The site of Old Sarum is located one and a half miles north of the present town of Salisbury. Here the Normans built a royal castle within the earthworks of an Iron Age hillfort. The last remnants of the city were finally demolished in 1514 when Thomas Compton was granted permission by King Henry VIII to remove the last stones from the site.
Turner was attracted to this subject as were other artists of the period, John Constable for example (Old Sarum at noon, Yale Center for British Art, G. Reynolds, The Later Paintings and Drawings of John Constable, New Haven and London, 1984, no. 29.17, pl. 717). Both artists were similarly interested in studying the weather, sky and cloud formations. Turner of Oxford exhibited at least three views of Salisbury Plain in 1835, 1841 and 1845 and various views of Stonehenge. Salisbury was considered on a par with East Anglia for unusual light conditions and the suitability for plein air sketching.
This watercolour is an early work by the artist, and the dramatic landscape is emphasized by the vulnerable shepherd with his flock against a powerful sky.