Building work on Salisbury Cathedral began in the 1200s, and the tower and magnificent spire were completed in the 1330s. Golding taught at Bishop Wordworth’s School in Salisbury in the shadow of the Cathedral and watched with fascination as the spire underwent extensive re-building and conservation work in the 1940s. Golding didn’t do a great deal of research on medieval construction but simply visited the cathedral and stood at the crossing beneath the spire. He told the critic Frank Kermode that he said to himself: ‘If I were to build a spire, how would I go about it?’ John Carey, in his biography William Golding: The Man who wrote Lord of the Flies, recounts this conversation.
Golding’s working title for The Spire was ‘Barchester Spire’, a nod to Anthony Trollope’s Barsetshire novels. Trollope had been inspired to write the first novel in the series after visiting Salisbury Cathedral.