Winchester: St Mary's College

A History of the County of Hampshire: Volume 5. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1912.

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'Winchester: St Mary's College', in A History of the County of Hampshire: Volume 5, ed. William Page( London, 1912), British History Online [accessed 14 July 2024].

'Winchester: St Mary's College', in A History of the County of Hampshire: Volume 5. Edited by William Page( London, 1912), British History Online, accessed July 14, 2024,

"Winchester: St Mary's College". A History of the County of Hampshire: Volume 5. Ed. William Page(London, 1912), , British History Online. Web. 14 July 2024.


Immediately south-west of Wolvesey Palace in the southern suburb of the ancient city is the College of St. Mary, founded by William of Wykeham in 1387 on a site bought of the Prior and convent of St. Swithun, outside the jurisdiction of the mayor and corporation and within the bishop's own jurisdiction of the Soke. (fn. 1)

The original plan of the College consisted of three quadrangles, OuterCourt, Chamber Court, and cloisters, one beyond another and successively smaller: Outer Court containing the business premises, Chamber Court the living rooms, and cloisters, approached through the chapel, the final resting-place of the society. In this state they remained for a century and a-half without addition. At the Dissolution the college underwent expansion, taking in three or four more quadrangles. It occupied the site of St. Elizabeth's College on the east, which was eventually annexed by the warden for his house and garden; its Commoners found extended premises in the Sustern Spital, a hospital for women, a dependency of the monastery on the west, and the garden or playing-fields called Meads were extended at the expense of the Carmelite convent on the south. In this state things continued for another hundred years. In the 17th century, before the Civil War, Sickhouse was built on the actual site of the Carmelite Friary, and after the erection of School there was added a fourth quadrangle called School Court. In the middle of the 18th century the Sustern Hospital was finally consolidated and annexed under the name of Commoners' College with its two quadrangles, now represented by Moberly Court and Flint Court. For a century again expansion ceased. Then, not long after the middle of the 19th century, Commoners were once more shifted westward. First came sporadic houses, one in St. Thomas' Street (now being moved to Kingsgate Park), another in Kingsgate Street, and another on Southgate Hill, nearly half a mile away. A little later almost a new Commoners' College sprang up in the four houses clustered together on Culver's Close with a fifth opposite them in Southgate Street. A gate was cut in Meads' Wall, and Meads became a long, irregular quadrangle of grass bounded by the river and the road, taking in successively Lavender Meads, New Field, and Dogger's Close. A mistake was committed towards the end of the century, when the college declined to expand to the north by annexing the 17th-century house of Wolvesey and the ruins of the residence of the founder, with its beautiful grounds between the city wall and the cathedral. A ninth house was added in 1907 in Kingsgate Park and a tenth, in the same park, is now (1911) just finished.

Winchester College. Argent two cheverons sable between three roses gules, which are the arms of William of Wykeham, the founder.

The stern, unbroken line of frontage which the college presents to the outer world when approached down College Street, past the head master's house, has precisely the same fortress-like aspect as when it was first erected outside the city walls, with the dangers of sudden uprisings like those of the Peasant Revolt of 1381, or the earlier Town and Gown Riots of St. Scholastica's Day at Oxford in 1354, forcibly present to the designer's mind. It conceals behind its dark grey stone wall, with the narrowest slits possible for light, the slaughter-house, the brewhouse, the porter's lodge, and what was once the granary. The first three are still as they were, though used for other purposes or none.

Outer Gate stands at the east end of these buildings, a vaulted gate-house of two stories, with a turret at the west, supported outside by two massive buttresses. In the centre of the upper story in a niche is the figure of the Virgin, crowned, with the Child in her arms. On the ground floor is the porter's lodge. The two-leaved door is original, and on the right and left are two stone basins projecting from the wall, possibly holy-water stoups.

Above Outer Gate were the chambers of the steward of the college manors, now the office of his successor the bursar. Outer Court is said to have been originally open for its whole length of 200 ft., till it was curtailed by the erection in 1663 of a screen of two open stone archways at the west end, cutting off about a third of it. Offices, now pulled down, were placed here over the Lorteburn. There are indications, however, that these offices were not then erected for the first time. A more serious curtailment was caused by the erection of the warden's lodgings, begun in 1565. (fn. 2) The beautiful carved wood mantelpiece in the warden's study is dated 1615. The gallery, the front of which looks on Outer Court, was rebuilt in 1832 by warden Barter. It was for some time used as an examination hall, and since 1910 is the Fellows' Library. It is 54 ft. long by 10 ft. wide and 11½ ft. high, (fn. 3) and was intended seemingly for a portrait gallery and ante-room. In the warden's garden the ruins of St. Elizabeth's College are said to be traceable in very dry weather, as are those of its dependent chapel, St. Stephen, in St. Stephen's Mead by Gunner's Hole, the college bathing-place.

Plan of Winchester College

Middle Gate is another two-storied tower. On both its outer and inner face are groups of the Annunciation, with the angel Gabriel on the right and a much perished figure of the founder kneeling on the left. Middle Gate opens to Chamber Court, which, except for the substitution of a square 15th-century tower for the spire of Wykeham's time, is original. In Middle Gate were the warden's lodgings, including Election Chamber, so-called because until about ten years ago the elections to New College and Winchester took place there. The scholars lived in six chambers on the ground floor, three on each side, now used as day studies only. Nine of the ten fellows occupied the rooms above first, second and third chambers, three in each room. Above fifth chamber were the ten commoners in college, and above sixth chamber, always assigned to the prefect of hall, the head of the school, were the informator or head master, the hostiarius, usher or second master, and, presumably, the tenth fellow. The sixteen choristers were in a seventh chamber, behind Sixth, now part of a new scholars' chamber called Thule. Above them were the three hired chaplains (conductitii or 'conducts,' as they are still called at Eton) and the three chapel clerks. The second master's house now absorbs the chaplains' chamber, upper Fifth and Sixth, to which additions were made at the back in the early part of the 16th century. The dining-room is a panelled room containing the portraits of noblemen who were Commoners in 1730–1.

The fellows' chambers became in 1870 the scholars' sleeping chambers and bath-rooms, 'Fourth' being now a change room.

Middle Gate looks south on chapel and school, with hall above it, while on the right is the flight of stairs to hall. Next to it is the kitchen, formerly with a projecting conduit or covered bath-room, now marked only by a tap and a stone trough.

Chapel, hall and the original school under it are of wrought stone, the rest of the quadrangle being of flint, with stone mullions and quoins, and originally roofed with 'healing' stones or stone slates. Unfortunately the eastern side was reroofed in modern days with grey Welsh slates.

Chapel measures 93 ft. by 27 ft. The roof alone, a beautiful early specimen of incipient fan vaulting, is intact. The old walls remain, but stripped of all ornament.

In 1821–8 the splendid old glass, for the preservation of the 'sumptuous work' of which Wykeham in his statutes forbade dancing, wrestling and other disorderly games in chapel, hall or cloisters, was replaced by modern and inferior copies. At the east end is a large 'Jesse' window. Our Lady, crowned and with the Child, is the chief and the most beautiful figure, alike in colour and in drawing. The small scenes at the bottom contain figures of Edward III and Richard II, the kings under whom the college was begun and finished, Wykeham kneeling to the Virgin, and the chief mason or architect, William Winford; Wykeham's man of business, Simon Membury, an old Wykehamist, treasurer of Wolvesey and surveyor of the works, and the chief carpenter. Fortunately a considerable portion of these and of the figure of the Virgin are of old glass. The eight side windows, four on each side, containing local, mediaeval and biblical saints, are all new. Their inferiority to the old may be gauged by a visit to the original figures of St. John the Evangelist, Sephonias (the prophet Zephaniah) and St. Jacobus (James the Less) now put together in a window in the South Kensington Museum.

Further havoc was committed in 1874–5 by William Butterfield. The walls were stripped of the panelled wainscoting put up in 1636, the mediaeval brasses were torn up from the floor of the ante-chapel whither Warden Nicholas had removed them when he paved the chapel with black-and-white marble in 1681, and cast away to be lost or stolen, while for the old stalls and benches, ranged collegiate-wise north and south, there were substituted yellow pews facing eastwards, the choir being raised on an elevated dais towards the east end. The only improvement effected was the restoration of the old reredos of 1470, which had been covered by the 17th-century wainscot. It has since been filled with statues representing a mixed company, of whom William of Wykeham and Alfred the Great are the most appropriate. The old brasses on the floor have been reproduced from rubbings taken by Dr. Edwin Freshfield, solicitor to the Bank of England, when he was a boy in Commoners. They are those of Wardens Morris (Morrys), who died 1413; Thurburn, died 1450; John White, afterwards Bishop of Winchester, died 1559; John Bedell, Mayor of Winchester, formerly scholar, died 1498; and the fellows, John Willinghale, 1432; Nicholas North, 1445; Thomas Lyrypyn, 1509; and John Barnack, 1524. There is also a brass to George Ridding, head master 1866–84, and then Bishop of Southwell, died 1904.

Chapel was originally divided into the choir and ante-chapel by a rood-screen, still marked by the door giving access to it and a blind window on the south side. It took twelve days' labour to take it down in 1571–2. South-west of it in an annexe was Warden Thurburn's chantry, erected in 1450. In 1475 it was converted into the ground floor of the beautiful square, four-pinnacled tower then substituted for Wykeham's tower and spire. Unfortunately the piles on which the tower was built were not strong enough to support the additional weight. Five years after it was finished a buttress had to be built against its southern face. (fn. 4) After the Reformation Thurburn's chantry was thrown into the chapel by piercing the wall with two arches; the column between them had to be repaired in 1671; in 1740 iron ties were introduced and in 1772 an interior buttress was erected. But after a time the structure became so unsafe that the bells could not be rung. In 1860 the whole tower was taken down, a cement foundation was inserted and the stones having been numbered it was rebuilt stone by stone as a memorial to Wardens Barter and Williams. The stone bosses in Thurburn's chantry were carefully replaced. They are of considerable interest for their canting or punning arms of four distinguished Wykehamists of the day; Thurburn himself, a flaming censer (thuribulum); Bekynton, Bishop of Bath and Wells, a beacon on a tun; Thomas Chaundler, warden of Winchester, a capital T and candles in saltire; Hugh Sugar, treasurer, then chancellor of Wells, three sugar loaves. The chapel is to be restored, the floors brought down to the old level, and the walls panelled with oak.

In the passage to cloisters, misnamed ante-chapel, is a monument in the early English style, erected in 1858 to thirteen Wykehamists who fell in the Crimean war, whence the passage itself is now called Crimea. It bears the following apposite inscription: 'Think upon them thou who art passing by to-day, child of the same family, bought by the same Lord. Keep thy foot when thou goest into this house of God, then watch thine armour and make thyself ready by prayer to fight and to die, the faithful soldier and servant of Christ and of thy country.' Just beyond the end of the passage is a graceful gateway leading to School Court, erected in memory of Sir Herbert Stewart, the hero of Abu Klea, and simply inscribed 'In Memoriam Herberti Stewart.'

The cloisters, with their original Purbeck stone slates, are perhaps the most absolutely untouched of all the buildings. No cobweb or dirt defiles their oaken roofs. The thirty-six unglazed three-light windows are most beautiful. In summer Cloisters were used in the 17th century as an alternative school, whence the name of Cloister Time is still given to the summer term. Cloisters are hung with many brasses and memorial tablets. The tomb of Richard Dene, head master, who died 28 May 1494, is in the south-west corner, bereft of the brass and inscription, which Anthony Wood copied.

In the centre of Cloisters stands Chantry, the chantry of John Fromond, steward of the college, erected by him before 1426. It is a two-storied building, with a turret staircase at the south-west end. Outside may be seen carved figures of the woodward and other officials over whom the founder as steward presided, including also the bread-butler with trencher and knife, and the beer-butler with a lagena or 'black-jack.' (fn. 5) It is 36 ft. long by 18 ft. broad and 28 ft. high in the chapel on the ground floor. The upper chamber, 14 ft. 6 in. high, originally the chantry priest's dwelling, was till 1910 a library of ancient books. The lower, which from 1629 to 1875 was also a library, is now a junior chapel. Its east window contains some fine old glass taken from Thurburn's chantry, but not originally there, as it was described as ancient glass when bought in 1483. The modern west window, given by Chief Justice Earle in 1874, contains the portraits and arms of Henry VI and others. The bosses in the roof bear the arms of the original contributors to the building. The reredos was given by Dr. Edwin Freshfield. The four side windows and statues of St. Michael and St. Gabriel were given by Archdeacon Fearon, head master 1884–1901. The brass of the first chantry priest, William Clyff, who died 24 March 1434–5, has been recently removed from Cloisters and replaced on the south wall.

Hall is structurally intact. It measures 62 ft. by 29 ft. and is 40 ft. high to the under side of the tie-beam of the roof. The tables and forms date from the time of Elizabeth. (fn. 6) It contains a panel portrait of William of Wykeham, perhaps painted before 1480, as it shows Winchester College with the original spire. It was bought in 1597 for £4 12s. 6d. (fn. 7) There are also portraits of wardens from Bilson (1580–96) to Barter (1832–61), brought from the Warden's Gallery.

The original School below, now called Seventh Chamber, is no longer the great hall (magna domus) of Wykeham's time. When the present 'School' was built in 1687 Seventh Chamber Passage was cut out of its east end, which deprived it of one of its three windows, while of the four oaken columns or 'posts' which supported it only one now remains. The triple rows of stone seats on which the Prefects sat exist in the two remaining windows. Before the passage was taken out the School measured 46 ft. by 29 ft.

On the west side of Chamber Court is Kitchen, the most magnificent apartment in the place next to Hall itself. The lobby adjoining contains the farfamed figure of the Trusty Servant; a man with the ears of an ass on a pig's head, the snout of which is padlocked, while the feet are those of a stag. The right hand is held out and open, the left is loaded with a shovel, pitchfork, broom and gridiron. On his left hip hangs a sword and over his right shoulder peeps a shield. An inscription in Latin elegiacs with an English translation in heroic couplets, probably of the year 1778, gives its meaning:

The Trusty Servant's portrait would you see
This emblematic figure well survey.
The porker's snout not nice in diet shows:
The padlock shut no secrets he'll disclose
Patient the ass his master's rage will bear,
Swiftness in errand the stag's feet declare.
Loaded his left hand apt to labour saith,
The vest his neatness, open hand his faith.
Girt with his sword, his shield upon his arm,
Himself and master he'll protect from harm.

The Trusty Servant is mentioned in the Bursar's Account for 1619 and in the account for 1628 is a payment to 'Jerome the painter for repairing the portrait of the founder in the hall and of the servant before the kitchen.'

In the Chasteau de Labur of Grignon, published in 1499, translated by Alexander Barclay about 1502 (ed. A. W. Pollard, Roxburgh Club), are some verses of advice to servants, which begin:

If that thou wylte thy mayster please
Thou must have thre propretees,
Fyrst must thou have an asses eares
With an hertes fete in all degrees
An hogges snoute

which he then goes on to explain as in the writing on the wall. As Alexander Barclay was beneficed in Hampshire about this time, it is quite probable that the picture was derived from his book and was one of the ornaments which Archbishop Warham, the most prominent old Wykehamist of his day, bestowed on the college at this time. A similar figure is also described by Gilbertus Cognatus in De Officio Famulorum (Paris 1535) and by John James Hofmann in his Lexicon Universelle (1698).

'School,' standing in what was formerly a Ball Court, was built in 1687. It measures 78 ft. by 35 ft. inside and is perhaps the finest and largest school in England. It has been attributed to Sir Christopher Wren, but as it is not mentioned among his works in the Parentalia, nor are any designs for it in the collection of his plans preserved at All Souls College, the probability is that he was not the architect. The bronze statue of Wykeham over the door was given in 1692 by Caius Gabriel Cibber.

Mackenzie Walcott thus describes the interior in 1848: 'Wainscotting covers the walls as high as the sill of the deeply-embayed windows. Fronting the entrance is a tall wooden bookcase, once filled; to the right is a tier of seats, occupied at Commoners' speaking by the warden, sub-warden and head-master, ordinarily by the latter, flanked by two Wykehamical rods; on the left is the chair of the second master; on the north side of the school, facing these seats, are the chairs of the lower masters. Against the east and west walls are built up three tiers of fixed seats, gradually rising one above the other, and extending along the whole breadth of the room; upon these the forms sit when "up at books." Along the room are set four parallel ranges of oak benches, intersected north and south by a central passage; upon them are placed the scobs (box spelt backwards), (fn. 8) twenty-five inches long, twelve inches deep, and eighteen inches in width; the upper lid being raised as a shelter; a second cover serves the purpose of a desk; below it are kept books and implements for writing.'

The ceiling with its rich cornice is the most striking feature of the interior. It is carved with garlands and adorned with the arms of the principal contributors to the building.

On the east wall hung the Tabula Legum Paedagogicarum. This table of school laws, dating probably from the 15th century, was re-edited by Bishop Huntingford between 1773 and 1798. The laws are divided into six chapters:—I. Chapel; II. School; III. Hall; IV. Court, Town and Hills (In atrio, oppido et ad montes); V. Chambers; VI. Everywhere and Always (In omni loco et tempore). The original laws were brought from the old schoolroom.

On the west wall a huge tablet contains the famous jingle Aut disce, aut discede, manet sors tertia caedi. Above Aut disce are the rewards of learning, the mitre and crozier; above Aut discede the resort of those who departed, the sword and the pen and ink-horn; while above Manet sors tertia caedi, the last word of which is in large letters, 'the third lot to be flogged,' is the 'bibling rod.' The lines and probably the emblems were on the wall of the old school.

Meads, the ancient playground, is inclosed by a wall the highest and oldest part of which, including 'Non licet Gate' (an ancient name for this gate), was built of rubble and flint with a tiled roof in Wykeham's time. The rest of the wall is of squared stone, and was erected from the ruins of St. Elizabeth's College and the Carmelite friary in the reign of Edward VI. At the south end the walls are carved with little excavations called Temples, which were used for illuminations with the ends of candles on the last night before the Christmas holidays.

None of the other buildings of the school except Sick House are ancient. The old Sustern Hospital, Commoners' College, or 'Old Commoners,' was wholly pulled down and rebuilt in 1844, and not on the same lines, though the general idea of two quadrangles was preserved. The head master's house, built of flint and stone in the Gothic style of the period, abuts on the road called College Street. Moberly Court, which used to contain commoner prefects' studies on the west wall, is now a garden plot, with the offices of the head master's house on the west. It measures 130 ft. by 54 ft., but is wider at the southern end than at the northern. The east side of the court is formed by the west wall of the college and the second master's house. The south side is now filled by Sixth Book class-room and the masters'—formerly commoner prefects'—common room below, with Moberly Library, commonly called Mob. Lib., formerly dormitories, called Cloisters, a name transferred from the old building, above. From it two wings run out southwards, forming another quadrangle. The west side used to be called Grubbing Hall, being commoners' dining-room, and that on the east used to be called Mugging Hall, being their study and preparation room. Each was 65 ft. 4 in. long by 26 ft. 4 in. broad. Above each were long bedrooms called East and West Galleries, also a name imported from the Sisters' Hospital, and, as has been seen, from college parlance of Elizabethan days. There is not, and never was, any south side to this quadrangle, which is called Flint Court, from the flints which pave it. It is 98 ft. long by 49 ft. broad. At the bottom of Flint Court is Grass Court (about 200 ft. long), now part of Meads, but which until 1857 or thereabouts was cut off from School Court by a line of outhouses, and from Meads by a brick wall. Commoners then had no access to Meads, except on special occasions.

At the west side of Grass Court are the Fives Courts and War Gate (built as a South African War memorial in 1902), the usual mode of access to Meads and college for Commoners. Beyond the gate are Racquet Court and Gymnasium, which are masked by Museum, a building of considerable architectural pretensions in red brick with yellow stone arches in the rococo Renaissance style, erected to commemorate the Quincentenary celebration held in 1893. A few yards farther on is Sick House, formerly standing in its own grounds called Sick House Meads, and still separated by a hedge and a small garden from the rest of Meads. It is a charming little house with no great pretensions, in red brick with white stone quoins and mullions. It was built in 1640 by Warden Harris, who called it 'Bethesda,' which name is inscribed in Hebrew characters over the door, while in Latin is also written 'Sumtibus Harrisii fuit aedificata Bethesda.' The back part was added or enlarged by John Taylor, a Fellow in 1775. A huge red brick infirmary, erected in 1893, occupies the south part of the old Sick House Meads.

Beyond Meads Wall, on the right of Lavender Meads, are the new Science Schools built in 1903, and, invisible behind them in Culverlea, Music School, dating from the same year.

Winchester: House in Cheesehill Street

At the farthest end of New Field is Webbe Tent, a picturesque thatched cricket pavilion, erected in 1887 and dedicated to the memory of H. R. Webbe, captain of 'Lords' in 1875, by his brother, the wellknown Harrow cricketer, A. J. Webbe.

The plate consists of two chalices and paten covers of 1611; two patens, the gift of Warden Nicholas and his wife in 1683; another paten of 1833 given by will of John Johnson, D.D.; two flagons of 1627, given by Warden Love in 1629; an alms-dish of 1681 also given by Warden Nicholas in that year; and a secular cup of late 16th or early 17th-century workmanship, inscribed 'D. D. Gul. Master in Usum Sacristae Coll. Winton, 1762.' All are of silver-gilt.

The plate of Fromond's chantry in the college cloisters consists of a silver chalice, paten, flagon, eucharistic spoon and alms-plate, the first four dated 1895, the latter 1894. They are engraved 'The gift of Confrère Edwin Freshfield of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem in England.'

The altar linen in use in the chantry was also given by Dr. Edwin Freshfield and comprises some very beautiful lace, mostly of Greek workmanship.

Remains of the Carmelite friary (fn. 9) have been found near the College Sick House and Memorial Buildings in Meads and in the gardens at the back of the houses north of the memorial gateway on the east side of Kingsgate Street. To the south of Garnier Road, which forms the southern boundary of 'The Riddings,' as Lower College Meads are called, nearly opposite the old graveyard of St. Faith, is Prior's Barton House marking the site of the manor of Prior's Barton.

In the meadows still further south again of the college in the old suburb of Sparkford is the hospital of St. Cross (vide infra).

On the summit of St. Catherine's Hill are a bank and ditch, within which the foundations of St. Catherine's chapel are said to exist, but there is no masonry now showing. Near the clump of trees on the top is a maze cut in the turf, within a square. It is said to have been made by the college boy who wrote 'Dulce Domum,' but nothing seems to be known of its actual origin.


  • 1. See under 'Schools,' V.C.H. Hants, ii, 261 et seq.
  • 2. Custus domorum. In solutis pro 4 bigatis meremi pro reparatione gallarie Domini Custodis, 8s. In solutis, in diversis expensis in edificatione nove gallerie, £34 13s. 4½d. Each fellow's chamber had a gallery, whence probably the word is still used in Commoners' houses for a bedroom. Next year 10s. was spent on painting the windows of the warden's gallery and hall and £11 6s. 4½d. on building him a library (Winton Coll. Doc.).
  • 3. These and other dimensions of buildings were kindly furnished by Mr. Thomas Stopher, architect and surveyor to the college.
  • 4. T. F. Kirby, Annals of Winch. Coll. 219, from Bursar's Account Roll, 1485.
  • 5. These were formerly supposed to have been a later addition (Milner, op. cit. ii, 142). But the accounts for 1394–5 contain a payment 'at the time of the consecration (17 July 1395) of the chapel, graveyard and cloister (capelle et cimiterii et claustri'), showing that they were part of the original design (A. F. Leach, Hist. of Winch. Coll. 134).
  • 6. 'Paid Nicholas Spirygs, carpenter, working for 9 days and the like joyner for 3 days at 8s. a day and 4d. for their apprentices, making 3 new tables for the scholars and mending the floor beneath, 8s. 3d.' Other items show that there had been a great 'bally-rag' and breakage on Christmas Day (Bursar's Bk. 1585–6).
  • 7. T. F. Kirby, op. cit. 43.
  • 8. This derivation is a bad guess. Mr. Wrench's Word-book demonstrates that 'scob' is from 'scabellum,' the bench on which the box stood.
  • 9. See V.C.H. Hants, ii, 193.