Winchester is a city with many fine architectural buildings. As you enter the city a huge statue of Alfred the Great looms overhead looking out over the Guildhall and Abbey Gardens towards the city centre.
The Cathedral has a prominent position within the city. The New Minster was built close to the Old Minster whose foundation lines can today still be seen marked out in brick on the grassy green next to the Cathedral (New Minster). From the outside the Cathedral is relatively modest but as I stepped through the door the immense size and beauty of it took my breath away. On further exploration the Cathedral’s secrets reveal themselves. Some of these are the 14th century font made of Tournai marble, the mortuary chests holding remains of pre-conquest Wessex monarchs, the memorial to St Swithun and the pilgrim steps where pilgrims filed to reach the Shrine of St Swithun before crawling through the still visible ‘holy hole’ that allowed them closer access to the holy relics of St Swithun.
The Cathedral is home to the Winchester Bible which is a fine example of 12th century illumination. Sadly I wasn’t able to see it on my visit as the Triforium Gallery in which it is housed is now closed for several months for refurbishment.
The Cathedral’s Norman crypt often floods. In the crypt is a statue by Antony Gormly, entitled ‘Sound II’. It was designed to stand in water.
Not to be missed is the adjacent Cathedral close with its interesting buildings; the Deanery fronted by a 13th century vaulted porch; the Norman Chapter house ruins; Pilgrims’ Hall and School, Priory Stables (now part of Pilgrims’ School) and the most striking of the buildings, the 16th century Cheyney Court. Joined to Cheyney court is the 16th century Priory Gate, above which is a tiny room originally intended for the Cathedral’s organist.
Just outside Priory Gate is Kingsgate, one of two remaining medieval gates into the city. On top of the gate is the small church of St Swithun upon Kingsgate, a rare example of a church located above the gates of a city. Hidden away nearby is a Victorian post box still in use today. Opposite the post box is the Wykeham Arms which is furnished with old desks and memorabilia from the nearby Winchester College.
I recommend taking a guided tour around the college. The knowledgeable guide told us about the history and traditions of the college and its connection with the wider history of the area. The guide also pointed out many interesting architectural features that are hidden within the college. Not far from the college is the residence of the Bishop of Winchester, which is all that remains of the 17th century New Bishop’s Palace. The ruins of the first Bishop’s palace (Wolvesy) are situated next to the current Bishop’s residence.
More architectural gems can be found in Winchester High Street, where old and new buildings stand side by side; the 15th century Butter Cross, the Old Guildhall (now Lloyds bank), The Pentice (an attractive walkway that was created in the 16th century when upper floors of the timber framed houses were extended). It is in this street that you will find the quaintly named God Begot house which stands on the site of the ancient manor of God Begot.
At the top of High Street stands Westgate, the second of the two fortified gateways that once formed part of the city wall is now a museum.
Just behind the gate is Henry III’s Great Hall. It dates from 1235 and it is all that remains of Winchester Castle. The Great hall has breath-taking proportions as does ‘King Arthur’s Table’ which is mounted on the wall at one end of the hall. The table was probably created around 1290 for a tournament to celebrate the wedding of one of Edward I’s daughters. Just outside the hall is a reconstructed medieval garden based on illustrations from a 14th century manuscript. The steps from the garden lead to Peninsula Barracks, the home of five of Winchesters military museums; The Adjudant General’s Corps, the Light Infantry, the Gurkhas, The King’s Royal Hussars and the Royal Green Jackets. The museum of the Royal Hampshire Regiment can be found nearby.
Another of Winchesters museums, the City Museum, is located in ‘The Square’ which overlooks the Cathedral. The museum illustrates the history of Winchester and has a fine example of a 2nd century Roman mosaic pavement and 4th century wall paintings. The square is also a good place to dine whilst overlooking the cathedral and its grounds. Nestling away between offices and shops in the square is the tiny 15th century church of St Lawrence. Easily missed, this is the church that each new Bishop comes to for private prayer before his enthronement in the cathedral.
Time did not permit me to walk along the water meadows to St Cross with its hospital that has provided sheltered accommodation for elderly gentlemen since it was founded in 1136 along with its 800 year old tradition of the ‘Wayfarers Dole’. Maybe next time…
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