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Winchester - Another English King in a car park?


King Alfred - A Victorian representation

Photo: Public photo


Perhaps not a car park in King Alfred’s case, but it is possible that the bones of the only British King to have the appellation ‘Great’ added to his name, are to be found in the city of Winchester. The city is strongly linked to Alfred. The King obliterated the street plan of the old Roman city of Venta Belgarum, laid out a new city to provide better defence, established a mint there and made the city a centre for royal administration, probably Alfred the Great’s ‘proto-capital’. When the King died in 899, he was buried in the city, but at the time of the Norman Conquest his body, and those of many of his family, were moved to Hyde Abbey, a little north of the city centre. Hyde Abbey was destroyed, like so many others, by Henry VIII during the Reformation, and his grave and bones lost. A few years ago, fragments of a male human pelvic bone, which had lain unappreciated in a cardboard box in a museum storeroom in Winchester, were identified as probably belonging to either King Alfred himself - or to his son King Edward the Elder. Excavations at the site of Hyde Abbey have not been successful so far, but archaeologists believe that the remains of the King are still to be discovered.


Winchester Cathedral

Photo: Roy Nicholls


King Alfred aside, there is a great deal for the casual visitor to enjoy in Winchester. The present Winchester Cathedral was consecrated in 1093 and is a wonderful mix of Norman and Gothic architecture, and has seen the funerals of 2 English monarchs, the marriages of 2 more and the coronations of Henry the Young King (eldest son of Henry II) and that of Richard I. In the south transept there is a "Fishermen's Chapel", which is the burial place of Izaak Walton. Walton, who died in 1683, was the author of The Compleat Angler and a friend of John Donne, and in the north aisle is the grave of Jane Austen.


The Nave of Winchester Cathedral

Photo: Roy Nicholls


The North Transept, with its Romanesque arches

Photo: Roy Nicholls


The grave of Jane Austen, one of the most famous residents of the city

Photo: Roy Nicholls


Hanging in the Great Hall of Winchester Castle is an Arthurian Round Table. Originally constructed in the 13th century, the table was repainted in its present form for Henry VIII, with the names of King Arthur's knights painted around the edge. The portrait of King Arthur is recognisably a depiction of the young Henry VIII.


The Great Hall of Winchester with its medieval Round Table

Photo: Public photo


Little of the city walls survive (there is a small section of the Roman Wall next to the St Mary Magdalen almshouses), but there are 2 of the original 6 gates still standing, the Westgate and the Kingsgate, and the Westgate houses a small museum. There are lots of historic buildings, including the Old Chesil Rectory and Cheyney Court, and in a very narrow alley off the pedestrianised High Street is the Royal Oak, which claims to be the oldest pub in England, when it was the residence of Queen Emma (mother of King Edward the Confessor). When it became a pub is debateable, but certainly by 1637 it was a 'brewhouse' and by 1677 it was known as the Royal Oak.


The Westgate

Photo: Roy Nicholls


The Royal Oak, said to be one of England's oldest pubs

Photo: Roy Nicholls


Close to the site of the old Eastgate is the 19th century of King Alfred, 4.5 metre bronze statue designed by Hamo Thornycroft and weighs just over 5 tonnes. The King stands with the point facing downwards and held just below the hilt. This stance symbolises Alfred as a champion on the battlefield but also as a significant early Christian leader, with the sword representing the cross. And standing close by on the River Itchen is the Winchester City Mill. A mill has stood on that site since the 10th century, although the present mill dates from 1744.


Thornycroft's Victorian statue of King Alfred. The pigeon is a later addition

Photo: Public photo


The 18th century City Mill

Photo: Roy Nicholls


And finally, take the 1.5 mile/30-minute river walk from the Abbey Gardens to the Hospital of St Cross. The Hospital of St Cross and Almshouse of Noble Poverty is a medieval almshouse, which has been described as "England's oldest and most perfect almshouse". Most of the buildings and grounds are open to the public at certain times. The Hospital continues an ancient tradition in the "Wayfarer's Dole", which consists of a small horn cup of ale and a piece of bread. The dole was started by a Cluniac monk and can be obtained by anyone who asks at the Porter's Lodge.


The Abbey Gardens

Photo: Roy Nicholls


The Hospital of St. Cross, just a short walk from Winchester

Photo: Roy Nicholls


Winchester will be included in the Great British Tours itinerary, ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, a guided tour of the two great cathedral cities of Salisbury and Winchester, which will be added shortly. For more information on Salisbury, see the Travel with Roy Facebook post in July.

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