SALISBURY CATHEDRAL has played down a dispute over proposals to move a school from a historic palace in the Cathedral Close in order to create more office space, and a new home for its copy of Magna Carta.
In the cathedral’s draft master-plan for the next 50 years, which is currently out for consultation, the idea of moving the Magna Carta and some staff members’ offices into the former Bishop’s Palace — a stone’s throw from the cathedral — is put forward.
Such a plan, however, would necessitate the removal of the palace’s current tenant, Salisbury Cathedral School, which has occupied the building since 1947.
Former pupils, choristers, and parents of children at the school have complained that moving out of the palace would sever the school’s tie to the cathedral and fundamentally change its ethos. One unnamed former chorister told The Daily Telegraph: “This would be an unjustified and unashamed land-grab on the part of the Dean and the cathedral authorities.”
The row has led the Dean, the Very Revd June Osborne, to resign from the chair of the school’s governors over the potential conflict of interest. The consultation period has also been extended from September to the end of the year. But Dean Osborne and the cathedral have insisted that the outcry is unmerited.
In the master-plan, she wrote that the cathedral hoped to “de-clutter” the Chapter House, which currently houses the Magna Carta, by moving it, the cathedral’s archives, and other offices into the palace, which would “provide a prestige building to house a prestige collection”.
If the cathedral did take over the palace, it would also open up parts of the grounds which are currently closed to the public, including the south side of the cathedral, a view immortalised by John Constable.
The master-plan states: “Clearly the option of using the Bishop’s Palace for the Magna Carta and the whole of the cathedral archive only becomes a realistic one if the cathedral school move out of all or part of the building.”
In a statement, the executive director and Chapter Clerk of the Cathedral, Katrine Sporle, said that the school itself had recognised the need to upgrade its facilities, but said that it had not been decided yet whether this would involve leaving the Bishop’s Palace.
“The draft master-plan consultation is at an early stage on its journey to completion, and it’s perhaps useful to re-emphasise now that it is in draft form, and not a final iteration,” she said. “The consultation is designed to collect views from all stakeholders, including parents, and still has several months to run.”
The acting chair of the governors, Robert Sykes, said that the implications of the school leaving the palace — a “mainstay of [the school’s] unique appeal” — still needed to be fully debated.
He said that the governors were in contact with a working group of parents, and would study the results of a survey of parents at their next meeting in September. The school aimed to look at the question of leaving the palace in “perfect harmony” with the parents, and would include their views in negotiations with the cathedral, he said.