PEOPLE who visit Salisbury Cathedral rarely cast more than a glance at the surrounding Close, one of the most beautiful in Britain. This is a pity, for some of the Close houses are very old and have an interesting history.

The man whose overall conception and plan built the Cathedral was Elias de Dereham. Possibly during the erection of the Cathedral he built himself the house facing it, in any case by 1232 the house was there.

It was known as Aula Plumbea (Leaden Hall) because of the costly lead roof. Today, little of this roof remains, and the house itself is mostly a 1717 façade on the original house.

At one side can be seen some of the original wall and windows, and in the garden there stood a small stone cross from the early chapel. Certainly, a water colour of 1915 by A. Gee shows the shell of a two - storey chapel in ruin.

Many tenants have lived in Leaden Hall, including several Chancellors of the Cathedral and Henry Chicheley, who later became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1414. He is the Archbishop mentioned by Shakespeare in Henry V.

John Constable, possibly the most famous of English landscape painters, lived and painted in Leaden Hall as a guest of his great friend Bishop Fisher.

His painting of the Cathedral from the house is now in the National Gallery. Harnham Mill is another painting from Leaden Hall, and also The White Horse, which is now part of the Frick Collection in New York.

In 1951, when a south wall was re-plastered, the original lath and plaster wall was found and a small Norman arch revealed, but this had to be re-covered for modern use. Leaden Hall remained a canonical residence until 1947 and in 1948 it became a private preparatory school.