiful monument.
Bettany says: “Old Sarum was originally built to defend its occupants against aggression and invasion.  But the site just wasn’t big enough or even comfortable enough to nourish all that life it was trying to protect.
“But then the solution, new Sarum, new Salisbury, has given a real gift to our nation.  One of the most beautiful and historically fascinating cathedral cities in the whole of Britain.”