Gainsborough Close is on Bemerton Heath, which is roughly north west of the city centre.

My guess would be that Gainsborough Close is named after the painter Thomas Gainsborough, but I don’t know for sure. I’ve not been able to find any prominent Gainsboroughs with Salisbury connections as yet. If the road isn’t named after somebody local, then Thomas Gainsborough would be the obvious Gainsborough to name a road after.

Gainsborough was born in 1727, the son of a wool merchant in Sudbury, Suffolk. He worked under William Hogarth and eventually became one of the two most foremost portrait painters of his time[1] . He was a founder member of the Royal Society and reputedly King George III’s favourite portraitist[2].

He is chiefly known as a painter of portraits, but I get the impression that he enjoyed painting landscape. The Dictionary of National Biography has a nice quote from John Constable:

The landscape of Gainsborough is soothing, tender, and affecting. The stillness of noon, the depths of twilight, and the dews and pearls of the morning, are all to be found in the canvases of this most benevolent and kind-hearted man. On looking at them, we have tears in our eyes, and know not what brings them[3]

Gainsborough died in 1788[4].

Thomas Gainsborough and Wilton

As far as I can see, Gainsborough had no significant connection with Salisbury or south Wiltshire, He did visit Wilton House, ostensibly to see the horses. The Dictionary of National Biography says that:

In 1764 the demands of General Honywood’s equestrian portrait[5] led to Gainsborough’s visiting Wilton House to draw horses, presumably those trained in dressage[6].

While at Wilton House, Gainsborough obviously had a good look at the Herberts’ art collection. The Dictionary of National Biography says that one of the paintings at Wilton influenced Gainsborough’s work:

Slightly later in the decade, perhaps after he had visited Wilton House near Salisbury in 1764, he painted a series of female portraits employing the pose of Lady Anne Sophia Herbert from Van Dyck’s huge Pembroke Family at Wilton House. The best of them is Lady Carr

I’ve reproduced a couple of examples. The painting on the left is cropped from the ‘original’ van Dyck[7]. The next is Gainsborough’s portrait of Mary Little (later Lady Carr), referred to by the DNB[8] and the one on the right is Gainsborough’s Lady Sarah Innes[9].

Lady Herbert from Van Dycks Pembroke Family of Wilton Thomas Gainsborough - Mary Little, Later Lady Carr Sarah, Lady Innes - Gainsborough

Thomas Gainsborough – from the streets of Salisbury to the craters of Mercury

While reading a little about Thomas Gainsborough I discovered that as well as Gainsborough Close on Bemerton Heath, Gainsborough has also been honoured by the naming of a crater on the planet Mercury. The crater formerly known as ‘feature 2061’ was named Crater Gainsborough in 1985[10].

The naming of Mercury’s craters is an on-going project. Just last month another 9 craters were named – after Walt Disney, Catullus, Scott Joplin, and Muddy WatersNames Approved for Nine Craters on Mercury – USGS Astrogeology Hot Topics, among others.

I was curious as to whether anybody besides Thomas Gainsborough has been honoured with both a road in Salisbury and a crater on the smallest planet. It’s a fairly small group:

  • John Milton – the crater was named in 1976[11]. I think Milton Road in Salisbury would be 1930s[12]. John Milton is famous for writing ‘Paradise Lost’ and being a supporter of Oliver Cromwell.
  • Percy Shelley – the crater was named in 1979[13], Salisbury’s ‘Shelley Drive’ was built in, I think, the late 1960s in Stratford-sub-Castle[14]. I’m assuming that Shelley Drive is named after the poet Percy rather than Mary Shelley, who wrote Frankenstein.
  • William Shakespeare – the crater was also named in 1979[15]. Shakespeare Avenue was built at around the same time as Shelley Drive[16]. I think the naming of Shakespeare Road is a sort of a pun on the name of the suburb – Stratford-sub-Castle.

Two marginal cases are the craters named after Christopher Wren[17] and Robert Louis Stevenson[18]. Salisbury has a residential road called Wrenscourt in Bishops Mead, but this is a reference to the bird rather than the architect[19]. Salisbury’s Stephenson Road, on the other hand, is named after the engineer Robert Stephenson – famous for his rocket[20] rather than RL Stephenson who wrote ‘Treasure Island’ and ‘Jekyll and Hyde’

Crater Gainsborough, on Planet Mercury, illustrating Gainsborough Close, Salisbury
Crater Gainsborough. Image from the IAU[21]


  1. I did also find that he is linked to the television show ‘Blackadder’. In the episode ‘Dual and Duality’, Baldrick says that ‘his cousin Bert Baldrick is currently dogsbody to Thomas Gainsborough’s butler'[User:ProhibitOnions/Historical anomalies in Blackadder – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia]. []
  2. Thomas Gainsborough | artist | 1727 – 1788 | The National Gallery, London []
  3. Hugh Belsey, ‘Gainsborough, Thomas (1727–1788)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2009 [, accessed 10 Jan 201326 Nov 2012] []
  4. Gainsborough does have the distinction of having an obituary published many years before he actually died. The Bath Journal published the news of his death on 17 Oct 1763 – about 25 years before he really died []
  5. The ‘equestrian portrait’ was this one: Portrait of Lieutenant General Philip Honeywood []
  6. Hugh Belsey, ‘Gainsborough, Thomas (1727–1788)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2009 [, accessed 26 Nov 2012 []
  7. Anthony van Dyck [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons []
  8. Thomas Gainsborough [see page for license], via Wikimedia Commons []
  9. Thomas Gainsborough [see page for license], via Wikimedia Commons []
  10. Planetary Names: Crater, craters: Gainsborough on Mercury []
  11. Planetary Names: Crater, craters: Milton on Mercury []
  12. Milton Road []
  13. Planetary Names: Crater, craters: Shelley on Mercury []
  14. Shelley Drive []
  15. Planetary Names: Crater, craters: Shakespeare on Mercury []
  16. Shakespeare Road []
  17. Planetary Names: Crater, craters: Wren on Mercury []
  18. Planetary Names: Crater, craters: Stevenson on Mercury []
  19. Wrenscroft SP2 « Salisbury and Stonehenge []
  20. Stephenson Road []
  21. The IAU is the International Astronomical Union. My understanding is that “All IAU still and footage are copyright-protected on behalf of the IAU and are released under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.” See Copyright | IAU for details []

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