The Historic City of Winchester
An unspoilt cathedral city on the edge of the South Downs, Winchester is England's ancient capital and former seat of King Alfred the Great. Today, Winchester combines the best of city life with the freshness of the surrounding countryside. One hour from London, this is England as it ought to be.
Begun in 1079, Norman architecture remains in trancepts and crypt. The Nave was remodelled in the 14th century and is said to be the longest cathedral nave in the perpendicular Gothic style.
The Great Hall
Situated at the top of the High Street just to the left of The Westgate, The Great Hall and Sally Port are the only surviving parts of Winchester Castle and are owned and maintained by Hampshire County Council.
The Great Hall was one of the largest and finest in England, and is certainly the finest of that period to have survived today. Its many features include stained-glass windows, a judges’ gallery and wrought steel gates that were installed in 1981 to commemorate the wedding of the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer.
Founded in 1382, Winchester College is believed to be the oldest continuously running school in the country. Guided tours concentrate on the medieval heart of the College and include Chamber Court; the 14th century gothic Chapel, with one of the earliest examples of a wooden vaulted roof; College Hall, the original Scholars' dining room; School, the 17th century red brick schoolroom thought to have been designed by Sir Christopher Wren; and the original medieval cloister.
The city has historic importance as it replaced Dorchester-on-Thames as the defacto capital of the ancient kingdom of Wessex in about 686 after King Caedwalla of Wessex defeated King Atwald of Wight. 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 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 boundary of the old town is visible in places (a wooden barricade surrounded by ditches in Saxon times) now a stone wall. 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.
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