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Things to do in Winchester, Hampshire

The cathedral city of Winchester is in Hampshire, bordering on the scenic South Downs. It was once the capital of Wessex and the ancient Kingdom of England.

Winchester Cathedral © A. M. Taylor
Winchester Cathedral © A. M. Taylor

Modern-day Winchester has over 41,000 residents who are known as Wintonians. This elegant city has some of the most sought-after real estate in the country.

The city is centred around the cathedral, one of the largest in England. It has the longest overall length and the longest nave of Europe's many Gothic cathedrals.

The local railway station has regular trains to London Waterloo as well as to Weymouth, Portsmouth, Southampton and the north of England.

The city has many literary connections. Jane Austen died in Winchester in 1817 and is buried in the Cathedral and poet John Keats wrote many of his poems during his stay in the city in 1819.

Things to do in Winchester

Some of Winchester's ancient city walls can still be seen along with the ancient Westgate which served as a debtor's prison and still has graffiti carved by prisoners.

Winchester High St © A. M. Taylor
Winchester High St © A. M. Taylor

A guided tour of Winchester Cathedral is a must to learn more of England's ancient royal history and to see the wonderfully illuminated Winchester Bible.

The Great Hall and legendary Round Table are all that remains of Winchester Castle. Those interested in history will enjoy the huge collection of regimental history exhibits at the five Winchester Military Museums.

Winchester City Mill & Shop is an interesting place to visit, to learn about the history and technology of milling.

History of Winchester

The original settlement developed as Venta Belgarum, a Roman town, although there is evidence of an earlier Iron Age enclosure.

By the third century, Winchester had city walls and covered 144 acres, making it the fifth-largest Roman town in England. As the Roman Empire began to decline in the 4th century, so too did Winchester.

Kings came and went, although the cross-shaped street plan created by Alfred the Great still remains today. The city suffered a severe fire in 1141 but from the ashes rose the new city and the public school, Winchester College.

River Walk Winchester © A. M. Taylor
River Walk Winchester © A. M. Taylor

One reminder of Winchester's ancient history is that the curfew bell still rings from the bell tower at 8 p.m. every evening to remind everyone to cover their fires until morning, to prevent another fire.

The Cathedral is close to the foundations of the original Old Minster, built around 645 by Cenwalh. It was the burial place of many kings of Wessex including King Cnut and King Alfred the Great.

The cathedral was used as a monastery and the church was further expanded in size.

The remains of St Swithuns were interred within the cathedral and it became a place of pilgrimage and healing by the year 1000 AD.

The current building replaced the earlier Old Minster in 1093 and the remains of St Swithun's Priory are now part of the Pilgrim's Hall.

The city thrived on the wool trade in the Middle Ages.

The covered market known as the Buttercross still stands in the High Street, although it was almost removed in 1770.

The local corporation sold it to Thomas Dummer who wanted to erect it at his family estate, Cranbury Park. However, a small riot ensued as the locals protested so Dummer had to make do with a lath and plaster copy.

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