Winchester: Castle

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

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'Winchester: Castle', in A History of the County of Hampshire: Volume 5, ed. William Page( London, 1912), British History Online [accessed 19 July 2024].

'Winchester: Castle', in A History of the County of Hampshire: Volume 5. Edited by William Page( London, 1912), British History Online, accessed July 19, 2024,

"Winchester: Castle". A History of the County of Hampshire: Volume 5. Ed. William Page(London, 1912), , British History Online. Web. 19 July 2024.


The County Hall, the great Hall of Winchester where the first Parliaments of England were held, is the only remaining portion of the castle where Norman and Angevin kings resided, where Henry I was married to Maud of Scotland and their son William Atheling was born, where Henry III was born, where Arthur son of Henry VII was born, where Henry VIII entertained the Emperor Charles V, and where Mary and Philip celebrated part of their ill-fated wedding ceremonies. It consists of a rectangular nave of five bays 110 ft. 9 in. by 28 ft. 3 in., measuring from centre to centre of the pillars, and side aisles each about 110 ft. 10 in. by 14 ft. from the wall to the centre of the pillars, making a rectangular building 110 ft. 10 in. by 56 ft. 3 in. between the walls. The history of this building begins probably in the 12th century, but it was altered early in the 13th with the arcades as at present, and the whole covered by a high-pitched roof with overhanging eaves between lofty dormer windows which arose directly from the wall face and were gabled above. This disposition can still be clearly seen on the south wall where the angle shafts of the dormers and parts of the string course of the roofs between them are preserved with the line of a circular window in the gables which was placed immediately above the apex of the windows; the whole effect must have been very charming. At a subsequent period the walls were built up between the dormers, whose height was lowered by the removal of the circular windows in their heads to the new wall raised between them. The wall was surmounted by a plain parapet supported on a corbel table. In 1874 the whole building was thoroughly repaired and reroofed, much of the stonework being renewed.

The hall is built of flint faced inside and out with limestone dressings to windows and doorways; the buttresses and ancient dormers are faced with ashlar, and the modern open timber truss roof over the nave is covered with tiles.

At the west end of the hall are the remains of the dais, about 4 ft. 6 in. high, with a doorway leading to the private apartments at the north side of it; wellpreserved arcades of five pointed arches of the early 13th century supported upon lofty Purbeck marble pillars divide the central portion or nave from the aisles. The responds of the arcades are supported on large corbels carved as semi-figures of men and women in 13th-century dress, that at the north-west being modern. In the north wall are five lofty two-light windows; the lower part of the central one has been cut away and a modern doorway inserted. On the south there are four similar windows. In the north and south walls towards the east there were five doorways. One on each side below the first windows from the east led, that on the north to the buttery, of which the west jamb may still be seen, and that on the south, of which no trace remains, to the kitchen. The main north doorway was below the second window from the east. Its position is now occupied by the lower part of the window, which has been carried downwards to the level of the sills of the more westerly windows. Only the east jambs of this doorway with the springer of the segmental pointed arch remain. The main south doorway opposite this still exists, though much repaired, and a little to the east of it there is a blocked doorway, now a recess, which perhaps led, by a stairway, to a gallery above the east end of the hall.

Vaulted Ground Story of House in St. Thomas' Street, Winchester

Plan of County Hall, Winchester

The east wall, which is about 9 ft. 2 in. thick, has been pierced by modern moulded arches leading to modern additions. At the west of the north aisle is a restored pointed segmental arched doorway of the 13th century. It seems to have originally led to the private apartments, but has possibly been moved since its first erection. The hole for the ancient oak bolt may be seen in the jamb.

On the north side the first two windows are similar, two long trefoiled lights with a plain transom and a quatrefoil piercing through the plate at the head. The external stonework is modern, but the moulded edge rolls with capitals and bases and the richly moulded rear arches are the work of the early part of the 13th century. The window seats on this side are modern, but are copies of the original seats on the south side. Most of the work of the fourth and fifth windows on this side is modern.

In the south-east corner of the south aisle is a 13th-century head corbel, which probably supported a wall-piece of the roof of that period. The four windows on this side are all of the same character and detail as those on the north, but they retain much more of the 13th-century work. The window seats on this side in the first three windows are ancient, and externally much of the stonework dates from the 13th century, and the roof and dormers of that period may best be observed from here, since the angle shafts, the gables with the lower part of the circular windows, and the string course at the side of the dormers for the roof which come down between them remain and are exposed; the buttresses also between the windows, with high-pitched deep weatherings, remain practically in their original condition.

To the east of the south door there is a pointed segmental arch recess with edge roll, which was probably a doorway leading to the gallery. The last window retains its 13th-century framework and jamb shafts with moulded capitals, bases and bands.

In the gable at the west end of the hall there is the top of a round table 17 ft. in diameter, locally known as 'King Arthur's Round Table,' with a Tudor rose in the centre and painted radiating lines dividing into twenty-five parts, one being occupied by the figure of a king; its origin, about which much has been surmised, is unknown. (fn. 1)

Though a royal residence possibly existed in preNorman times on a fortified site, the earthworks of the castle of which the hall remains were of the time of William the Conqueror (fn. 2); the masonry works, however, were probably not begun till towards the middle of the 12th century. Thus in 1155–6 it is found that £14 10s. 8d. was paid for making the king's house in the castle of Winchester (fn. 3); in the next year £14 10s. for work on one chamber in the castle. (fn. 4) A few years later heavier expenses for the castle works were incurred. In 1170 £36 6s. was paid, (fn. 5) in 1171 £128 6s. 4d. 'for work on the castle wall.' (fn. 6) In 1173 £56 13s. 1d. was paid for work on the king's houses at Winchester and £48 5s. for work on the castle and provisioning it (fn. 7); in 1175 £35 1s. 4d. was paid for work on the king's chapel in the castle (fn. 8); in 1176 £5 was paid for the same purpose, with £12 for 12,000 freestone for the chapel, and £1 10s. 2d. for 700 boards for making the king's chamber (fn. 9); in 1177 £17 was spent on the king's chapel, £20 on work in the castle and £11 for work on the clerk's chamber in the castle (fn. 10); in 1179 £46 was spent on the king's works in the castle and £18 17s. 5d. on work in the kitchen and on the 'houses' for the king's birds in the castle (fn. 11); in 1180 £81 8s. was spent on work on the king's chambers in the castle. (fn. 12) In 1182 £15 was spent 'for work on the chapel of St. Judoc' (fn. 13) in the castle and on the courtyard and on the king's hall and £3 10s. for painting the king's chamber. (fn. 14) Three years later £2 11s. 7d. was spent on work on the king's chapel and mews in the new close, £14 15s. 11d. on the dove-cote in the said close, £7 1s. 9d. for work on a bedchamber in the same, £1 5s. 6d. to Walter de Hauvill, keeper of the king's birds in the same close, 4s. for wheat for feeding the doves, and 2s. for sand to be put in and about the mews, with £2 11s. to Richard de Yslape for feeding the royal birds. (fn. 15) In 1187 £8 1s. 6d. was spent on stone for a stone chamber in the castle of Winchester, while two sums of £19 12s. and £47 6s. were paid to John de Rebez, constable of the castle in 1190, for certain works there. (fn. 16) The next year a still larger sum, £73 0s. 10d., went for works on the castle, while in 1193 £16 13s. 2d. was spent on repairing the ditches and for the barbican and for making a 'mangunel' and a gate and the alleys (aluris) around the castle (fn. 17); £4 7s. 2d. was spent the next year in making a wall in the castle in front of the king's gate and £5 12s. 2d. for preparing a catapult (petraria) and mangonel, which were at Winchester, and carrying them to Marlborough and bringing them back, &c., and £4 7s. for improving the king's houses in the castle, £5 7s. being spent the next year (1195) for the same purpose. (fn. 18) Repairs of the tower, the bridge and the houses of the castle amounted to £5 in 1196, and of the houses and kitchen to £11 6s. 4d. in 1197, and to £39 17s. 2d. in 1198. (fn. 19) King John in 1215 sent 100 marks and other sums for the works of Winchester Castle. (fn. 20) Henry III in December 1221 ordered the sheriff to cause the hall of Winchester Castle to be repaired, the king's painted chamber and kitchen and the small offices 'against this instant Christmas when the king will be there.' (fn. 21) It was at this time that Henry III was rebuilding the great hall. The importance of the work can be gathered from a mandate to William Briwere in 1232 to sell all the underwood in the king's forest of 'La Bere,' (fn. 22) and, later, to supply timber from the same forest (fn. 23) and Alice Holt Forest (fn. 24) for the great hall. In 1233 the mayor was warned to see that the work on the great hall should be hastened as much as possible. (fn. 25) In 1234 100 beams (chevrones) 'in brullio nostro de Fincgel' were granted for making a certain gallery (aleam) in the castle between the great chamber and the chapel of St. Thomas. (fn. 26) The great hall was completed in 1235. Repairs were done to the king's houses in 1301, (fn. 27) and in 1336 to the great bridge and the great hall and other houses within the castle. (fn. 28) In 1348 200 marks were spent on the new roofing of the hall and the defects in the other houses, walls and turrets. (fn. 29) In 1359 the stones and timber from a ruinous tenement in Winchester called 'le Wolleseld' were ordered to be carried to the castle for the works there, the timber of the same being sold 'as may be most to the king's advantage.' (fn. 30) In 1390 master masons and a master carpenter were appointed for seven years to cause the walls, turrets, gates and bridges of Winchester Castle, and the houses within the same which have not fallen, to be repaired. (fn. 31) Two years later the constable of the castle was ordered to take masons, carpenters and other workmen needful for the repair of the castle and of the buildings and set them to work on the same. (fn. 32)

In the 15th century repairs do not seem to have been so heavy an item, but in February 1424 the bailiffs of Winchester were ordered to expend £20 10s. on repairs during the next seven years, £15 13s. 4d. of which was to come from the fee farm of the city. (fn. 33) Later in the century the city was desolate and depopulated, and the castle was no longer of any importance. (fn. 34) In the next century the city secured the custody of the castle in March 1559, through the intervention of William Lawrence, who obtained the charge from the queen, and was recompensed by the city by a demise of the herbage of the city ditch on the east side of the castle for the term of his life. (fn. 35) The next year the same William Lawrence was granted 'the castle green called Bewmondes as it is new enclosed' and 'thermytts Tower' for a term of twentynine years. (fn. 36) The charge of the castle which the city had thus obtained under Elizabeth was lost in the early years of the 17th century, since James I in 1606–7 granted it to Sir Benjamin Tichborne (fn. 37) in reward for his zealous services as High Sheriff of Hampshire in the cause of the king's accession. Sir Richard Tichborne, son and heir of Sir Benjamin, loyally gave up the castle to be fortified for the king during the Civil War, and himself served there under the command of Lord Ogle. The stories of the stand made against Sir William Waller, and of the siege and surrender to Oliver Cromwell in 1645, are well-known history. The fortifications having been destroyed by Cromwell, the rest of the castle, with the chapel and its advowson, was granted by Parliament to Sir William Waller in 1646. (fn. 38) However, in June 1649 the Council of State was ordered 'to consider how Winchester Castle may be made untenable so that no damage may arise thereby and how satisfaction may be made to Sir William Waller for such damage as he shall sustain by reason thereof.' (fn. 39) A few days later the Council of State ordered the castle to be viewed before demolition. (fn. 40) Before the year was out Bettsworth, Moore and Wither were ordered to go to Winchester and put the work of demolition into execution. They were ordered to 'summon the country to do the work which we conceive they will be willing to do to provide for their future quiet.' (fn. 41) However, the work did not progress quickly. In January 1651 the Council warned the commissioners to proceed with the demolition, (fn. 42) and in the next month wrote questioning why the castle was not yet made untenable: they had intimated the danger that might come by it, and therefore ordered it to be done without delay fourteen days after the assizes. (fn. 43) In March they again wrote to the commissioners acknowledging their report that the work had been begun. They hoped by this time it had been effectually done. (fn. 44)

Whatever the commissioners failed to effect in the way of demolition was certainly accomplished by the building of the King's House on the site of the castle in 1683. The mayor and corporation, 'in case our sovereign lord should think fit to build upon the site of the demolished castle,' had already agreed to present him with their estate therein—by whatever right they held—and in 1683 an entry among their ordinances notes that his majesty had been pleased to take notice of their agreement and begin 'a magnificent building.' (fn. 45) Upon the death of Charles II in 1685 an immediate stop was put to the building. Queen Anne, intending to complete it, settled it upon her husband, who died before she had sufficient money to carry out her design. In 1756 some 5,000 French prisoners were confined in the building (fn. 46); again, during the American war it was used as a prison for French, Spanish and Dutch prisoners successively. In 1779 the patients and crew of the French hospital ship S. Julie, which had been captured by an English cruiser, were brought to the King's House, where they infected the other prisoners, numbers of whom died and were buried in the castle ditches. (fn. 47) The French Revolution brought more than 8,000 French bishops and clergy to England, and some 660 French priests were lodged in the King's House at Winchester, where 'they were wont to chaunt their office together … and … their voices could be heard as a mighty wave of sound all over the city.' (fn. 48) However, in 1796 a large central barrack was necessary, and the French priest had to give way to the English soldier. The buildings were henceforward used as a permanent barracks, officers' quarters, military hospital, married quarters and schools being subsequently added. In December 1894 a fire broke out in the pay-office of the barracks soon after midnight, and in spite of all efforts the King's House perished. The County Hall, the great hall, all that remained of the castle, was at one time in jeopardy, but all forces were directed to saving it and it luckily escaped. New barracks have been lately erected, the foundation-stone being laid by King Edward VII (then Prince of Wales) in June 1899.


  • 1. For further account see Proc. Arch. Inst. (1845), 'On the Hall and Round Table at Winchester,' by Edward Smirke.
  • 2. a William of Poitiers (ed. Giles, p. 149) says that William built a castle within the walls of Guenta. Mrs. Armitage (Engl. Hist. Rev. xix, 441) identifies this with Winchester, but Mr. Stenton shows it to be Norwich.
  • 3. b Hunter, Great Rolls of the Pipe, 1155–8 (Rec. Com.), 52.
  • 4. Ibid. 107.
  • 5. Pipe R. 16 Hen. II (Pipe R. Soc.), 118.
  • 6. Ibid. 17 Hen. II, 40–1. This was one of the years when the sheriff who was responsible for the farm of the city rendered nothing for it into the exchequer because of heavy expenses.
  • 7. Pipe R. 19 Hen. II (Pipe R. Soc.), 43.
  • 8. Ibid. 21 Hen. II, 187.
  • 9. Ibid. 22 Hen. II, 198.
  • 10. Ibid. 23 Hen. II, 166, 173, 177.
  • 11. Pipe R. (P.R.O.), 1179.
  • 12. Ibid. 1180.
  • 13. There was a chapel of St. Judoc in the castle (see Pipe R. [P.R.O.], 1189, where Silvester the chaplain, who ministered in the chapel of St. Judoc, is mentioned). Mr. Round, in his Introduction to the Pipe R. 28 Hen. II, speaks of it as 'a chapel commemorating St. Jesse (Judecus), whose relics had reached Winchester from Ponthieu nearly three centuries before.'
  • 14. Pipe R. (P.R.O.), sub anno.
  • 15. Ibid.
  • 16. Ibid.
  • 17. Ibid.
  • 18. Ibid.
  • 19. Close, 17 John, pt. i, m. 32.
  • 20. Ibid. m. 23.
  • 21. Rot. Lit. Claus. (Rec. Com.), i, 483.
  • 22. Cal. Close, 1231–4, p. 70.
  • 23. Ibid. p. 433.
  • 24. Ibid. p. 242.
  • 25. Ibid. p. 222.
  • 26. Ibid. p. 512.
  • 27. Ibid. 1296–1302, p. 432.
  • 28. Ibid. 1333–7, p. 215; 1339–41, p. 33. There is little doubt that William of Wykeham, who was at the castle during these years first as secretary to Sir John Scures and then under Bishop Edington, took part in this work.
  • 29. Ibid. 1346–9, pp. 450, 574.
  • 30. Ibid. 1354–60, p. 572.
  • 31. Cal. Pat. 1388–92, p. 237.
  • 32. Ibid. 1391–6, p. 98.
  • 33. Ibid. 1422–9, p. 199.
  • 34. See petition of 1450 quoted below.
  • 35. First Bk. of Ordinances (Winton Corp. Doc.), fol. 121b.
  • 36. Proc. in Boromote, 1560 (Winton Corp. Doc.), fol. 37. A question arose concerning this castle green in 1609–10, as to whether it was adjoining or separate from the castle ditch (Exch. Dep. Mich. 7 Jas. I, no. 39).
  • 37. Pat. 4 Jas. I, pt. vii, m. 33.
  • 38. See Milner, op. cit. (ed. 1823), ii, 165.
  • 39. Cal. S. P. Dom. 1649–50, p. 180.
  • 40. Ibid. pp. 197, 241, 305.
  • 41. Ibid. p. 320.
  • 42. Ibid. 1651, p. 11.
  • 43. Ibid. p. 57. The Royal Commission for the Assizes has been executed in the Hall for nearly twenty years and is so still. Ex inform. Alderman W. H. Jacob.
  • 44. Cal. S. P. Dom. 1649–50, p. 117.
  • 45. Sixth Bk. of Ordinances (Winton Corp. Doc.), fol. 152.
  • 46. John Wesley in his Journal speaks of coming to Winchester in 1779 and visiting these prisoners (op. cit. [ed. 1903], iv. 159).
  • 47. Milner, op. cit. ii, 166.
  • 48. From a sermon preached in October 1908 by Abbot Gasquet at Somers Town. He related how in his own early days he recollected hearing his father, who had himself come over from the south of France in those troublous times, tell this tale of the French priests at Winchester.