Thursday, 25 June 2009

Hampshire: Wintanceaster/ Winchester *****

Winchester is the county town of Hampshire, in South East England. It lies at the heart of the wider City of Winchester, a local government district, and is located at the western end of the South Downs, along the course of the River Itchen. At the time of the 2001 Census, Winchester had a population of 41,420.
Archaically known as Winton, Winchester is a historic cathedral city and the ancient capital of Wessex and the Kingdom of England.

Map showing County Hampshire and Winchetser Within

It developed from the Roman town of Venta Belgarum.
Winchester's major landmark is Winchester Cathedral, one of the largest cathedrals in England, with the distinction of having the longest nave and overall length of any Gothic cathedral in Europe.
Winchester railway station is served by trains running from London Waterloo, Weymouth, Portsmouth, Southampton and the North.


Early history
Settlement in the area dates back to pre-Roman times, with an Iron Age enclosure or valley fort, Oram's Arbour, on the western side of the present-day city. After the Roman conquest of Britain the civitas, then named Venta Belgarum or "Market of the Belgae", was of considerable importance.
The city may have been the Caergwinntguic or Caergwintwg (literally meaning "White Fortress") as recorded by Nennius after the Roman occupation. This name was corrupted into Wintanceastre following the Anglo-Saxon conquest of the area in 519.

Anglo-Saxon times

Hamo Thornycroft's statue of King Alfred the Great in Winchester.

The city has historic importance as it replaced Dorchester-on-Thames as the de facto capital of the ancient kingdom of Wessex in about 686 after King Caedwalla of Wessex defeated King Atwald of Wight. Although it was not the only town to have been the capital, it was established by King Egbert as the main city in his kingdom in 827. Saint Swithun was Bishop of Winchester in the mid 9th century. The Saxon street plan laid out by Alfred the Great is still evident today: a cross shaped street system which conformed to the standard town planning system of the day - overlaying the pre-existing Roman street plan (incorporating the ecclesiastical quarter in the south-east; the judicial quarter in the south-west; the tradesmen in the north-east). The town was part of a series of fortifications along the south coast. Built by Alfred to protect the Kingdom, they were known as 'burhs'. The medieval city wall, built on the old Roman walls, are visible in places. Only one section of the original Roman walls remains. Four main gates were positioned in the north, south, east and west plus the additional Durngate and King's Gate. Winchester remained the capital of Wessex, and then England, until some time after the Norman Conquest when the capital was moved to London. The Domesday Book was compiled in the city early in the reign of William the Conqueror.

Medieval and later times

Winchester High Street in the mid 19th century.

A serious fire in the city in 1141 accelerated its decline. However, William of Wykeham (1320-1404) played an important role in the city's restoration. As Bishop of Winchester he was responsible for much of the current structure of the cathedral, and he founded Winchester College as well as New College, Oxford. During the Middle Ages, the city was an important centre of the wool trade, before going into a slow decline. The curfew bell in the bell tower (near the clock in the picture), still sounds at 8.00pm each evening. The curfew was the time to extinguish all home fires until the morning
The famous novelist Jane Austen died in Winchester on 18 July 1817 and is buried in the cathedral.
The Romantic poet John Keats stayed in Winchester from mid August through to October 1819. It was in Winchester that Keats wrote "Isabella", "St. Agnes' Eve", "To Autumn" and "Lamia". Parts of "Hyperion" and the five-act poetic tragedy "Otho The Great" were also written in Winchester.

Further learning
The City Museum located on the corner of Great Minster Street and The Square contains much information on the history of Winchester. Early examples of Winchester measures of standard capacity are on display.

Winchester is currently represented in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom through the Winchester Parliamentary Constituency by Mark Oaten, a Liberal Democrat. Mr Oaten won the seat during the 1997 general election in which he defeated the former Conservative Health Minister Gerry Malone from John Major's then ousted Government.



View of Winchester Cathedral.

Winchester Cathedral, the longest cathedral in Europe, was originally built in 1079. It contains much fine architecture spanning the 11th to the 16th century and is the place of interment of numerous Bishops of Winchester (such as William of Wykeham), Anglo-Saxon monarchs (such as Egbert of Wessex) and later monarchs such as King Canute and William Rufus, as well as Jane Austen. It was once an important pilgrimage centre and housed the shrine of Saint Swithun. The ancient Pilgrims' Way travelling to Canterbury begins at Winchester. The plan of the earlier Old Minster is laid out in the grass adjoining the cathedral. The New Minster (original burial place of Alfred the Great and Edward the Elder) once stood beside it. It has a girls choir and a boys choir, which sing on a regular basis at the cathedral.

Cathedral Close looking towards Gate out of Cathedral precinct and towards the city gates.The building is Tudor with Queen jointing
used for Choir practise

Cathedral Close
The Cathedral Close contains a number of historic buildings from the time when the cathedral was also a priory. Of particular note are the Deanery which dates back to the thirteenth century. It was originally the Prior's House, and was the birthplace of Arthur, Prince of Wales in 1486. Not far away is Cheyney Court, a mid fifteenth century timber framed house incorporating the Porter's Lodge for the Priory Gate. It was the Bishop's court house.
The earliest hammer-beamed building still standing in England is also situated in the Cathedral Close, next to the Dean's garden. It is known as the Pilgrims' Hall, as it was part of the hostelry used to accommodate the many pilgrims to Saint Swithun's shrine. Left-overs from the lavish banquets of the Dean would be given to the pilgrims who were welcome to spend the night in the hall. It is thought by Winchester City Council to have been built in 1308. Now part of The Pilgrims' School, the hall is used by the school for assemblies in the morning, drama lessons, plays, orchestral practices, Cathedral Waynflete rehearsals, the school's Senior Commoners' Choir rehearsals and so forth.

Ruins of Wolvesey Castle home of the Bishops of Winchester

Wolvesey Castle and Palace
Wolvesey Castle was the Norman bishop's palace, dating from 1110, but standing on the site of an earlier Saxon structure. It was enhanced by Henry de Blois during the Anarchy of his brother King Stephen's reign. He was besieged there for some days. In the 16th century, Queen Mary Tudor and King Philip II of Spain were guests just prior to their wedding in the Cathedral. The building is now a ruin (maintained by English Heritage), but the chapel was incorporated into the new palace built in the 1680s, only one wing of which survives.

Winchester Castle

Winchester Castle foundations

The "Winchester Round Table" in the Great Hall, dendrochronology dating has placed it at 1275.

Winchester is well known for the Great Hall of its castle, which was built in the 12th century. The Great Hall was rebuilt, sometime between 1222-1235, and still exists in this form. It is famous for King Arthur's Round Table, which has hung in the hall from at least 1463. The table actually dates from the 13th century, and as such is not contemporary to Arthur. Despite this it is still of considerable historical interest and attracts many tourists. The table was originally unpainted, but was painted for King Henry VIII in 1522. The names of the legendary Knights of the Round Table are written around the edge of the table surmounted by King Arthur on his throne. Opposite the table are Prince Charles' 'Wedding Gates'. In the grounds of the Great Hall is a recreation of a medieval garden. Apart from the hall, only a few excavated remains of the stronghold survive amongst the modern Law Courts. The buildings were supplanted by the King's House, now incorporated into the Peninsula Barracks where there are several military museums. Winchester is also home to the Army Training Regiment Winchester, otherwise known as Sir John Moore Barracks, where Army recruits undergo their phase one training.

College Street Winchester

Winchester College
The buildings of Winchester College, a public school founded by William of Wykeham, still largely date from their first erection in 1382. There are two courtyards, a gatehouse, cloister, hall,a magnificent college chapel and it also owns "The Water Meadows" through which runs a part of the River Itchen. It was planned to educate poor boys before they moved on to New College, Oxford and often a life in the church.

Hospital of St Cross
The almshouses and vast Norman chapel of Hospital of St Cross were founded just outside the city centre by Henry de Blois in the 1130s. Since at least the 14th century, and still available today, a 'wayfarer's dole' of ale and bread has been handed out there. It was supposedly instigated to aid pilgrims on their route through to Canterbury.

Brethren houses and inner courtyard

St. Cross outer courtyard showing Beaumont Tower part of the Masters Residence . To the left is the Hall of a Hundred Men which is now the Cafe.

Winchester Guildhall 1871.

Other buildings
Other important historic buildings include the Guildhall dating from 1871, the Royal Hampshire County Hospital designed by William Butterfield and one of the city's several water mills driven by the various channels of the River Itchen that run through the city centre. Winchester City Mill, has recently been restored, and is again milling corn by water power. The mill is owned by the National Trust.
Although Winchester City survived World War II intact, about thirty percent of the Old Town was demolished to make way for buildings more suited to modern office day requirements (in particular for Hampshire County Council and Winchester City Council). Since the late 1980s the city has seen a gradual replacement of these post war brutalist structures for contemporary developments more sympathetic to the medieval urban fabric of the Old Town.


Winchester College War Cloister

There are numerous educational institutions in Winchester.
There are three state secondary schools: Kings' School Winchester, The Westgate School, and The Henry Beaufort School, all of which have excellent reputations. The sixth form Peter Symonds College is the main college that serves Winchester; it is rated amongst the top and the largest sixth form colleges in the UK.
Among privately owned preparatory schools, there are The Pilgrims' School Winchester, Twyford School, Prince's Mead etc. Winchester College, which accepts students from ages 13 to 18, is one of the best-known public schools in Britain and many of its pupils leave for well-respected universities. St Swithun's is a public school for girls which frequently appears on the league tables for GCSE and A-level results.
The University of Winchester (formerly King Alfred's College) is Winchester's university, beginning life as a teacher training college. It is located on a purpose built campus near the city centre. The Winchester School of Art is part of the University of Southampton.

Westgate Winchester Prison in the rooms above now a museum. Further up the hill where the hospital stands now was the city gibbot

Settlements and suburbs in the City of Winchester district
Abbotts Barton · Abbots Worthy · Avington · Badger Farm · Beauworth · Bighton · Bishops Sutton · Bishops Waltham · Boarhunt · Bramdean · Cheriton · Chilcomb · Colden Common · Compton and Shawford · Corhampton · Crawley · Curdridge · Denmead · Droxford · Durley · Easton · Exton · Hambledon · Headbourne Worthy · Hinton Ampner · Hursley · Itchen Abbas · Itchen Stoke · Itchen Valley · Kilmeston · Kings Worthy · Littleton and Harestock · Martyr Worthy · Meonstoke · Micheldever · New Alresford · Northington · Old Alresford · Olivers Battery · Otterbourne · Ovington · Owslebury · Ropley · Shedfield · Soberton · Southwick · South Wonston · Sparsholt · Sutton Scotney · Swanmore · Tichborne · Twyford · Upham · Warnford · West Meon · Wickham · Winchester · Winnall · Wonston

View from Westgate Windows down the high street looking towards St. Catherines Hill

Hyde Abbey Gate Winchester

Queen Eleanor's Garden behind the Great Hall

Jane Austen's House College Street


  1. The picture from the West Gate windows looking down the High St actually shows St Giles's Hill, not St Catherine's Hill which is out of shot to the right.

  2. The picture from the West Gate windows looking down the High St actually shows St Giles's Hill, not St Catherine's Hill which is out of shot to the right.