From Classic Encyclopedia 1911
See Winchester (disambiguation) for articles sharing the title Winchester.
WINCHESTER, a city and municipal and parliamentary borough of Hampshire, England, 662 m. S.W. by W. from London by the London & South-Western railway; served also by the Southampton branch of the Great Western railway, with a separate station. Pop. (1901) 20,929. It occupies a hilly and picturesque site in and above the valley of the Itchen, lying principally on the left bank. The surrounding hills are chalk downs, but the valley is well wooded.
Setting aside for the present the legends which place the foundation of a great Christian church at Winchester in the 2nd century, the erection of Winchester into an episcopal see may be placed early in the second half of the 7th century, though it cannot be dated exactly. The West Saxon see was removed hither from Dorchester on the Thame, and the first bishop of Winchester was Hedda (d. 705). The modern diocese includes nearly the whole of Hampshire, part of Surrey and very small portions of Wiltshire, Dorsetshire and Sussex. St Swithin (852-862), well known through the connexion of his feast day (15th July) with the superstition that weather-conditions thereon determine those of the next forty days, is considered to have enlarged the cathedral, as are lEthelwold (963-984) and Alphege (984-1005). The history of the Saxon building, however, is very slight, and as usual, its place was taken by a Norman one, erected by Bishop Walkelin (1070-1098). The cathedral church of St Swithin lies in the lower part of the city in a wide and beautiful walled close. It is not very conspicuous from a distance, a low central tower alone rising above the general level of the roof. It consists of a nave, transepts, choir and retrochoir, all with aisles, and a lady-chapel forms the eastward termination. The work of the exterior, of whatever date, is severely plain. The cathedral, however, is the longest in England, and indeed exceeds any other church of its character in length, which is close upon 556 ft. Within, the effect of this feature is very fine. The magnificent Perpendicular nave is the work of Bishop Edington (1346-1366) and the famous William of Wykeham (1367-1404), by whom only the skeleton of Walkelin's work was retained. The massive Norman work of the original building, however, remains comparatively intact in both transepts. The central tower is Norman, but later than Walkelin's structure, which fell in 1107, a mishap which was readily attributed to divine wrath because King William II., who fell to the arrow in the neighbouring New Forest, had been buried here seven years earlier, in spite of his unchristian life. The tomb believed to be his is in the choir, but its identity has been widely disputed, and even an examination of the remains has failed to establish the truth. The choir is largely Edington's work, though the clerestory is later, and the eastern part of the cathedral shows construction of several dates. Here appears the fine Early English construction of Bishop de Lucy (1189-1204), in the retrochoir and the lady-chapel, though this was considerably altered later. Beneath the cathedral east of the choir there are three crypts, connected together. The western and the central chambers are Norman, and have apsidal terminations, while the eastern is Early English. The cathedral contains many objects of interest. The square font of black marble is a fine example of Norman art, its sides sculptured with scenes from the life of St Nicholas of Myra. The magnificent reredos behind the high altar must have been erected late in the 15th century; it consists of a lofty wall, the full width of the choir, pierced by two processional doors, and covered with tiers of rich canopied niches, the statues in which are modern. A cross of plain ashlar stone in the centre shows where an immense silver crucifix was once attached; and a plain rectangular recess above the altar once contained a massive silver-gilt retable, covered with cast and repousse statuettes and reliefs. A second stone screen, placed at the interval of one bay behind the great reredos, served to enclose the small chapel in which stood the gold shrine, studded with jewels, the gift of King Edgar, which contained the body of St Swithin. Under many of the arches of the nave and choir are a number of very elaborate chantry chapels, each containing the tomb of its founder. Some of these have fine recumbent effigies, noble examples of English medieval sculpture; the most notable are the monuments of Bishops Edington, Wykeham, Waynflete, Cardinal Beaufort, Langton and Fox. The door of iron grills, of beautiful design, now in the north nave aisle, is considered to be the oldest work of its character in England; its date is placed in the i T th or 12th century. The mortuary chests in the presbytery contain the bones of Saxon kings who were buried here. The remains were collected in this manner by Bishop Henry de Blois (1129-1171), and again after they had been scattered by the soldiers of Cromwell. The choir stalls furnish a magnificent example of Decorated woodwork, and much stained glass of the Decorated and Perpendicular periods remains in fragmentary form. The library contains a Vulgate of the 12th century, a finely ornamented MS. on vellum.
In 1905 serious signs of weakness were manifested in the fabric of the cathedral, and it was found that a large part of the foundation was insecure, being laid on piles, or tree-trunks set flat, in soft and watery soil. Extensive works of restoration, including the underpinning of the foundations with cement concrete (which necessitated the employment of divers), were undertaken under the direction of Mr T. G. Jackson.
Relics of the monastic buildings are slight, and there are Early English arches and Perpendicular work in the deanery. Other old houses in the Close are very picturesque. Here formerly stood the house which Charles II. desired of Ken for Nell Gwyn. Ken refused it, but the king bore no malice, settling Nell Gwyn in another house near by, and afterwards raising Ken to the bishopric of Bath and Wells.
King Alfred founded a minster immediately north of the present site of the cathedral, and here he and other Saxon kings were buried. The house, known as Hyde Abbey, was removed (as was Alfred's body) to a point outside the walls considerably north of the cathedral, during the reign of Henry I. Here foundations may be traced, and a gateway remains. To the east of the cathedral are ruins of Wolvesey Castle, a foundation of Henry de Blois, where the bishops resided. On the southern outskirts of the city, in a pleasant meadow by the Itchen, is the Hospital of St Cross. This also was founded by Henry de Blois, in 1136, whose wish was tO provide board and lodging for 13 poor men and a daily dinner for Too others. It was reformed by William of Wykeham, and enlarged and mostly rebuilt by Cardinal Beaufort (1405-1447). The buildings form three sides of a quadrangle, with a lawn and sun-dial in its midst; while the fourth side is partly open, and partly formed by the magnificent cruciform church. The earliest parts of this building are late or transitional Norman, but other parts are Early English or Decorated. The work throughout is very rich and massive. St Cross is a unique example of a medieval almshouse, and its picturesqueness is enhanced by the curious costume of its inmates. It is still customary to provide a dole of bread and beer to all who desire it. The parish churches of Winchester are not of special interest, but the church of St Swithin is curious as occupying the upper part of the King's Gate. This gate and the West Gate alone remain of the gates in the walls which formerly surrounded the city. The West Gate is a fine structure of the 3th century. In the High Street stands the graceful Perpendicular city cross. The county hall embodies remains of the Norman castle, and in it is preserved the so-called King Arthur's round table. This is supposed to date actually from the time of King Stephen, but the painted designs upon it are of the Tudor period.
Winchester is famous as an educational centre, and in addition to Winchester College there are several modern preparatory schools here. The College of St Mary, lying to the south of the cathedral close, is one of the greatest of English public schools. While a monastic school was in existence here from very early times, the college was originated in 1387 by William of Wykeham, whose famous scheme of education embraced this foundation and that of New College, Oxford. The members on the foundation consisted of a warden, 10 fellows, 3 chaplains, 70 scholars and 16 choristers. The buildings were completed about 1 395. The quadrangles, with the fine chapel, tower, hall XXVIII. 23 and cloister are noteworthy, and there are extensive modern buildings.
The principal public buildings of the city are the gild-hall, public library and art school, museum, market house, mechanics' institution and barracks. The parliamentary borough returns one member and falls within the Andover division of the county. The corporation consists of a mayor, 6 aldermen and 18' councillors. Area, 1931 acres.
The history of the earliest Winchester (Winton, Wynton) is lost in legend; tradition ascribes its foundation to Ludor Rous Hudibras and dates it ninety-nine years before the first building of Rome; earthworks and relics show that the Itchen valley was occupied by Celts, and it is certain from its position at the centre of six Roman roads and from the Roman relics found there that the Caer Gwent (White City) of the Celts was, under the name of Venta Belgarum, an important RomanoBritish country town. Hardly any traces of this survive, but mosaic pavements, coins, &c., have been discovered on the south side of High Street. The name of Winchester is indissolubly linked with that of King Arthur and his knights, but its historical greatness begins when, after the conquest of the present Hampshire by the Gewissas, it became the capital of Wessex. Its importance was increased by the introduction of Christianity, although it was not at first the seat of a bishop, because, accord-. ing to the later Winchester chronicler, King Cynegils wished for time to build a worthy church in the royal city; his son Cenwalh is said to have built the old minster. When the kings of Wessex became kings of all England, Winchester became, in a sense, the capital of England, though it always had a formidable rival in London, which was more central in position and possessed greater commercial advantages. The parallel position of the two cities in Anglo-Saxon times is illustrated by the law of Edgar, ordaining that the standard of weights and measures for the whole kingdom should be "such as is observed at London and at Winchester." Under Alfred it became a centre of learning and education, to which distinguished strangers, such as St Grimbald and Asser the Welshman, resorted. It was the seat of Canute's government; many of the kings, including Ecgberht, Alfred, Edward the Elder and Canute, were buried there, and, in 1043, Edward the Confessor was crowned in the old minster. The city was sometimes granted as part of the dowry of a queen consort, and it was the home of Emma, the wife of Æthelred the Unready and of Canute, and later of Edith, the wife of the Confessor.
Winchester was very prosperous in the years succeeding the Conquest, and its omission, together with London, from Domesday Book is probably an indication of its peculiar position and importance; its proximity to the New Forest commended it to the Norman kings, and Southampton, only 12 m. distant, was one of the chief ports for the continent. The Conqueror wore his crown in state at Winchester every Easter, as he wore it at Westminster at Whitsuntide and at Gloucester at Christmas. The royal treasure continued to be stored there as it had been in Anglo-Saxon times, and was there seized by William Rufus, who, after his father's death, "rode to Winchester and opened the Treasure House." In the reign of Stephen and again in the reign of Henry II. the Court of Exchequer was held at Winchester, and the charter of John promises that the exchequer and the mint shall ever remain in the city; the mint was an important one, and when in 1125 all the coiners of England were tried for false coining those of Winchester alone were acquitted with honour.
Under the Norman kings Winchester was of great commercial importance; it was one of the earliest seats of the woollen trade, which in its different branches was the chief industry of the town, although the evidence furnished by the Liber Winton (temp. Henry I. and Stephen) indicates also a varied industrial life. As early as the reign of Henry I. the gild of weavers is mentioned, and the millers at the same date render their account to the exchequer.
The gild merchant of Winchester claims an Anglo-Saxon origin, but the first authentic reference to it is in one of the charters granted to the city lly Henry II. The Liber Winton speaks of a "cnihts' gild," which certainly existed in the time of the Confessor. The prosperity of Winchester was increased by the St Giles's Fair, originally granted by Rufus to Bishop Walkelin. It was held on St Giles's Hill up to the 19th century, and in the middle ages was one of the chief commercial events of the year. While it lasted St Giles's Hill was covered by a busy town, and no trade was permitted to be done outside the fair within seven leagues, or at Southampton; the jurisdiction of the mayor and bailiffs of the city was in abeyance, that of the bishop's officials taking its place.
From the time of the Conqueror until their expulsion by Edward I., Winchester was the home of a large colony of Jews, whose quarter in the city is marked to the present day by Jewry Street; Winchester is called by Richard of Devizes "the Jerusalem of England" on account of its kind treatment of its Jews, and there alone no anti-Jewish riots broke out after the coronation of Richard I. The corporation of Winchester claims to be one of the oldest in England, but the earliest existing charters are two given by Henry II., one merely granting to "my citizens of Winchester, who are of the gild merchant with their goods, freedom from toll, passage and custom," the other confirming to them all liberties and customs which they enjoyed in the time of Henry I.; further charters, amplified and confirmed by succeeding sovereigns, were granted by Richard I. and John. The governing charter till 1835 was that of 1587, incorporating the city under the title of the "Mayor, Bailiffs and Commonalty of the City of Winchester"; this is the first charter which mentions a mayor, but it says that such an officer had existed "time out of mind," and as early as 897 the town was governed by a wicgerefa, by name Beornwulf, whose death is recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. There is a doubtful reference to a mayor in 1194, and the office certainly existed early in the 13th century. Until 1832 the liberty of the soke encompassing the city on almost every side was outside the jurisdiction of the city magistrates, being under the seignioralty of the bishop of Winchester.
Winchester seems to have reached its zenith of prosperity at the beginning of the 12th century; the first check was given during the civil wars of Stephen's reign, when the city was burned. However, the last entry concerning it in the AngloSaxon Chronicle says that Henry Plantagenet, after the treaty of Wallingford, was received with "great worship" in Winchester and London, thus recognizing the equality of the two cities; but the latter was rising at Winchester's expense, and at the second coronation of Richard I. (1294) the citizens of Winchester had the significant mortification of seeing in their own city the citizens of London take their place as cupbearers to the king. The loss of Normandy further favoured the rise of London by depriving Winchester of the advantages it had enjoyed from its convenient position with regard to the continent. Moreover, it suffered severely at the hands of Simon de Montfort the Younger (1265), although it still continued to be an occasional royal residence, and the Statute of Winchester (1285) was passed in a council held there. Meanwhile the woollen trade had drifted in great measure to the east of England; and an attempt made to revive the prosperity of Winchester in the 14th century by making it one of the staple towns proved unsuccessful. The wine trade, which had been considerable, was ruined by the sack of Southampton (1338); a few years later the city was devastated by the black death, and the charter of Elizabeth speaks of "our city of Winchester now fallen into great ruin, decay and poverty." During the Civil War the city suffered much for its loyalty to Charles I. and lost its ancient castle founded by William I. After the Restoration a scheme was started to restore trade by making the Itchen navigable to Southampton, but neither then nor when revived in the 19th century was it successful. Charles II., intending to make Winchester again a royal residence, began a palace there, which being unfinished at his death was used eventually as barracks. It was burnt down in 1894 and rebuilt in 1901. Northgate and Southgate were pulled down in 1781, Eastgate ten years later.
Westgate still stands at the top of the High Street. The guardroom was formerly used as a debtors' prison, now as a museum. The two weekly markets, still held in the Corn Exchange of Wednesday and Saturday, were confirmed by Elizabeth's charter; the latter dates from a grant of Henry VI. abolishing the Sunday market, which had existed from early times. The same grant established three fairs - one on October 13 (the day of the translation of St Edward, king and confessor), one on the Monday and Tuesday of the first week in Lent, and another on St Swithin's day; the former two are still held. Winchester sent two members to parliament from 1295 to 1885, when the representation was reduced to one.