Winchester in the 19th Century

While Winchester’s population grew dramatically in size during the 19th century, it also marked the decline that had gripped the city for the past several centuries. While the likes of London had soared past Winchester during the 12th and 13th centuries, its closest neighbour Southampton had not exceeded Winchester’s size. In 1801, both Winchester and Southampton had similar size populations, however by the 1851 census Southampton had four times the population of Winchester. Even though Southampton now dwarfed Winchester, it was because of the expansion of Southampton that Winchester had a significant population increase. Winchester Railway Station was built as a result of the line between Southampton and London in 1839, like many other cities during the 19th century the railway is seen as a major factor in population expansion. The expansion of railways also increased tourism to the city especially during the latter end of the century which can be seen in trade directories and newspapers from the time.

Of course this was not the only factor as Winchester’s population had seen a 45% increase between the 1801 and 1831 censuses. Enclosure Acts in 1780 and 1830, pushed rural poor around the city into the city limits as many saw the complete disappearance of common land and even further reliance on wage labour than in previous centuries. However because of the progress of the Industrial Revolution, there was simply not the demand for labour that there had been previously. Many were forced to leave agricultural labour.

Overall the censuses of Winchester over the 19th century show a steady increase in population. The 1801 census recorded 6019 residents. Twenty years later on the eve of a Cholera outbreak in the city, there was 9212 residents. By 1851 it was 12402. The 1871 census which has had a great deal of research done examining it showed the population had reached 17301. Near the eve of the end of the century the 1891 census recorded 19670 inhabitants.

The census of 1871 gives us an interesting look into what Winchester’s demographics were like in the 19th century. The two largest occupations in Winchester were soldiers and servants. The 46th Foot South Devonshire Regiment (consisting of 800 men) and the Hampshire militiamen (170 men) were stationed in Winchester on census night. It was thanks to the use of the barracks that the gender split in the city was somewhat equal with 98 men to 100 women. It was because of the other large occupation in Winchester, domestic workers, which gave Winchester such a large female population. Without the barracks the ratio would change to 87 men to 100 women. Servants made up the majority of women in Winchester, with 55% of women working in this role. Fewer than 5% of men on the other hand worked as servants. After servants and soldiers, teaching was the next largest occupation with 147 employed in the profession, followed by 94 who worked in a religious occupation. These four occupations give us an idea of what Winchester was like during the period. It had a strong military presence, and was a religious and education centre with its institutions and residents supported by a large number of servants. Not everyone worked however at the time of the census, patients within the hospital reached 90 on census night, while there were 160 people within the workhouse, 347 prisoners and 326 pupils at Winchester College which highlight how well used these institutions were. The place of birth of Winchester’s residents is also interesting, giving an insight into migration into the area. 44 people claimed to not know their birthplace. 67% of Winchester’s population had been born in Hampshire, 37% of these had been born in Winchester. 10% of Winchester’s residents had been born in the counties bordering Hampshire and 4% from London. 250 residents were born abroad, 120 of who were from India and the ‘East Indies’. Thanks to the barracks, 3% of residents were from Ireland.

While the heart of Winchester may still be very medieval, moving further out of the core of the city, several of Winchester’s landmarks on or near the Romsey Road were built during this period. The Royal Hampshire County Hospital was built by William Butterfield. It admitted its first 16 in-patients in 1868. A new prison was also built in 1849, admitting its first prisoners in 1850 via transfer from the existing prison in Jewry Street at the top of the High Street (The Governor’s House, part of the prison is now the local Wetherspoons Pub) along with other prisoners around Hampshire. The Winchester Training College (now the University of Winchester) was granted a new building on what is now part of the University of Winchester’s King Alfred campus (which is located behind the Royal Hampshire County Hospital) on land given by the Cathedral and the building was funded by public donations. This building still exists today and is now known as the Main Building on campus, housing mostly non-teaching services to students. The College had been set up originally in 1840 as the Winchester Diocesan Training School to train male elementary teachers. Its first premises had been on St Swithuns Street before moving to Bishops Palace at Wolvesey in 1847. Other Victorian buildings which now belong to the University of Winchester include Medecroft on Sparkford Road which was built in 1868 and used to be a private property but now houses the university’s history department. Part of the West Downs’ campus was also built in 1880 originally for the Winchester Modern School, but by 1897 the school was gone and taken over by Lionel Herbert who opened the West Downs School, a private prep school for boys which over the 20th century would go onto educate a large number of the aristocracy and the notorious fascist Oswald Mosley, until it closed in 1988.

One of Winchester’s most famous connections, and certainly what it is often most noted for during the 19th century is its connection with Jane Austen. The writer lived in Hampshire most of her life, during much of her career she lived in the village of Chawton, not far from Winchester. Austen went to Winchester to receive medical treatment and stayed at a house in College Street near Winchester College but she died in this house on the 18th July 1817. She was buried in Winchester Cathedral. However Austen was not the only writer who visited Winchester, the romantic poet John Keats wrote several of his poems in 1819 while visiting the city.

Winchester during the 19th century was never going to reach the heights of significance it had enjoyed during the Middle Ages, in fact this century confirmed its fall as other cities such as Southampton overtook it in importance thanks to the Industrial Revolution. However that does not mean it was not an interesting time for the city. Much of what Winchester is today began in the 19th century. Institutions such as the hospital, the university and the prison are major parts of the city. The construction of the railway has led to Winchester becoming a home to commuters to London and elsewhere in the South, invigorating the suburbs that sprung up around Winchester during the 19th century. While Winchester may no longer be home to the significant military presence it once did, the Peninsula Barracks (while not built during the 19th century) now house 5 military museums. And of course Jane Austen’s connection to Winchester is still well remembered by local residents and visitors today.


James ,T.B., Winchester: From Prehistory to the Present (Gloucestershire, 2007).

Rutter, A., Winchester: Heart of a City (Winchester, 2009).

‘Our History’, The University of Winchester, 4th August 2014,

‘A Brief History of West Downs School, Winchester’, The Old West Downs Society, 18th October 2010,

‘Winchester Prison’, Weeke Local History, 29th June 2011,

One thought on “Winchester in the 19th Century

  1. Pingback: Posts From WUHSTRY – Meet Me In The Library

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