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Winchester in 1848

WINCHESTER, an ancient city, a municipal and parliamentary borough, and the see of a bishop, is 62 miles south-west from London by the road, 64 miles by the South-Western Railway, and 12¾ miles from the railway station at Southampton.

Winchester is one of the most ancient towns in England ; its origin is lost in the fables of tradition. The Britons are said to have called it Caer Gwent, or the White City ; the Romans by whom it was first subdued named it Venta Belgarum ; the Saxons, who were the next possessors, named it Witanceaster, which has become Winchester ; in Latin deeds and by the Latin writers it is called Wintonia.

Winchester appears to have flourished under the Romans as long as they remained in the island. The massy walls, composed of flints and mortar, which inclosed the city, are considered to have been originally built by them. In 519 it was conquered by Cerdic the Saxon, who afterwards made it the seat of his government, and it continued to be the capital of the West Saxon kings till Egbert, the first king of the whole heptarchy, was crowned there, and then it may be said to have become the metropolis of England. Though sometimes plundered and in the possession of the Danes, it continued to be the capital of successive Saxon kings till 1013, when Sweyn, the Danish king, obtained possession of England, and Winchester became the seat of his government. After his death a fierce struggle ensued, and England is said to have been ultimately divided into two kingdoms ; London became the capital of Canute, and Winchester of Edmund Ironside, till Edmund’s death in 1016, when Canute became sole king and Winchester sole capital.

After the Norman conquest Winchester continued to be the capital, and during the reign of Henry I attained the summit of its greatness. It was surrounded by strong walls ; was defended by a castle built by William the Conqueror on the west, and by another, subsequently erected for the residence of the bishop, on the east ; there was an extensive palace and numerous mansions of the nobility ; a cathedral, three monasteries of royal foundation, and a very large number of churches ; the suburbs extended a mile from the walls in every direction, to Worthy on the north, to St. Cross on the south, to Week on the west, and to St. Magdalen’s Hill on the east.

In the reign of King Stephen Winchester began to ‘fall from its high estate.’ While Stephen was a prisoner in Gloucester Castle a contest commenced between his queen and the Empress Matilda, aided by their respective partisans, which was carried on for several weeks in the streets Winchester, at the termination of which nearly the whole of the town north of the High Street, the royal palace, the abbey of St. Mary, Hyde Abbey, and about forty churches were burnt down or laid in ruins. The death of Stephen, in 1154, put a stop to the calamities of civil warfare. Henry II resided much at Winchester ; he rebuilt the palace, and, to a considerable extent, renewed the city ; but London seems to have found more favour in the eyes of subsequent kings, and Winchester lost its dignity as capital of the kingdom.

In the contests between Henry III and his barons, Winchester suffered severely, both parties alternately gaining possession of its castles, and carrying on the work of destruction in the city. From this time Winchester, though partly upheld by the splendour of its cathedral and other ecclesiastical and scholastic establishments, seems to have declined rapidly. In the reign of Henry VI a petition was presented to the king, which stated that 997 houses were uninhabited and seventeen churches were shut up. The work of spoliation was added to the other calamities of Winchester when Henry VIII suppressed the monasteries in 1536 and 1537. The minor establishments were the first to suffer : the Sustern Spital, or convent of hospitable nuns, near King’s Gate ; the Carmelites. in King’s-gate Street ; the Augustines, near South-gate ; the Dominicans, at East-gate ; and the Franciscans, in Middle Brook Street. Subsequently the priory of St. Swithin was suppressed, and the greater part of its revenues were transferred to the dean and chapter of the cathedral ; also Hyde Abbey, which had been rebuilt ; and St. Mary’s Abbey. The hospitals of St. John the Baptist, St. Mary Magdalen, and St. Elizabeth were either suppressed or plundered, and the structures pulled down or suffered to go to ruin.

The last of the great sufferings of Winchester were during the civil war between Charles I and the parliament. The city adhered to the king. On the 29th of March, 1644, a battle was fought on Cheriton Down, in which Sir William Waller, the parliamentary general, was victorious, and his soldiers vented their puritanical rage on the stained-glass windows, the monuments, and relics of the cathedral. Waller soon carried away his troops to besiege Oxford, and Winchester was unmolested till after the battle of Naseby, when Cromwell was sent to reduce it under the authority of the parliament. After a week’s siege of the city he performed his task, and he then undermined and blew up Winchester Castle, and laid Wolvesey Castle and the other fortified places in ruins. St. Mary’s College escaped from injury, it is said through the firmness of one of the parliamentary officers, who was a Wykehamist. In 1666 a very large number of the inhabitants of Winchester were destroyed by the plague. An obelisk, with an inscription commemorates the event. Charles II took a liking to the place, and employed Sir Christopher Wren to design and erect a palace, which he intended for a summer residence, on the site of Winchester Castle. The king laid the foundation-stone, March 3, 1683, and the work was carried on with vigour till the death of Charles, in 1685, when a stop was put to it, and it has never been completed.

The city is built on the west bank of the river Itchin, on the slope of an eminence which rises gently to the east. The river is made navigable as a canal from Winchester to the sea. The city comprehends a large part of the buildings which constitute the town ; the rest of it is in the liberty of the Soke. There are several parishes either totally or partially comprised within the city boundary ; the rest of the town includes several other parishes and certain extra-parochial districts. The principal street, called the High Street, runs nearly east and west through the middle of the city, and is about half a mile long. Nearly all the other streets are either at right angles to the High Street or parallel to it. Most of the houses are good, though many are old, and the streets are well paved and are lighted with gas.

The liberty of the Soke encompasses the city on almost every side, and a small part is within the city. The Soke is divided into the East Soke and the West Soke. Part of the East Soke is on the east bank of the Itchin, over which there is a neat stone bridge of a single arch. Portions of the ditch and old walls of the city remain, but in many places houses have been built over the ditch, and extend into the Soke. The ancient city had four principal gates, north, south, east, and west ; of these only the West Gate now remains : it is a massy square tower over a wide gateway.

The area of the city and Soke liberty comprises 2,250 acres, or rather more than 3 square miles. In 1841 the number of houses comprised within this area was 1,671 inhabited, 133 uninhabited, and 42 building ; and the population was 10,732, of whom 5,508 were males and 5,224 females. The aggregate population of the parishes which may fairly be considered as constituting the city of Winchester as a collection of houses, was, in 1801, 6,669 ; in 1811, 6,681 ; in 1821, 7,739 ; in 1831, 8,712. The population of the city proper in 1821 was 5,165 ; in 1831, 5,280. Winchester as a parliamentary borough returns two members to the House of Commons, as it did before the Reform Act. The number of £10 householders registered under the Reform Act in 1832 was 465. In 1839-40 the number was 572, and there were 46 other qualified voters ; making a total of 618. The total number on the register in 1835-6 was 576. The population of the parliamentary borough in 1841 was 9,370.

The corporation, previous to the Municipal Reform Act in 1835, was styled ‘the mayor, bailiffs, and commonalty of the city of Winchester.’ The governing charter was 30 Elizabeth, and the corporate body consisted of a mayor, six aldermen, twenty-four men, and an indefinite number of freemen, generally amounting to about 100. There was also a recorder, two bailiffs, and several outer officers. By the Municipal Reform Act the borough is divided into three wards, with six aldermen and sixteen councillors. The number of burgesses, or municipal electors in 1837 was 817. The total annual expenditure of the borough in 1840-41 was £2,163. 17 shillings. 6 pence, the chief items of which were - £494. 15 shillings. 1 penny for police and constables ; £378. 10 shillings. 10 pence for salaries and other allowances to municipal officers ; £350 for gaol, and maintenance, &c. of prisoners ; £69. 10 shillings. 10 pence to coroner ; £63. 1 shilling. 6 pence for public works ; £61. 15 shillings. 1 penny for printing, advertising, &c. ; £85. 8 shillings. 11 pence for law expenses. There are charters of Henry II, Richard I, John, and Elizabeth. The franchises of the city were surrendered to Charles II 28th June, 1684 (36 Chas. II), and the surrender was enrolled in the court of Chancery, March 12, 1688 (4 James II) A new charter was granted September 15, 1688 (4 James II), which recites the surrender, and then regrants the franchises in nearly the words of the charter of Elizabeth : this charter was confirmed and extended by another, Nov. 6, 1688.

The bishopric of Winchester extends to Hampshire, Surrey, Guernsey and Jersey. and two or three benefices in Wiltshire and Sussex. The net yearly income of the bishop, as given on the average of three years preceding 1831, was £11,151. By the same average the net income of the whole of the benefices in the bishopric was £143,614, and the annual stipends paid to curates amounted altogether to £19,858. The gross yearly income of the dean and chapter of Winchester cathedral was by the same average £15,573, and the average yearly payments charged upon and paid out of this income was £2,790 ; leaving a net income of £12,783.

The town has no trade of consequence, but the statements of population show that it is in a state of gradual improvement. Being the centre of an agricultural district, it has a good corn-market, which is well attended. Few cattle are sold, but there is a large annual sheep-fair. Several local acts of parliament have been obtained for the improvement of the city and suburbs, most of which relate to the navigation of the Itchin.

Winchester Cathedral, which is one of the largest cathedrals in England, is in many respects one of the most interesting. The entire length is 545 feet. From the west entrance to the choir is 356 feet ; the length of the choir is 135 feet ; and the Lady Chapel, at the east end, is 54 feet, which makes the total length. As a distinct part, the nave is 250 feet long, 86 feet wide including the aisles, and 78 feet high. The choir is 40 feet wide. The length of the transepts is 186 feet. The square of the tower is 48 feet by 50, and the height is 138 feet, which is only about 26 feet above the roof : of course it has a low and squat appearance, and was perhaps not intended to contain bells, but only to throw additional light into the choir, and increase the interior effect by additional height : it is said to have been without floors till the reign of Charles I, when the present bells were suspended.

Viewed from the exterior, the west front is by far the most imposing part of the building : the deeply recessed entrance doorway, with the ornamental gallery above it ; the large and beautiful window, the rich effect of the mouldings, the buttresses, the pinnacled towers, and the gable termination surmounted by the canopied statue of Wykeham, cannot be looked at without great admiration. No other part of the exterior is at all equal to this part. On entering the building, the view from the west end to the east is magnificent : the vast length of vista formed by the nave and choir, with the splendid ceiling, the columns and arches on each hand and overhead, and the eastern window ‘casting its dim religious light’ from behind the choir, produce a combined result of solemnity and beauty equalled by few cathedrals in Europe. The spectator, while he admires the height of the pillars of the nave, is struck with their wide circumference and massy appearance, and his admiration is perhaps rather increased than diminished when he learns that they are the Saxon or early Norman pillars inclosed in a Gothic casing of clustered columns. With a similar adaptive skill, the semicircular arches have been converted by intersections into pointed arches, and the original Saxon nave thus made Gothic.

The original structure of Winchester Cathedral, which is said to have been erected be Lucius, a British king converted to Christianity, was destroyed by the pagan Cerdic, and rebuilt by one of his successors, the Christian Kinegils. Some of the most substantial walls and pillars of the present structure were erected by St. Ethelwold, bishop of Winchester, who lived to finish it, and to dedicate it to St. Swithin in 980. In 1079, having been much damaged by the Danes, it was repaired by Bishop Walkelyn, who built the present tower, with part of the nave and transepts, and in 1093 re-dedicated the church to St. Peter, St. Paul, and St. Swithin. The east end, from the great east window, was rebuilt about a century afterwards by Bishop Godfrey de Lucy, and the whole of the west end was repaired and renewed by the successive bishops Edyngton and Wykeham. The grandeur of the west front is due to Wykeham. The part between the tower and De Lucy’s improvements at the east end was rebuilt in the early part of the sixteenth century by Bishop Fox, whose statue, under a canopy, terminates his improvements to the east. There have been many recent restorations and repairs of the cathedral, which have been executed with good taste, at an expense of from £40,000 to £50,000. Among these may be especially mentioned the construction of a choir-screen of stone, in the pointed style, to supply the place of the elegant but incongruous composite screen erected by Inigo Jones.

Among the monuments in the cathedral may be mentioned the tomb of William Rufus, of plain grey stone without inscription, in the choir ; the six mortuary chests of wood, carved, painted, and gilt, in which Bishop Fox deposited the remains of Saxon kings and other distinguished persons, which he transferred from the decayed lead coffins in which they had been buried ; and especially the beautiful chantries or oratories of the bishops Edyngton, Wykeham, Beaufort, Waynflete, and Fox.

Over the altar is a large painting by West of the Raising of Lazarus from the Dead, which is considered one his best works.

The present establishment of Winchester Cathedral which, after the dissolution, was dedicated as a church to the Holy Trinity, consists of one dean, twelve prebendaries, six minor canons, ten lay clerks, or singing men, eight choristers, and other members. The last prior was William Basyng, who was made first dean, and died in 1548.

Winchester College (St. Mary’s College), which is outside the city boundary on the south-east, was founded by William of Wykeham in 1387, on the site of ‘the great grammar-school of Winchester,’ at which he had been educated. The college was founded and endowed by Wykeham as a preparatory college to New College to New College, Oxford, which he had founded a short time before. The college was opened March 28, 1393, for a warden, 10 fellows, 3 chaplains, 3 clerks, a master, an usher, 70 scholars, and 16 choristers ; in all 105 on the foundation. An election is held annually by the wardens of New College and Winchester College, two fellows of New College, and the sub-warden and head-master of Winchester College, to supply vacancies which may happen in New College during the subsequent year. Besides the scholars on the foundation, there are generally upwards of 100 boys not on the foundation, who are lodged in a spacious quadrangular building contiguous to the college.

The entrance to Winchester College is by a gateway into an outer court, which leads by another gateway under a lofty tower to an inner square court, each side of which is 32 yards. The chapel and hall form the south side of this court ; they are beautiful specimens of Gothic architecture, worthy of the founder. The cloisters adjoin the chapel, and form a square, each side of which is about 132 feet. In the centre of the area of the cloisters is the library of the college, which was originally erected and endowed as a chantry by John Fromond in 1430. The chaplain was removed at the Reformation, and the building remained unappropriated till about 1629, when it was converted into a library by the liberality of Dr. Pinke, warden of New College. It is a handsome building, corresponding in style with Wykeham’s original erections. The school-room, which was built by a subscription among the Wykehamists in 1687, at a cost of £2,592, is 90 feet by 36 feet, and high in proportion. Over the entrance is a bronze statue of Wykeham, by Caius Gabriel Cibber, the father of Colley Cibber, which he modelled and cast at his own expense, and presented to the society. There is also a hall, 50 feet by 30, in which the commoners dine.

The ruins of Wolvesey Castle are at a south-east from the college. This castle, once the residence of the bishops of Winchester, was built, in 1138, by Henry de Blois, brother of King Stephen and bishop of Winchester, on the site of a former palace of the Saxon kings. It was a place of great strength till it was dismantled in the reign of Henry II. It continued to be the residence of the bishops till it was demolished by Cromwell in 1646.

The episcopal palace, begun by Bishop Morley, in 1684, and completed by Bishop Trelawny, was suffered to go to decay, and the greatest part of it was taken down about thirty years ago. The present plain but neat episcopal residence was formed out of the west wing of the former building.

The Cross, in the High Street, is supposed to have been erected about the beginning of the fifteenth century. It has not suffered materially, except from time. It is a square structure on an octagonal base of five steps. The circumference of the lowest step is 49 feet, and the height is 43 feet. The cross consists of three tiers of Gothic archwork, with ornamented niches and canopies.

Winchester Castle was on an eminence outside the city wall on the south-west. It was built by William the Conqueror in 1068, and blown up by Cromwell in 1645. The ruins were entirely removed when Charles II began his palace. Charles’s unfinished palace has since been a depot for prisoners of war, a place of retreat for French refugees, and finally barracks.

The Chapel of Winchester Castle, which was a building detached from the Castle, and at a short distance, was not destroyed, and has since been converted into a court for holding the assizes. A curious piece of antiquity, called Arthur’s Round Table, is suspended over the judges’ seat. The chapel is very beautiful, and it is to be regretted that it is divided into law-courts, with jury-rooms, and other appurtenances, of singular ugliness.

Symonds’s College (properly Christ’s Hospital) was, as the inscription over the entrance states, founded in 1607, by Peter Symonds, a native of Winchester, and afterwards a mercer of the city of London. The endowments are applied to the maintenance of six old men, one matron, and four boys, and also to the assistance of one scholar in each of the two English universities.

The Matrons’ College, built by Bishop Morley in 1672, and endowed for the support of 10 clergymen’s widows, stands on the site of the monastery of St. Grimbald, founded in 898 by King Alfred. No traces are left of the original fabric, which was abandoned by its inmates, in 1110, for a new and more commodious building in Hyde Meadows.

There are still nine churches in Winchester, most of which are ancient. One of the most curious for its situation is the parish church of St. Swithin, built by King John over the old postern of St. Michael, or King’s Gate.

The Guildhall, or Town Hall, in High-street, was built in 1711. Some articles curious for their antiquity are kept in it especially the ancient standards of measure.

The Market-house was built in 1772.

The County Gaol is a brick edifice, the front of which is a handsome but detached structure of stone, built in 1805. The City Bridewell was erected in 1800. The County Hospital was established in 1736, but the present building was not erected until 1759. The north wing was added a few years ago. It is supported by voluntary subscriptions. The Central Schools of Winchester are conducted on the principles of Dr. Bell, and educate about 150 boy’s and 200 girls gratuitously. They are supported by voluntary contributions. St. John’s House, which is the public banqueting-room and assembly-room, is on the site of the hospital of St. John the Baptist. There is a small theatre, and a public library and reading-rooms.

The Hospital of St. Cross, about one mile south from Winchester, was founded and endowed, in 1136, by Henry de Blois, bishop of Winchester, as a permanent retreat for 13 poor men past their strength, and for 100 other poor, who were to be provided with a dinner. Other charities were added. A glass of ale and a small loaf are still offered to persons who call at the hospital. The church is very beautiful, a cathedral in miniature, and the other buildings which remain are fine specimens of Gothic architecture. The greater part of the buildings which remain were erected during the prelacy of Cardinal Beaufort, who also gave additional funds and extended the endowment.

One of the largest fairs in England was once held on the summit of St. Giles’s Hill, east of the city. In the reign of Henry II it lasted 16 days, during which the shops of the city were all closed.