Winchester on the south coast of England is the archetypal cathedral city. Winchester Cathedral is one of the country’s largest Norman cathedrals, and also one of the most magnificent.
But there’s a lot more to the city, so let’s look at its history and other attractions, as well as that magnificent church.
The Romans called the settlement in the present location of the city Venta Belgarum, as it was the base of the local Belgae tribe. However, the city rose in importance during the later post-Roman emergence of Wessex, a southern English Kingdom.
As the capital of this prosperous land, Wintanceaster (as it was then known) became one of the most important places in England.
This importance was further reinforced during the reign of Wessex’s King Alfred ‘The Great’ (871-886), the man who did the most to unify the English Kingdoms. He is often credited (albeit inaccurately) as the first King of England.
Indeed, as Wessex’s capital, Winchester can lay claim to being England’s first capital city.
After the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, Winchester declined in influence and was partly destroyed by fire in 1141.
However, in the 14th century, the Bishop of Winchester, William Wykeham, restored the city, rebuilt its cathedral and founded Winchester College in 1382. The city continued to flourish over the following centuries, although not at the rate of London which soon eclipsed the former Wessex capital.
In recent years the city has been popular with commuters to London, especially those able to work from home for some of the week.
As well as being home to a fine Cathedral, Winchester is home to one of England’s most prestigious schools, Winchester College.
The school has been teaching the cream of England’s establishment for centuries. Former pupils of the school are known as Old Wykehamists after the school’s founder, the Bishop of Winchester, William Wykeham and include Victorian poet Matthew Arnold and Anthony Trollope, author of the Barchester Chronicles.
In more modern times Buffy The Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon and current UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak are all former pupils of the school.
Winchester has been, until recently, an all boys boarding school, but recently announced the plan to admit girls and day pupils in 2022. The ending of 640 years of tradition has been controversial in some quarters.
The Cathedral is the definite star of the show in Winchester.
It was started after the Norman Conquest (in 1079), but it wasn’t completely finished in its current form until 1532. It’s a great example of the Perpendicular Gothic style, which usually involves a long and wide nave.
Winchester City Centre
Winchester city Centre is a lovely place to spend time, particularly if you want to grab a bite to eat or have a drink (perhaps after a visit to the cathedral).
Our choice for both would be one of the city’s excellent pubs. Our recommendation would be the Old Vine near the cathedral. It has a wonderful atmosphere and great food.
Whatever you like to do or see, Winchester is a great place to visit.