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An ox, fit for a Queen

By Paul Knowles

An enjoyable, whimsical, off-the-beaten-track visit in Salisbury; less fun for the ox, though. (Shown: part of the Guild Hall's silver display, with the room set for a special event).


Salisbury Guild Hall

The Guild Hall square, bedecked for festivities

Consider the ox. And we will, a few paragraphs on.
Historic Salisbury, in Wiltshire, England, is one of my favourite cities. Every time I am anywhere within dropping-in distance, I do, in fact, drop in. I have driven south from the A303 and wound my way to the parking lot in the market square simply to spend half an hour at the majestic Salisbury Cathedral. I have convinced media tour bus drivers to alter their set route, to allow me a few minutes in the city. I like Salisbury.
This time, I was at greater leisure, and had the benefit of an excellent guide and a representative of the Salisbury tourist bureau. We wandered the city streets, popped into pubs, visited historic buildings, heard intriguing stories about the founding of the cathedral.
And then my guide asked the tourism rep, "Should we see if we can get into the Guildhall?"
The Salisbury Guildhall is a functional municipal headquarters, with a few extra features. This, to be precise, is the "new" Guildhall, built as recently as 1795. "New" is a comparative term, in the U.K.
There are several reasons why security is somewhat tight, at the Guildhall: it is a centre of government, a court house, and it holds Salisbury's collection of municipal silver.
We passed through security portals. I was shown the original courtroom, a precise model of the famous "Old Bailey" in London. "Has anyone used this for television or movie scenes?²" I asked.
"All the time," said the municipal staffer ­-- I now, by the way, was accompanied by a full complement of three guides.
And then off to see the Salisbury silver, a rare treat. The collection fills several glass cases ­-- more are to be constructed ­-- and includes all manner of commemorative pieces, all sterling silver, mostly priceless.
One of the most striking is an enormous silver spoon. It must have been four feet long.
"That spoon," said the municipal chap, "was made to baste an ox that was roasted, whole, to commemorate Queen Victoria's Silver Jubilee, in 1897."
There are many reasons why roasting a large dumb animal seems to me to be the perfect way to mark the career of any number of national leaders, but I need not go into that now.
I am intrigued by the role oxen once played in the development of my own area; these strong, sturdy animals were the original beasts of burden all over Ontario. They did the heavy work, and only when oxen had been used to clear the land, to plough root-filled fields, and to build roads, did horses take over the duties of transportation and farm work.
When you read the early historical accounts of southern Ontario, you learn that we owe a lot to oxen, a species now all but forgotten.
Back in the Guildhall -- my guide was pointing out a silver and bone carving set more recently added to the collection. The bone handles of the knife and fork, he said, were two ribs from that same ox!
He smiled, a most un-bureaucratic smile. "We're gradually rebuilding the animal." I laughed all the way to Stonehenge.
Discerning readers may guess that this clever comment was the real reason for this particular article. Okay, I admit it. You are right. I¹m still giggling.
The Guildhall generates revenue by renting its banqueting halls for dinners, weddings, corporate receptions and the like. I have a full-colour brochure before me, extolling its features.
There is, however, no mention of ox on the menu. Apparently, those noble beasts have departed that locale, too ­ leaving only a spoon and a couple of ribs behind.