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Winchester is the county town of Hampshire, in South East England. It lies at the heart of the wider City of Winchestermarker, a local government district, and is located at the western end of the South Downsmarker, along the course of the River Itchenmarker. 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 Wessexmarker and the Kingdom of England. It developed from the Roman town of Venta Belgarummarker.

Winchester's major landmark is Winchester Cathedralmarker, one of the largest cathedrals in England, with the distinction of having the longest nave and overall length of all Gothic cathedrals in Europe.

Winchester railway stationmarker is served by trains running from London Waterloomarker, Weymouthmarker, Portsmouthmarker, Southamptonmarker 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 Arbourmarker, on the western side of the present-day city. After the Roman conquest of Britain the civitas, then named Venta Belgarummarker 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

The city has historic importance as it replaced Dorchester-on-Thamesmarker as the de facto capital of the ancient kingdom of Wessexmarker in about 686 after King Caedwalla of Wessex defeated King Atwald of Wightmarker. 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 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 the still extant public school Winchester Collegemarker. 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 Parkmarker, near Otterbournemarker. 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 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 Kingdommarker through the Winchester Parliamentary Constituencymarker 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 Cathedralmarker, 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' Waymarker travelling to Canterburymarker begins at Winchester. The plan of the earlier Old Minstermarker 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.It also known for appearing in the popular film The Da Vinci Code starring Tom Hanks and based on the book by author Dan Brown. The interior was used for a scene inside a London church.

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' Schoolmarker, 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 and Palace

Wolvesey Castlemarker 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 is well known for the Great Hall of its castlemarker, 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' '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 Housemarker, 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.

Winchester College

The buildings of Winchester Collegemarker, 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, Oxfordmarker and often a life in the church.

Hospital of St Cross

The almshouses and vast Norman chapel of Hospital of St Crossmarker 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 Canterburymarker.

Winchester Guildhall 1871.

Other buildings

Other important historic buildings include the Guildhall dating from 1871 in the Gothic revival style, the Royal Hampshire County Hospitalmarker designed by William Butterfield and one of the city's several water mills driven by the various channels of the River Itchenmarker that run through the city centre. Winchester City Millmarker, 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.


War Cloister
There are numerous educational institutions in Winchester.

There are three state secondary schools: Kings' School Winchestermarker, The Westgate Schoolmarker, and The Henry Beaufort Schoolmarker, all of which have excellent reputations. The sixth form Peter Symonds Collegemarker 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 Winchestermarker, Twyford Schoolmarker, Prince's Mead School etc. Winchester Collegemarker, 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'smarker 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 Artmarker is part of the University of Southamptonmarker.


Winchester has an association football league and two recognised clubs, Winchester City F.C.marker, the 2004 FA Vase winners who were founded in 1884 and has the motto "Many in Men, One in Spirit", currently play in the Southern League, Division 1 S&E after a highly successful spell in the Wessex League and Winchester Castle F.C.marker, who have played in the Hampshire League since 1971. Reading midfielder Brian Howard was born in Winchester, as was Doncaster Rovers and Wales international midfielder Brian Stock.

Winchester women also have successful sports teams with Winchester City Women FC currently playing in the Hampshire County League Division 1 and recently went through a league campaign unbeaten. The club caters for players of all ability and ages. [7196]

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.

Media and culture

Winchester is home to Winchester Live, a live music festival set up in 2008 as a special event organised by Placid Piranha Promotions aimed at promoting the area of Winchester and Hampshire to the music industry and local music scene. Happening across three venues and boasting 11 gigs in 7 nights, it will be an opportunity to showcase Winchester as a thriving music town with big names in rock ‘n’ roll performing with a wealth of talent that Hampshire has to offer.

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 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.

On Channel 4 UK's Television Programme "The Best And Worst Places To Live In The UK" 2006, which was broadcast on Channel 4 UK on 26 October 2006, it was branded as the Best Place In The UK To Live In: 2006. In the 2007 edition of the same programme, Winchester had dropped to second best place to live, behind Edinburghmarker.

The University of Winchester was established in 2005 and has grown rapidly in both the size and scope of its activities, and an excellent Student Union

In 2003, Winchester was ranked 5th in a league of 50 'crap towns' in the UK nominated by readers of Idler magazine.

Winchester in fiction

12th century Winchester is one of the locations described in Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth.

Winchester is the main location of Samuel Youd's post-apocalyptic science fiction series, Sword of the Spirits. The books were published under the pen name John Christopher.

In the movie Merlin, King Uther's first conquest of Britain begins with Winchester, which Merlin foresaw would fall.

A fictionalised Winchester appears as Wintoncester in Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles and is in part the model for Barchester in the Barsetshire novels of Anthony Trollope, who attended Winchester College; The Warden is said to be based on a scandal at the Hospital of St Crossmarker.

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 Japanese manga Death Note, The Wammy's House, an orphanage founded by Quillsh Wammy, where the detective L's successors are raised, is located in Winchester.

A fictitious estate near Winchester is the scene of a crime in the Sherlock Holmes adventure, The Problem of Thor Bridge, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, while some of the action in his The Adventure of the Copper Beeches takes place in the city.

A scene in Henry Esmond by William Makepeace Thackeray is set in the choir of Winchester cathedral.

Winchester Cathedral is featured in James Herbert's horror novel The Fog.

The Siege of Winchester in 1141, part of the English 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.

Celebrity blogger and upcoming author Christopher Couture is originally from Winchester and in his first novel, Superhated, his first character called Alexander Cunningham is from and resides in Winchester. His second novel, Life In Pink, is based in both Winchester and Southamptonmarker.

International relations

Twin towns - Sister cities

Winchester is twinned with:

The Winchester districtmarker is twinned with

The city is also the sister city of Winchester, Virginiamarker. The Mayor of Winchester (UK) has a standing invitation to be a part of the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival in Winchester (VA) each year in the Spring.

The city of Winchester gave its name to a suburb of Parismarker, Francemarker, 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.

See also


  1. Roman Venta Belgarum
  2. Dodson, Aidan. The Royal Tombs of Great Britain. London: Gerald Duckworth & Co. 2004.
  3. History of Winchester Guildhall

External links

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