Winchester (archaically known as Winton and Wintonceastre) is a historic cathedral city and former capital city of England, and the county town of Hampshire, in South East England.
Winchester is home to Winchester Cathedral.
The city 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.
Winchester developed from the Roman town of Venta Belgarum. Winchester’s major landmark is Winchester Cathedral, one of the largest cathedrals in Europe, with the distinction of having the longest nave and overall length of all Gothic cathedrals in Europe. The town is also home to the University of Winchester and the famous public school, Winchester College. The city’s architectural and historic interest, and its fast links to other towns and cities have led Winchester to become one of the most expensive and desirable areas of the country. A person who is from or resides in Winchester is sometimes locally known as a Wintonian.
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.
At the beginning of the 3rd century Winchester was given protective stone walls. At around this time the city had covered an area of 144 acres (58 ha), which made it the 5th largest town in Roman Britain. There were also a small number of suburbs outside the walls. However, like many other Roman towns, Winchester began to decline in the 4th century.
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 walls, 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 late in the reign of William the Conqueror.
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 the still extant public school Winchester College. 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.
In 1770, Thomas Dummer purchased the City Cross (also known as the Buttercross) from the Corporation of Winchester, intending to have it re-erected at Cranbury Park, near Otterbourne. When his workmen arrived to dismantle the cross, they were prevented from doing so by the people of the city, who “organised a small riot” and they were forced to abandon their task. The agreement with the city was cancelled and Dummer erected a lath and plaster facsimile, which stood in the park for about sixty years before it was destroyed by the weather. The Buttercross still stands in the High Street.
The 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 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.
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. The museum was one of the first purpose-built museums to be constructed outside of London. Local items featured include the Roman ‘Venta’ gallery, and some genuine period shop interiors taken from the nearby High Street. Other places of cultural interest include the Westgate Museum (which showcases various items of weaponry), and the Historic Resources Centre, which holds many records related to the history of the city.
Winchester is represented in the House of Commons through the Winchester Parliamentary Constituency.
Winchester local elections take place in three out of every four years, with one third of the councillors elected in each election.
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.
Winchester Cathedral Close contains a number of historic buildings from the time when the cathedral was also a priory. Of particular note is 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.
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 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 and 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’s ‘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 among the modern Law Courts. The buildings were supplanted by the adjacent King’s House, now incorporated into the Peninsula Barracks where there are five military museums. (The training which used to be carried out at the barracks is now done by the Army Training Regiment Winchester, otherwise known as Sir John Moore Barracks, two miles outside the city.)
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 way to Canterbury.
Other important historic buildings include the Guildhall dating from 1871 in the Gothic revival style, the Royal Hampshire County Hospital designed by William Butterfield and Winchester City Mill, one of the city’s several water mills driven by the River Itchen that run through the city centre. The mill has recently been restored, and is again milling corn by water power. It 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 day office 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 by contemporary developments more sympathetic to the medieval urban fabric of the Old Town.
Winchester College, a boys’ public school founded by William of Wykeham, still occupies its original buildings dating from 1382: two courtyards, gatehouse, cloister, hall and a large college chapel. The college expanded considerably in Victorian and later times, and now has 10 boarding houses in addition to “College” for the scholars. It also owns “The Water Meadows”, through which the River Itchen runs. The college sets its own entrance exams.
The University of Winchester (formerly King Alfred’s College) is a public university based in Winchester and the surrounding area. The University origins go back as far as 1840 – originally as a Diocesan teacher training centre. King Alfred’s, the main campus, is located on a purpose built campus near the city centre. The newly completed West Downs is a short walk away, and houses student facilities and accommodation and the business school.
Winchester also has a rugby union team named Winchester RFC and a thriving athletics club called Winchester and District AC.
Winchester has a thriving successful Hockey Club, with ten men’s and three ladies’ teams catering to all ages and abilities.
The city has a growing roller hockey team which trains at River Park Leisure Centre.
Lawn bowls is played at several greens (the oldest being Hyde Abbey dating from 1812) during the summer months and at Riverside Indoor Bowling Club during the winter.
Winchester College invented and lent its name to Winchester College Football, played exclusively at the College and in some small African/South American communities.
Winchester is located on the M3 motorway and at the meeting of the A34, A31, A3090 and A272 roads. Once a major traffic bottleneck, it still suffers from congestion at peak times. It is just to the south of the A303 and A30.
Winchester railway station is served by South West Trains trains from London Waterloo, Weymouth, Portsmouth and Southampton, as well as by CrossCountry Trains between Bournemouth, and either Manchester or Newcastle via Birmingham. Historically it was also served by a line to London via Alton which partially survives as the Watercress Line. Additionally there was a second station called Winchester Chesil served by the Didcot, Newbury and Southampton Railway, this closed in the 1960s.
Winchester is at the head of the Itchen Navigation, which once provided a transport link to Southampton, but has recently been restored as a wildlife corridor. A Roman road originating in Salisbury called The Clarendon Way ends in Winchester.
Winchester Combined Court Centre consists of a Crown Court and County Court. It is administered by Her Majesty’s Courts Service, an Executive Agency of the Ministry of Justice. Winchester is a first-tier court centre and is visited by High Court judges for criminal and also for civil cases (in the District Registry of the High Court). One of the most high profile case to be heard here was the Rose West murder trial in 1995.
Winchester also has a separate District Probate registry which is part of the High Court. This Court is separate from the main Court establishment at the top of Winchester High Street and deals only with probate matters.
Since 1974 Winchester has hosted the annual Hat Fair, a celebration of street theatre that includes performances, workshops, and gatherings at several venues around the city.
Winchester is the home of the award-winning Blue Apple Theatre, an inclusive company of actors with and without learning disability.
Winchester hosts one of the UK’s largest and most successful farmers’ markets, with close to – or over – 100 stalls, and is certified by FARMA. The farmers’ market takes place on the second and last Sunday monthly in the town centre.
Three newspapers are published for Winchester. The paid-for broadsheet Hampshire Chronicle, which started out in 1772 reporting national and international news, now (after being bought out by American conglomerate ‘Gannett’ in 2001) concentrates on Winchester and the surrounding area – although it has suffered a massive decline in readership as reported by The Newspaper Society. There are also two free tabloid-sized papers for the city: the Winchester News Extra (also owned by ‘Gannett’) and the independent Mid-Hants Observer. Winchester had its own radio station, Win FM, from October 1999 to October 2007.
In 2006, the Channel 4 television programme The Best And Worst Places To Live In The UK, broadcast on 26 October, the city was celebrated as the “Best Place in the UK to Live in: 2006″. In the 2007 edition of the same programme, Winchester had slipped to second place, behind Edinburgh.
In the medieval narrative poem, Sir Orfeo, the main character Sir Orfeo is King of Winchester, which is said to be the modern name of Thrace. The final combat of the romance hero Guy of Warwick against the giant Colbrand takes place outside the walls of Winchester.
A scene in Henry Esmond (1852) by William Makepeace Thackeray is set in the choir of Winchester cathedral. Winchester is in part the model for Barchester in the Barsetshire novels of Anthony Trollope, who attended Winchester College; The Warden (1855) is said to be based on a scandal at the Hospital of St Cross. A fictionalised Winchester appears as Wintoncester in Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891). Some of the action in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Copper Beeches (1892) takes place in the city. In Charles Kingsley’s romantic history Hereward the Wake (1866), Hereward smashes his ash lance against the doors of the Westgate, Winchester showing by the strength of his arm that it is he. William the Conqueror is so impressed that he pardons him.
A fictitious estate near Winchester is the scene of a crime in the Sherlock Holmes adventure, The Problem of Thor Bridge (1922). In Gerry Anderson’s 1967 and 1968 programme Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, background material published by, or with the approval of, Anderson identifies Winchester as the birthplace of the main character, Captain Scarlet, real name Paul Metcalfe.Winchester is the main location of John Christopher’s post-apocalyptic science fiction series, Sword of the Spirits. Winchester Cathedral is featured in James Herbert’s horror novel The Fog. The Siege of Winchester in 1141, part of the The Anarchy (a civil war) between King Stephen and the Empress Matilda, is an important plot element in the detective novel An Excellent Mystery, part of the Brother Cadfael chronicles by Edith Pargeter writing as Ellis Peters. In Philip Pullman’s novel The Subtle Knife (part of the His Dark Materials trilogy) the main male protagonist, Will Parry, comes from Winchester. However, little of the book is set there. In the movie Merlin, King Uther’s first conquest of Britain begins with Winchester, which Merlin foresaw would fall. The fictional town of Kingsbridge in Ken Follett’s novel The Pillars of the Earth is based on Winchester, as stated by the author in the narration of episode 1 of the documentary series Ken Follett’s Jouney in to the Dark Ages.
In the Japanese manga Death Note, The Wammy’s House, an orphanage founded by Quillish Wammy, where the detective L’s successors (Mello, Near, and Matt) are raised, is located in Winchester. In the novel One Day by David Nicholls, the male protagonist Dexter Mayhew went to the public school Winchester College. This is frequently referred to throughout the book, as well as mentioning St. Swithin’s Day and the St. Swithin’s weather myth. Patrick Gale’s 2009 book, The Whole Day Through is set in Winchester. In S.M. Stirling’s 2007 novel, The Sunrise Lands, it is revealed that the British capital has been moved to Winchester. Winchester is an important setting in The Saxon Stories by Bernard Cornwell.
The Winchester district is twinned with Gießen, Germany; the City is twinned with Laon, France; Winchester, Virginia. The Mayor of Winchester, Hampshire has a standing invitation to be a part of the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival in Winchester (VA) each year in the spring. The Virginia town also takes its name from Winchester in England. The city of Winchester gave its name to a suburb of Paris, France, called Le Kremlin-Bicêtre (23,724 inhabitants), owing to a manor built there by John of Pontoise, Bishop of Winchester, at the end of the 13th century.