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Winchester, Hampshire

Historical Description

Winchester, a municipal and parliamentary borough, episcopal city, and market-town in Hants, and a diocese comprehending all Hants, part of Surrey, and the Channel Islands. The city stands on the river Itchin. It is the capital of the county, 66 miles from London, 12 from Southampton, 24 from Salisbury, 34 from Reading, and 18 from Basingstoke. In 1885 the G.W.R. completed a line to the city from Didcot via Newbury, thus immediately connecting Winchester with their system. The city has now two railway stations.

History.-Winchester was the Caer Gwent, signifying " the white fort" or " the white city," of the ancient Britons and the Belgae, who made it their capital. The Romans called it Venta Belgarum, signifying "the Gwent of the Belgae," erected, it is said, in it temples to Apollo and to Concord, and formed roads from it to Southampton, Porchester, Silchester, and Old Sarum. The Saxons called it Wintanceaster or Winteceaster, signifying the same thing as Caer Gwent, and made it their capital, first for Wessex, next for all England. The legendary King Arthur of " the Round Table " is much associated with it; a deep fosse of apparently a stronghold of the ancient Britons is on the top of St Catherine's Hill, contiguous to it on the S; urns, pottery, and graves of the Romans, and coins of all the Roman emperors have been found in the city and vicinity; and the incident which gave rise to the popular notion as to a continuance of rain for forty days if rain should fall on St Swithin's Day, occurred at it. Cerdic, the first king of Wessex, was buried in the heathen temple, 530, and in its cathedrals all the subsequent kings of Wessex were crowned and buried; Kynegils in 635 accepted in it the Christian faith from Birinus, the first Christian missionary to Western England; Kenewalch in 660 made it the seat of a diocese; and Egbert in 827 was crowned in it as king of all England. The Danes assaulted it in 862, got temporary possession of it in 871, and attacked it again at subsequent dates; but the Saxon kings repelled them, and continued to make it their capital. Alfred sat in it in the midst of his " witan," and sent forth from it the greater portion of his laws. Athelstan established six mints in it, while London had only three. Edgar fixed the Winchester bushel as the standard of measure for all England. A great massacre of Danes, known as the Hocktide massacre, was perpetrated in the city in 1002, and a retaliation on the inhabitants for it was done by Sweyne in 1013. Canute, on coming to the throne, also made Winchester his capital, and hung up his crown in its cathedral. Edward the Confessor was crowned in it in 1042, and his mother Emma passed the ordeal of red-hot ploughshares in it in 1044, and is buried in the cathedral. Earl Godwin died in it in 1054. William the Conqueror, though crowned at Westminster, honoured Winchester as still a capital, and so did his Norman successors and the early Plantagenets. Both the Conqueror and William Rufus kept Easter in its palace, and the latter was brought to it in 1100 after his death in the New Forest. Henry I. was married in it, made it his chief seat, and contributed greatly to its prosperity. The city then reached its culminating point; had crowded fairs, a considerable woollen manufacture, and an extensive commerce with the Continent, was a focus of thoroughfare between the eastern and the western parts of the kingdom; contained a palace, two castles, a mint, the royal treasury, the national archives, cathedral, two royal minsters, and sixty churches; and possessed in its cathedral the remains of more personages of the various royal families than all other places in England. It was taken and retaken in 1141 in the contest between Maud and Stephen, and it then suffered destruction of twenty churches and a large proportion of its dwelling-houses by fire. Henry II. was crowned in it, and chartered its mayoralty, 1184. Richard I. also was crowned in it after his return from captivity. John was in it fifty-two times, and held a Parliament in it in 1207. Prince Henry, the son of John, and commonly called Henry of Winchester, was born in it. Henry III. held Parliaments in it m 1268 and 1270, and kept his court in it in seven different years. The younger De Montfort, in the course of the barons' war, sacked it in 1262. Edward I. visited it with his queen in four different years, and held in it in 1285 the Parliament which enacted the ordinances known as the " statutes of Winchester." Edward II. held a Parliament in it in 1308, and his queen held another Parliament in it, which condemned the Earl of Kent, in 1329. Edward III. made it the general wool mart of England, and held a Parliament in it in 1354. Richard II. visited it with his queen in 1388, and held a Parliament in it in 1392. Henry IV. was married in it in 1402, and held Parliaments in it in 1403 and 1405. Henry V. entertained the French ambassadors in it in 1415, prior to his departure for Agincourt. Henry VI. visited it in three different years, held a Parliament in it in 1449, and took note of its college as his model for Eton. Prince Arthur, son of Henry VII., was born in it, and received his name in accordance with its traditions respecting King Arthur of the " Round Table." Henry VIII. and the Emperor Charles V. were in it together in 1522. Mary was married in the cathedral to Philip of Spain in 1554. Raleigh was tried in the castle hall, and James I. visited it in 1603. Waller took it in 1642, Ogle in 1643, Waller again, with much injury to the cathedral, in 1644, and Cromwell, with ruin to its walls, its castles, and many of its churches, in 1645. The plague ravaged it in 1665-66. Charles II. visited it in 1682 and other years, Princess Anne in 1684, and James II. in 1685.

Site and Structure.-The city occupies the declivities and bottom of a pleasant vale. The Itchin approaches it in divided streamlets forming a series of brooks, and goes past it in full volume, cutting it off from a large eastern suburb, re-divides and subdivides its waters in descending towards St Cross, and is so bright and sparkling as to enhance the beauty of the vale, and attract fishermen from all parts. High downs rise on the E of the vale, and high ground, intersected by a deep cutting for the railway, on the W. The site though pleasant, cannot be called beautiful, and is so far from being advantageous that a stranger wonders why it should ever have held a city of importance, and still more a metropolis of England. High Street runs through the centre from ESE to WNW, and is spacious, regularly built, and about 3 furlongs in length. Some of the other streets run parallel to High Street, but most of them at right angles with it. Important improvements have been made, including extensive waterworks, an extra-mural cemetery of 7 acres, and a drainage system which cost nearly £20,000. The cemetery lies to the SW, and commands a fine view of the city.

Public Buildings.-Three of the city gates were taken down in 1770. The King's Gate still stands, and forms the entrance to College Street, it dates from the 13th century, and is surmounted by St Swithin's Church, rebuilt in the 15th century. The West Gate also still stands, dates from the time of Henry III.; the vanquishing of a gigantic Dane by Guy of Warwick outside the North Gate is a local legend. The Guildhall, situated in the High Street, was opened in 1873, and is a very handsome building in the Geometric Gothic style, containing offices for the mayor, a large assembly hall, magistrates' room, a museum and police station, a volunteer fire brigade quarters. The city cross, in the centre of High Street, was erected in the 15th century by a city guild. It is a pyramidal structure of three stages, 43½ feet high, in Later English architecture, is adorned with arches, niches, statuary, and pinnacles, contains in the second stage a statue of St Lawrence, and was restored in 1865. An obelisk not far from the West Gate, on the road to Wyke, commemorates the plague of 1665-66. Wolvesey Castle, near Winchester College, was built in 1138 by Bishop de Blois, dismantled in 1646 by order of Cromwell, and is now a picturesque ruin with interesting features of Norman architecture. The royal castle or palace was built by William the Conqueror, and acquired a hall from Henry III. The hall, now known as the county hall, measures 110 feet in length and 45 in width, is a very fine specimen of the Domestic architecture of the 13th century, is divided by pillars and arches like the nave and aisles of a church, and has at its W end, above what was formerly the royal seat, the alleged "round table" of King Arthur, 18 feet in diameter, as old as the time of King Stephen, and figured in painting of the 16th century, with representations of King Arthur and his twenty-four knights. For six centuries the interior of the hall has been used for assizes. It has been restored at a cost of £40,000. A palace was founded near the royal castle by Charles II., designed by Wren after the model of the palace of Versailles, was stopped after two years' progress in consequence of Charles's death, received some addition from the husband of Queen Anne, but never attained completion as a palace, became an asylum for the emigrant clergy of France during the great Revolution, was fitted up in 1811 as a barrack for the accommodation of 2000 men, and measures 328 feet in length. It was destroyed by fire in 1894. H.M, prison is on West Hill. The site of St Mary's Abbey has been purchased by the corporation, laid out as beautiful pleasure grounds, and contains the famous jubilee statue of the Queen by Gilbert. The Corn-exchange was built in 1839, and has a frontage of 120 feet, and a Tuscan portico. A handsome stone bridge connects the city with the eastern suburb. Other public buildings are assembly rooms, the post office, new county buildings in the Tudor style, and the edifices to be noticed in subsequent paragraphs.

The Cathedral.-A mythical cathedral is assigned to the year 177, and a reconstruction of it to the year 293. A real cathedral, or at least a church so called, was built in 647, a reconstruction of it in 980, and a second reconstruction in 1095. The site is low and adjacent to the river. The present pile possibly includes all the work of Walketyn of 1095, and comprises so many subsequent additions and renovations as to exhibit all styles of architecture from Early Norman to the latest Gothic. It is cruciform with a central tower, and has a total length of 560 feet. The nave is 250 feet long, 86 wide, and 78 high; the transept is 208 feet. long, and 78 wide; the choir, with adjuncts, is 138 feet long and 43 wide; the Lady chapel is 54 feet long; the presbytery is 70 feet long; and the tower is 50 feet broad, 48 wide, and 138¼ high. The W front and all the nave were altered as we now see them by Edgroyton and William of Wykeham, and are Perpendicular. The W front is 118 feet wide, has a great window of six orders, and in three compartments, rises into a panelled gable set between hexagonal turrets crowned with spirelets, and shows in the canopied niche of the gable a statue of William of Wykeham. The nave exteriorly would be bald but for an outline fringed with pinnacles. Interiorly it is composed of eleven bays. The transept, Norman, is of three bays, the choir of five bays, the Lady chapel of three bays, the presbytery of three bays, and the transept and the tower are Norman, the Lady chapel elaborate Tudor, the presbytery Early and Decorated English. The chancel extends from the lectern to an exquisite reredos, was constructed in 1320-50, and is the finest specimen of tabernacle work in England. The ancient sacristy in the W aisle of the S transept is now used as the chapter-house. The deanery is entered by three arches and a vaulted passage of the time of Henry III., and includes a hall with fine roof and windows of the 15th century. The episcopal palace from 1138 till the time of the Commonwealth was Wolvesey Castle; the subsequent episcopal palace was founded in 1684 and completed in 1706, and contains a chapel, a gallery, and some good rooms in the architecture of its period. It was for some time used as a diocesan training school, and is now a Diocesan Church house. The episcopal palace is at Farnham Castle in Surrey. See FARNHAM.

Ecclesiastical Affairs.-The livings in the city or connected with it are the rectories of St Lawrence (population, 226), St Maurice, St Mary Kalendar, St Peter Colebrook (1840), Holy Trinity (2316), St Thomas, St Clement (4144), St Michael (938), St Peter Cheesehill (1066), St Swithin (192), and St Faith (1024); the vicarages of St Bartholomew Hyde (1903), Christ Church (1886), and St John (1536); and the chapelries of St Cross and John the Baptist. The rectories of St Mary Kalendar and St Peter Colebrook are annexed to St Maurice; that of St Clement is annexed to St Thomas, and that of St Faith is annexed to St Cross. Value of St Lawrence, £140 gross; of St Maurice with St Mary Kalendar and St Peter Colebrook, £275 net; of Holy Trinity, £170 gross; of St Thomas with St Clement, £265 gross; of St John, £250 gross; of St Michael £265; of St Peter Cheesehill, £250; of St Swithin, £85; of St Bartholomew Hyde, £260 net; of Christ Church, £335 gross; of St John the Baptist, £100. Nearly all have residences. Patron of St Lawrence, St Peter Cheesehill, St Swithin, and St Bartholomew Hyde, the Lord Chancellor; of Christ Church, Simeon Trustees; of the others, the Bishop of Winchester.

The number of churches in the city was at one time 90, besides 5 chapels, but is now only 13. St Lawrence's ranks as the mother church, and is Later English. St Maurice's was once collegiate, and is now a modern building in the Early English style, with an ancient Norman tower. Holy Trinity Church is a modern building in the Gothic style. St Thomas' was rebuilt in 1846, and is a handsome edifice with a beautiful spire. St John's includes portions from Transition Norman to Later English, has aisles wider than the nave, and projects its tower from the end of the S aisle. St Peter's Cheesehill is nearly square, and has Norman, Transition Norman, Early English, Decorated English, and Later English portions. St Cross Church is noticed in the article CROSS, ST. St Bartholomew's is said to have been built with fragments of Hyde Abbey, has some fine Norman portions, and was restored in 1880. Christ Church was built in 1861 at a cost of £3500, and is in the Early Decorated English style. St John the Baptist's chapel is Late Early English. There are Baptist, Wesleyan, Congregational, and Primitive Methodist chapels. The Roman Catholic chapel was built in 1792, and has a Norman porch which was taken from an ancient hospital, and some stained windows.

In the 12th century three royal monasteries and many religious houses of lesser note were in the city. At the dissolution of monasteries the chief religious houses were-the royal abbey of Hyde, founded by Alfred, and possessing at the time of its suppression an annual revenue of £866; St Mary's Abbey, a convent of Benedictine nuns endowed by the queen of Alfred; St Swithin's Priory, possessing at the time of its suppression an annual revenue of £1508; a Carmelite Friary in Kingsgate Street; an Augustinian Friary near South Gate; a Dominican Friary at East Gate; a Franciscan Friary in Middle Brook Street; the Sustem or convent of hospital nuns near King's Gate; and the hospitals of St Cross, St John, St Elizabeth, and St Mary Magdalen.

Schools and Institutions.-Winchester College was founded in 1382-93, by William of Wykeham, for a warden, ten fellows and seventy scholars; covers the site of a grammar-school dating from at least 1136; is a school of the higher order, training young gentlemen in classics and science; was instituted in connection with New College, Oxford, and forms a kind of literary porch to that college; admits not only a given number of young gentlemen on its foundation, but also a certain number more, under the name of commoners, on the terms of a boarding-school; was the earliest institution of its kind in England, and served as a model for the schools of Eton and Westminster; had endowments in the time of Henry VIII. amounting to £639 a year, and numbers among its pupils Sir Thomas Browne, Sir Henry Wotton, Sidney Smith, the poets Otway, Collins, Young, Warton, Somerville, and Phillips, Archbishops Chicheley and Howley, Bishops Waynflete, Ken, Lowth, and about thirty-five other prelates. The buildings stand in the Itchin valley, in the lower environs of the city, are surrounded by a protecting wall, and form two quadrangles and a cloister, chiefly of the age of the founder, and a suite of houses for the commoners of modern erection. A spacious gateway leads to the first court, and a splendid chapel and a fine hall close up the second. The chapel had carvings (now removed) by Gibbons, rich stained windows, and a fine vaulted roof in wood; and the hall measures 63 feet by 30, and has an open timber roof. The schoolroom is a plain brick structure of the time of Charles II., measuring 90 feet by 36. The cloister was not completed till about 1430, and it encloses a quadrangular area of 17,424 square feet. The headmaster's house was built by subscription of quondam pupils at a cost of £25,000. There are between thirty and forty scholarships in connection with the college. The diocesan training school was erected in 1862, is in the Pointed style of the latter part of the 14th century, has accommodation for fifty-six students, and stands on a gently elevated plot of five acres. The city has a school of art and a public reading-room; the library and museum is located in and adjoining the guild-hall; the museum contains the original Winchester bushel, a warder's horn from the royal castle, and some other interesting local antiquities.

St John's Hospital was founded in 933, for the relief of the sick and the wayfaring; was refounded in the time of Edward II.; went, after the dissolution of the monasteries, to the city corporation, was then converted into a public banqueting-room and assembly-room, and now has connected with it a handsome suite of almshouses built in 1833-34. St Cross Hospital has been separately described. See CROSS, ST. Christ's Hospital was founded by Peter Symonds, in 1586, for six aged men and four poor boys; sends two scholars in divinity to the universities, and helps them there; gives an apprentice fee of £30 to each of the boys, and has an income of about £440. A public school for the middle classes was founded from its surplus income in 1896. Bishop Morley's College was founded in 1672 for ten widows of clergymen, and stands on the N side of the cathedral, beyond the close. Lambe's Almshouses are for six widows. The county hospital was founded in 1736, and stood in the parish of St Mary Kalendar; a new building for it, near the site of the diocesan training-school, was erected in 1868. The total endowed charities of the city amount to over £2000 per annum.

Trade, &c.-The city has a post, money order, and telegraph office, three banks, and four chief inns, publishes two weekly newspapers, and is a seat of assizes, quarter sessions and county courts. The woollen trade, once of great importance, long ago decayed, and was not followed by any important manufacture. Brewing, making, the sale of agricultural produce, and business connected with courts and with the diocese now form the principal occupations. Markets are held on Wednesdays and Saturdays; fairs are held on the first Monday in Lent, 2 Aug., and 23 and 24 Oct. for sheep and cattle. The city sent two members to Parliament from the time of Edward I. till 1885, when the representation was reduced to one. It is governed by a mayor, 6 aldermen, and 18 councillors. The municipal and parliamentary borough are coextensive, and have an area of 1049 acres; population 19,073.

The Diocese.-Winchester diocese dates from 660, had St Hedda for its first bishop, and comprehends all Hants, the Channel Islands, and part of Surrey. The bishop ranks next in dignity to the Bishop of London, and is, ex qfficio, prelate of the Garter. The cathedral establishment includes the bishop, dean, and four canons, and there are bishops suffragan of Guildford and Southampton. The income of the Bishop of Winchester is £6500 per annum. The population of the diocese is 976,385.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5


The following is a list of the administrative units in which this place was either wholly or partly included.

Ancient CountyHampshire 
Poor Law unionWinchester 

Any dates in this table should be used as a guide only.

Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for Winchester from the following:

Land and Property

The Return of Owners of Land in 1873 for Hampshire (County Southampton) is available to browse.


Online maps of Winchester are available from a number of sites:

Newspapers and Periodicals

The British Newspaper Archive have fully searchable digitised copies of the following Hampshire newspapers online:

Visitations Heraldic

The Visitations of Hampshire, 1530, 1575, & 1622-34 is available to view on the Heraldry page.

RegionSouth East
Postal districtSO23
Post TownWinchester