The secular center of historic Winchester was Winchester Castle. It was begun just after the Norman Conquest and served as the new regime's capital for a century. Subsequent monarchs rebuilt and added to the castle. During the English Civil War, it was a Royalist stronghold and after it was taken by the Parliamentary forces, Oliver Cromwell ordered that it be reduced. Following the Restoration, King Charles envisioned building a magnificent palace here along the lines of the Palace of Versailles. However, his plans were never realized.
Today, all that remains intact of the castle is the Great Hall. Built by Henry II in the 13th century, it is an impressive double cube, 110 feet by 55 feet by 55 feet. Features include stained glass windows and wrought iron gates.
The most famous feature of the Great Hall is the huge round table hanging from one wall. For centuries it was believed to be the Round Table of King Arthur. However, modern scientific investigation has shown it to be from the 13th century, several hundred years after King Arthur. While it may not be the table of legend, this antique is nonetheless evocative.
In the area around the Great Hall are a number of excavations that have uncovered parts of the castle's foundations. These show that the castle must have been a quite powerful structure in its day.
Also within the vicinity of the Great Hall are five military museums. They are the regimental museums of the Royal Green Jackets, the Gurkhas, the King's Royal Hussars, the Royal Hampshire Regiment and the museum of the Adjutant General's Corps.. These tell the story of these formations and their predecessors and the conflicts in which they were involved.
Not far from the Great Hall at the top of the High Street is the Westgate. Dating from the 12th century, it is one of two surviving fortified gates that once defended the city. After the need for defense declined, the building was used as a debtors prison. Since 1898, it has served as a museum.
Going down the High Street in the direction of the King Alfred Statue, you come to the Butter Cross. This 43 foot high 15th century town cross is decorated with statues of kings and saints. It name comes from the fact that traders used to sell dairy products here.
Between the High Street and the Cathedral Close is the Winchester City Museum. A small museum, it is dedicated to the archaeology and history of Winchester.
Above: The Great Hall of Winchester Castle.
Below: An excavation of the foundations of Winchester Castle.
Above: The West Gate
Cruise destination guide - England - Winchester - Winchester Castle and Vicinity