A Brief History of Winchester Cathedral

Last week, after three amazing years, I finally graduated from the University of Winchester with a 2:1 in English Literature and History. Graduation was an unforgettable experience, spent catching up with friends, trying not to trip, and posing for about a thousand awkward photographs that will, presumably, stare down at me from my grandfather’s display cabinet until the end of time.

[PHOTOS of me graduating]

It was also, as I’m sure every Winchester grad can confirm, spent looking around in absolute awe at the beautiful cathedral we’re so lucky to graduate in. What a building! And what a history! As I stood nervously, waiting for my name to be called and wobbling in my heels (in hindsight, a poor choice on the uneven stone floor), I couldn’t help but think of all the sights the cathedral must have seen over the years and of all the other people to have passed through those impressive wooden doors.

I knew various tidbits about the cathedral’s history- such as the gloriously higgledy-piggledy stained glass in the West Window, which had been swept up and restored by the people of Winchester after Cromwell’s men destroyed it during the Civil War- but I suddenly felt inspired to learn more. More than that though, I wanted to jot down some highlights here, hopefully to inspire others to visit (and to fall in love with) Winchester Cathedral.

But first:

(Because what post about Winchester Cathedral would be complete without this gem from the ‘60s?)

Anglo Saxon Origins

Now, Winchester Cathedral has its roots in the seventh century, when the pagan monarchs of England first converted to Christianity. In 635, Cynegils, king of the West Saxons, was baptised and, just over a decade later, his son Cenwalh built the first Christian church in Winchester, which was by then the heart of Anglo Saxon Wessex.

This was a small, cross-shaped church which became known as Old Minster. In these blurry photos I took back in 2014 on my freshers’ tour of the cathedral, you can just about make out where it stood, slightly to the north of the present building and outlined in red brick.

[PHOTOS of Old Minster outlines]

Soon, Old Minster became a cathedral, housing the cathedra of a bishop responsible for a huge diocese that stretched all the way from the English Channel right up to the River Thames. In turn, it became the most important church in Anglo Saxon England, and was the burial place for many of the earliest kings of Wessex, including King Alfred the Great. The legendary King Cnut is also buried at Winchester, alongside his wife Queen Emma.

A Place of Pilgrimage

By the tenth century, Old Minster had become the priory church of a community of monks, living under the care of St Benedict. The church was made even bigger and grander by Bishop Aethelwold, who had the bones of St Swithun moved from their burial place in the forecourt, and housed in a new shrine inside. The fame of St Swithun and his miracles spread far and wide and all around his tomb, the walls were hung with the crutches of people he was said to have healed.

By the year 1000, Old Minster was a multipurpose building- having become a mighty cathedral in its own right, a thriving priory church, and a renowned place of pilgrimage.

E-norman-ous Change

Significant changes were to lie ahead for Winchester however, as England’s Saxon leaders were abruptly toppled following the events of 1066 and the invasion of William the Conqueror. He was anointed king on Christmas Day at a ceremony in Westminster Abbey, and quickly moved to take control of the Church.

Winchester’s last Saxon bishop was replaced with his own royal chaplain, Walkelin, and the French bishop soon set about building a huge new church in the Norman Romanesque style. After 450 years, Old Minster was demolished. Its stones were used for the new cathedral, consecrated in 1093 with a grand ceremony attended by almost all of England’s bishops and abbots.

Medieval Majesty

The Norman cathedral soon flourished. In 1100, William the Conqueror’s son, William Rufus (the Red), was buried here following his suspicious death whilst out hunting in the New Forest. He was buried under the tower of his father’s great cathedral, which collapsed seven years later- according to local folklore, as a result of his wickedness.

Around this time, sumptuous works of art were being commissioned. A glorious new font was installed, celebrating the life of St Nicholas and later, in the twelfth century, a magnificent illuminated Bible was made for the monks to use in their daily worship. The Winchester Bible can still, to this day, be seen in the Cathedral Library.

[PHOTOS of the Winchester Bible]

In the centuries that followed, wealth and powerful bishops would put their stamp on the Norman cathedral. It was re-modelled again and again, with soaring gothic arches added in the fourteenth century and made more ornate in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. They also commissioned their own chantry chapels, where priests would say daily masses over their tombs to speed their souls into Heaven.

Reformation Transformation

The dissolution of the monasteries, following the Act of Supremacy and Break with Rome in 1534, lead to many changes and upheavals for the cathedral. After nearly 600 years, Winchester’s great Benedictine monastery, St Swithun’s Priory, had come to an end. The shrine of its patron saint was ransacked under the cover over darkness and its cloister demolished.

Catholicism was briefly revived in the 1550s by Mary Tudor, who married King Philip II of Spain at a ceremony held in the cathedral, but it was not to last long. Since the reign of Elizabeth I (1558-1603), the cathedral has been Church of England.

From Pride and Prejudice to the Present Day

By the early sixteenth century, much of the Cathedral as it appears today was complete. New secular names became forever linked to it, in addition to those of many kings and bishops. In the seventeenth century, the angler Izaak Walton was buried in Winchester Cathedral, as was the great novelist Jane Austen, back in 1817.

All was nearly lost in the early 1900s however, as concerns began to grow that the east end of the building would collapse following centuries of subsidence. Miraculously though, the deep-sea diver turned hero, William Walker, worked for six solid years (in terrible conditions, underwater and in complete darkness) and was able to stabilise and, ultimately, save the cathedral!

[PHOTOS of William Walker and the cathedral with scaffolding]

In 2017, after twelve centuries, the beautiful cathedral remains the seat of the Bishop of Winchester and centre of the Diocese of Winchester. It continues to echo with the sounds of sacred music, daily prayer and, on occasion, the voice of Alan Titchmarsh (Chancellor for the University of Winchester) congratulating graduates.

[PHOTO of Alan Titchmarsh]

It truly is an incredible place to visit, and I would fully encourage everyone to do so.

Winchester at War: the Battle of Passchendaele

‘I died in hell – (They called it Passchendaele)’ –

Siegfried Sassoon, Memorial Tablet.

On this day, exactly one hundred years ago, the Battle of Passchendaele began. Today, the conflict has become infamous, remembered across the world as one of the major battles of the First World War. Tragically, over 500,000 allied and German soldiers were killed, injured, or declared missing over the course of the battle, which raged until the 10th of November 1917 and impacted upon lives as far afield as Canada, Australia, India and South Africa. The casualties were also felt much closer to home, however, as the Royal Hampshire Regiment (known as the Hampshire Regiment prior to 1946) played an important role in the battle. This blog post will remember the men of the Hampshire Regiment in keeping with memorials and tributes across the world which, today, mark the centenary of Passchendaele.

‘My platoon was all Hampshire men… they came from villages I knew, and as they got knocked off I said to myself, there goes Hartley Wintney or Old Basing. It was like wiping those places off the map… some of them I’d even been to school with and I said to myself, Hampshire’s getting a good old doing.’

An account of the Hampshire Regiment at Passchendaele, taken from The Changing Countryside in Victorian and Edwardian England and Wales by Pamela Horn.

Firstly, in order to situate the conflict in the context of the First World War, The Third Battle of Ypres, more commonly known as the Battle of Passchendaele (after the Flemish village which was the final objective captured by British and Empire troops), was a major Allied campaign in Flanders during the First World War. Rather than one battle, the Third Ypres campaign was, in fact, a series of operations which took place between the 31st of July and the 10th of November, 1917. The strategic aim of these operations was to break through German defences and capture enemy naval bases along the Belgian coast from where U-Boats were launching numerous attacks on British Royal Navy and merchant ships. The campaign infamously failed to achieve this objective, and resulted in heavy losses on both sides.

The campaign was preceded by the Battle of Messines (7th – 14th of June, 1917) which opened with the British detonation of 19 large mines under German lines. The attack, in which the 15th Hampshire took part, succeeded in capturing the strategically important high ground along the Messines Ridge and paved the way for the much larger operation further north which began exactly a century ago today, on the 31st of July.

The first operation of the Third Ypres campaign then began, at the Battle of Pilckem Ridge. Here, the 14th Hampshire were in action as part of the 41st Division’s attack from northwest of Wieltje towards St Julien; a distance of around 3,000 yards. The battalion captured three German lines and 200 prisoners, at a loss of 63 killed and 161 wounded. At one stage during the attack, 2nd Lieutenant Denis Hewitt was reorganising his Company when a shell exploded nearby, injuring him and setting fire to both the signal lights in his haversack and his clothing. After extinguishing the flames, and sustaining serious burns, Hewitt persevered by leading his men forward into the face of heavy German machine-gun fire and playing a major part in the capture of the battalion’s final objective. Tragically, having reached it, Hewitt was shot and killed by sniper. For his gallantry, however, he was awarded the Victoria Cross and the 14th Hampshire were able to hold their position for two days before being withdrawn on the 3rd of August.

A short time later, The Battle of Langemarck (16th – 18th of August, 1917) became the second Allied attack of the Third Ypres campaign. The 2nd Hampshire, as part of the 29th Division, had been in reverse during the Pilckem Ridge operation, but they rapidly became involved with the conflict. On the night of the 15th of August, the battalion traversed boggy ground (so boggy, in fact, that some of the men who fell into waterlogged shell holes had to be lifted out using ropes) to an assembly point northeast of Pilckem. At quarter to five the following morning, the Hampshires advanced behind a creeping barrage and secured their two principle objectives. During the fighting, Sergeant Finch led an attack on an enemy strongpoint. Remarking on his courage, The Royal Hampshire Regiment Museum notes that Finch dashed ahead of the British barrage, ‘killing four Germans single-handed and taking the blockhouse with some 20 prisoners.’ The Corps commander, Lord Cavan, warmly congratulated the Hampshires for their achievement when he inspected them on the 19th of August and, on the 25th of August, the battalion was pulled out of the line to begin nearly a month’s deserved respite from the fighting.

The 15th Hampshire remained stationed at the front line, however, and became involved in the Battle of the Menin Bridge Road (20th – 25th September). By the 25th of August 1917, Sir Douglas Haig, British Commander-in-Chief, had become dissatisfied with the limited gains made during the opening phase of the Third Ypres campaign. He therefore passed responsibility for operations from Fifth Army Commander General, Sir Hubert Gough, to General Sir Herbert Plumer of Second Army.

After a three-week pause in fighting, the Battle of Menin Ridge is said to have opened in fine weather, a stark contrast to the heavy rainfall that would become synonymous with the Battle of Passchendaele. Now focusing on more limited objectives and with additional heavy artillery support, the British attacked on a 14,500 yard front. By mid-morning they had captured most of their objectives to a depth of 1,500 yards.

Among the units taking part, the 15th Hampshire had successfully secured their first two objectives before becoming entrenched in a desperate struggle to seize the third objective, Green Line. This was close to Tower Trench and the German strongpoint known as Tower Hamlets, a mass of concrete dugouts and pill boxes. Only 130 men could be collected for the attack, but they pressed forward nonetheless and soon established themselves in the Green Line, taking 40 prisoners. This number included 30 Germans taken from a dug-out by 2nd Lieutenant Montague Moore, supported by only half a dozen men, who then consolidated their position and defended it against several counter-attacks and their own artillery, who were unaware of their new position.

The following day, Moore was the most senior officer left in the Green Line. The regimental museum notes that ‘he showed great resourcefulness and composure, withdrawing his men slightly to avoid the British barrage but then re-occupying the position directly the moment it stopped.’ Early the next morning however, another British barrage destroyed the rifles and rations of the surviving Hampshires, forcing Moore and his men back to the line of the second objective. Tragically, of the 130 men who had begun the attack 36 hours earlier, only ten remained. For his gallantry, 2nd Lieutenant Moore was awarded the Victoria Cross, but the battalion faced heavy casualties. Six officers and 83 men were killed or declared missing, while seven officers and 251 were wounded.

The remaining men of the 15th Hampshire were relieved by the 14th Battalion which took part in the opening of the Battle of Polygon Wood (26th September – 3rd of October), an operation that finally saw the British capture of Tower Hamlets. On the 27th of September, the 39th Division (to which the 14th and 15th Battalions were assigned) was, at last, relieved.

Also in September, the 1st Hampshire moved from the Arras sector to Flanders where, on the 4th of October, they took part in the Battle of Broodseinde. This was to be the last of the Allied autumn attacks to take place in fine weather. The battalion attacked northwest of Poelcappelle, suffering 50% casualties before returning to Monchy, near Arras on the 18th of October. The Battle of Poelcappelle also involved the 2nd Hampshire Battalion. Unlike the Battle of Broodseinde, however, Poelcappelle was dogged by bad weather and supply problems which would greatly impact upon the conditions faced by the men.

The 2nd Hampshire Battalion soon became involved in heavy fighting north of Langemarck. However, together with the 4th Worcestershires, they successfully secured the Namur Crossing and then their second objective before being held up before they could achieve their third. After nightfall, the Hampshires went on to relieve the Newfoundland Regiment in what had become the front line, astride the Poelcappelle-Les Cinq Chemins road. Despite the wet and treacherous ground, the battalion worked to consolidate the line the following day.

That afternoon, a detachment under Captain Philip Cuddon attacked and captured an obstinate German strongpoint near Cairo House. Cuddon was later given a bar to his Military Cross for his role in the assault while Lieutenant-Colonel T.C. Spring, who had displayed exemplary leadership and courage throughout the operation, was awarded the Distinguished Service Order.

On the night of the 7th of October, three days before the Third Ypres campaign would draw to a close, the Hampshires were relieved, finally bringing to an end the regiment’s active involvement in the Battle of Passchendaele.

If you would like to learn more about the Royal Hampshire Regiment’s involvement with the Battle of Passchendaele, their museum (which can be found on Southgate Street in Winchester) is an excellent place to start.

Originally posted on the 31st of July, 2017.

Interview with Stardust Years owner, Karen Fitzsimmons.

Stardust Years is a brilliantly unique shop on the Winchester High Street, specialising in vintage and historical fashion items. I recently had the pleasure of visiting the shop for the first time and at once fell in love with the beautiful items on display. After my visit, I approached the owner Karen Fitzsimmons, and she kindly agreed to answer a few questions I had about historical fashion and the growing popularity of vintage-wear.

Q: When did Stardust Years open?

A: July, 2013

Q: Where do you get the items from?

A: That’s a bit like asking Tinkerbell where she gets her Magic Fairy Dust!  All I can say is that I go out and source all our stock myself.  We do not buy over the counter so, if you’re reading this and you have a treasure to sell please don’t come to us as you’ll only be disappointed.

Q: It must be hard to part with some of the beautiful items on sale, what has been your favourite item that you’ve encountered?

A: Oh, it is! I think there are too many to choose from but if I had to choose it would be some of the Rayne Shoes that I had when we first opened the shop.  As a result of researching Rayne Shoes, I met Nick Rayne, the son of Sir Edmund Rayne who steered the family business during its most successful years.  Rayne Shoes supplied many Hollywood stars with shoes, including Marlene Dietrich and Vivien Leigh. They also made the Queen’s wedding shoes.

Nick bought some of our shoes for the Rayne Shoe Archive (you can see some of our shoes – including the pair we donated) in the book, Rayne, Shoes for Stars which accompanied last year’s exhibition at the Fashion & Textile Museum. We were invited to the Book Launch at the Dorchester Hotel, held in the famous Oliver Messel Room. It was wonderful.  I was very sad at parting with the shoes so soon after I had found them – my husband took a photo of me saying goodbye to them when we were packing them for the courier’s collection!  However, they led me on an exciting journey and I know their beauty and craftsmanship will be enjoyed by so many more people in the future.

Q: When did your interest in vintage and historical fashion begin and why?

A: I loved Cinema from an early age and I grew up watching fabulous films from the 1930s, 40s and 50s which gave me my love for the fashions of the past.  They were so creative and glamorous.

Is there a particular era that you feel drawn to, and if so why is this? (Would you say it was based on the aesthetics of the era or a historical interest? Or both?)

A: My favourite eras are the 40s and 50s.  Across those decades there was so much diversity and creativity, even though we were plunged into a World War.  I love the tailoring, the detail and the care that went into the creation of accessories as well as clothing. Designers of some of the most glamorous fashions of the day were also involved in developing Utility Clothing (eg Digby Morton and Hardy Amies) and functional, eccentric items such as the Gas Mask Shoulder Bag (H Wald).

Q: What era of clothing is the most popular among your customers, and why do you think this is?

A: I think the 1950s is the most popular due to a number of factors.  There are the customers who are ardent vintage fans and attend a lot of vintage dances and weekend events.  The most popular period for vintage events seems to be the 1940s and the 1950s.  Then there are the customers who are looking for a dress for a special event and find the choice on the High Street limiting.  These customers find our 1950s rails attractive because of the diversity of styles that ran throughout the decade.  Whatever your figure, you can find something that suits you and looks wonderful.  The 40 and 50s were a time of great social change and these changes are reflected in contemporary fashion.

Q: What is the strangest/quirkiest vintage item you’ve encountered in the shop?

A: I can’t think of anything strange!  I always have to consider who would buy whatever I source. What I do love about vintage is that you can find quirky elements such as a 1940s clasp on a handbag or a clasp to a necklace.  We did have a marvellous 1920s bag with a mirror base and a large carved, enamel clasp which had to be twisted in a particular way to open the bag.  You can find lovely, unique accessories inside what appears to be a fairly plain handbag, too.

Q:  Do you have a vintage fashion icon or inspiration?

A: Too many to mention in terms of designers but Christian Dior is one of my favourites. I love those designers who also designed for the cinema such as Adrian, Edith Head and Irene Lentz and any of the actresses they dressed.

Equally, do you have a contemporary fashion icon or inspiration?

A: No.

Q: Can you see the influence of past styles on contemporary fashion? If so, what would an example of this be?

A: Oh, yes.  Nothing seems to be new.  There was a recent resurgence of 1950/60s fashions, as well as the 1970s with maxi dresses (which, of course were pre-dated by earlier fashions!).  I do wonder if future fashion will ever be as exciting as the developments that occurred during the 1910s – 60s.

Of course, fashion historians will be able to point to other great periods in history.  As the way we live changes, so will the way we dress so it’s interesting to see how young fashion designers will translate that into fashion and accessories.

Q: Why do you think vintage fashion is becoming so popular? In your opinion, would the popularity of programmes such as Downton Abbey or Mr Selfridge have anything to do with this?

A: Popular culture has always influenced fashion so it’s no surprise that very successful period dramas have contributed to the continuing popularity of vintage fashion.  There have also been a lot of anniversary events around the two World Wars and I think that has increased the interest in the 1940s, in particular.

The way in which we celebrate our lives has also been influenced by popular culture and social history.  We’ve seen customers buying vintage for birthdays, weddings and anniversaries.  Sometimes, it’s been a Mad Men birthday party or a 1930s wedding. I once had three ladies in one afternoon all going to the same 1940s party but none of them knew each other.  None of them liked to dress in unfamiliar clothing! (With each lady, I looked at our reference books, discussed what they already had in their wardrobe and accented it with an accessory or advice on hair).

Q: What would you say to someone with a newly found interest in vintage and historical fashion? Any tips or advice?

A: I would recommend joining the mailing list of the Fashion & Textile Museum in London.  They have some fabulous exhibitions. I would advise anyone wanting to buy vintage to be discerning – for me, there’s a difference between vintage fashion and old clothing.  Good vintage will cost more but it’s worth it for the superb tailoring and quality of the fabrics. I have some customers who come to Stardust Years because they’ve become collectors and buy investment pieces.  Others, are looking for a high-end piece of fashion that’s unique and won’t be identifiable as a “High Street piece.” Then there are those customers who just want to enjoy wearing the fashions and feeling a little closer to the past.

Also, always try on a garment – and never over jeans! I love wearing vintage but shapes have changed – plus, we’re all individuals!  I’ve never agreed with fashion sizes – we don’t fit a designated size. For this reason, I never buy my vintage wardrobe online.

Finally, remember there are no rules – you don’t have to go for the “complete” vintage look. Sometimes, it’s just as much fun and stylish to put the past with the present and create an individual look for you.

Q: Is there any era that you dislike in terms of the fashion trends? If so, why is that?

A:  The 1970s – I remember it the first time round – and I wasn’t keen on it then!
Though, looking back, I do admire what designers like Zandra Rhodes and Emilio Pucci achieved.

Q: What do you think we can learn from vintage and historical fashion?

A: The way people lived their lives, how our values have changed and how much effort went into creating something – whether it was a dress or a handbag.  People comment that our stock is in very good condition (most of it, anyway!) and that’s generally because, people didn’t have many clothes.  “Sunday Best” was exactly that.  Hardly worn and very well looked after because their “Sunday Best” was the only Best they had.

I’ve seen haute couture items by Dior, from the 1940s and 50s, which were constructed with wide inner seams so that as the wearer’s shape changed, the fashion house could alter the dress, accordingly. Nowadays, we live in “disposable” times – if something breaks, needs a part or needs letting out, we don’t mend it, we throw it away and just buy a replacement.

Q: Have you ever encountered an item with a really fascinating history attached? 

A: We have a costume once worn by actress Glenda Jackson in the film The Incredible Sarah, based on the life of Sarah Bernhardt. The designer, Anthony Mendleson was nominated for Best Costume Design in 1976 (but lost out to Danilo Donati’s Fellini’s Casanova).  It has a gorgeous circular train and would be a beautiful wedding dress. We also have a fur wrap believed to have been worn by actress, Vivien Leigh.

Sometimes, the most interesting items are the ones that come with clues to their owner/wearer’s life eg the 1930s clutch bag that has a theatre ticket inside it, dated the 18th of August, 1945.  When we find such clues to its past, we always keep the item with the vintage piece.  I once had a 1940s suit with a damaged skirt.  The jacket was priced but the customer had to take the skirt, too (at no charge, of course). I couldn’t bear to have them parted, not after they had been together for over 75 years!

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

A: Just that if you find a vintage item remember, it is just like you; individual and unique – you won’t find anything like it anywhere else!

Q: Thank you so much for your time.


A great many thanks to Karen for taking the time to answer my questions, I loved reading your responses. Stardust Years will be celebrating its third birthday this weekend. To help celebrate in style, there will be free signature cocktails as well as the return of the TLC Rail, and vintage ‘Rescue Remnants,’ going free to a good home! On Sunday afternoon, between 1 and 3pm, Stardust Years will also be joined by Virginia Hannan, Bespoke Dress Design who will be available to offer tips and suggestions on dress design and alterations.

More information can be found on Karen’s Stardust Years blog, and on their Facebook page.

Winchester’s Forgotten Train Station

The city of Winchester has a very rich history full of changes. As you know we have done a walk-about of Winchester, exploring its development through different centuries. Well, I thought I hadn’t talked about lovely Winchester much for a while and I remembered I spent a few hours at the records office (a few years back) investigating some of the cities properties for a university assignment. To my surprise, here I found that for being such a quaint little town, once we actually had two train stations! This was in the area nowadays occupied by the Chesil Street multi-storey car park. The reason why I would like to share this story with you is because I think it represents the changes that many British cities suffered since the industrial revolution. Moreover, it shows how crucial rail networks were, and how this kept the country going in more than one ways. So, for you only, here I present you Winchester’s forgotten train station.

One of the first evidence that are found about this station is that in Bridge Street there was a place called Railway Coffee Tavern, named after the opening of the station in 1885. The company Didcot and Newbury was then involved in the project of establishing rail connections in the south of England. Winchester was chosen as a stop in their line due to its history. Didcot and Newbury made a deal with another company to proceed with the project, and found a partner in the Great Western Railway. With their support the trains could run to Shawford and link with Southampton. Nonetheless, things did not go particularly well for this little enterprise. There was a strong rivalry between the G.W.R and the South Railway, therefore they had to swap trains and locomotives before arriving the station.

Nevertheless, the line did well, and in fact played a crucial role in the transport of military troops. The book Winchester Voices records the memories of Austin Laverty who remembered seen the men coming from the Boer Wars using the line that stopped in Chesil’s station. During the Great War, the train line experienced higher transit as a larger number of soldiers needed to be dispatched. However, this service stated to fall into decay with the nationalisation of British railways, which impacted negatively the businesses of the G.W.R. Cancellations of daytime services started to become something common until March 1960 when the station closed to the public. Eventually it would be used for minor services, especially in summers to help reducing the congestion of the diesel service of the Southampton line. After its definitive closure in 1968, the order of demolition was declared in 1972.

But what this shows to us about Winchester, the fluctuation of the economy and, in general, what was happening in Hampshire and the country? I believe the Old Chesil Station is a product of the Victorian revival, not only of the country as a whole, but particularly of Winchester as the city had been run down, pretty much since the English Civil War. There was a big growth in population and a period of prosperity. The railway was spreading quickly everywhere; tourism increased, and as Winchester was such an attractive place for tourists due to its history, there was a need for better connection with different places.  Even the decadence of the railway is giving valuable information of economic development and competition amongst similar business such as the G.WR and the South Railway.  And, almost in a poetic way, I think the decline of this line, and the decrease of train usage in general, links in with the current use of this plot of land: a car park necessary for the current preferred method of transport.

So, I hope you have enjoyed exploring this often forgotten site of Winchester, and that next time you see a car park, you think to yourself: “it’s likely that, underneath that structure there are the forgotten bones of an English king…or perhaps an old railway station”


P.S: If you are desperate to know more about local railways, check some of the works that helped me with my research:

Robertson, K., The Railways of Winchester (1988).

Oppitz, L., Lost Railways of Hampshire (2001).

W/G1/1223 (Contract for demolition of Chesil Station, Cowdrey Lodge Hotel, Gladstone Arms, 1-17 Gladstone Street, Winchester; letter only) – archived at the Hampshire Record Office

or check https://davidturnerrailway.wordpress.com/ – David Turner is great, he knows loads about trains, and posts some very interesting things in his blog and twitter account –  we know this because we have been reading his stuff since 2010!!

Why did Winchester Play Rugby rather than Football in the 19th Century?

As many of you know, Winchester is famously known for having an influential college in the 19th century, with the boys school playing an integral part to the community. For the boys, sport and recreational events allowed for competitions, not only amongst the other houses within the school but against other boys schools. But for Winchester College, rugby was the sport of choice compared to football? Why was this I hear you say? Well read on, and you will find out 🙂 This blog post is in aid of my dissertation research question: ‘How Does Football Develop in Basingstoke: 1870-1890?’

Game of Winchester College Football

Winchester College was an important hub of the community, with the role of the college not one to be underestimated in modern-day society. For the colleges and the civilians around it, sport allowed for rules and mannerisms to be taught and aid development in everyday life. For Winchester, rugby allowed for the rules to be taught to their men, who would in turn play a massive part in the spread of the Empire. At the time, the British Empire was spreading across the globe, and it was these boys who were taught in schools like Winchester, who played such a massive part in helping spread the rules and the mannerisms of the respectable English gentleman across the Empire. This in turn led to the spread of sport throughout the Empire, with many high figure profiles within it performing the sports.

Image of an Indian Polo Team

Yet, for Winchester football was not the game in question. Though the boys in the school did take part in Winchester football, it was not the sport of choice, mainly due to the fact that the game at the time was very lower-class based, and the breweries helped to fund the teams. Winchester unlike Basingstoke was not home to many breweries, so football was not a sport in demand. For Winchester and the schools, rugby was a respectable sport with respectable mannerisms, and football provided an ugly side of civilisation. With neighbours Basingstoke having so many problems with football, rugby seemed to be the ideal sport for the people of Winchester. Basingstoke had many pub and church football teams, all teaching different constitutions and mannerisms. The pub sides were a lot more working class, with the local drinkers all pitching together to play against the other pub sides. The church teams as you can imagine liked football in the respect that it could teach good manners and lessons of the bible, and often thought of the pub teams as being similar to hooligans. In a time where drinking was frowned upon, football proved to be the centre point for one of the most famous riots at the time.

Interesting book on the Basingstoke Riots

With the Salvation Army marching into Basingstoke demanding that lessons of Christ be taught in all football, and that the pub teams should not have such a strong hold on the teams. What followed was the Basingstoke Riots of 1881, where the Breweries and pub teams went against the Salvation Army, leading to parliamentary action to solve the crisis. Whilst tarnishing the image of football, it illustrated that perhaps Winchester were not wrong to be focusing all their attention on playing rugby. Rugby allowed for rules to be taught, for respectability to be earned, life lessons to be taught overseas. Rugby was Winchester’s sport, and certainly benefitted the area, living on in their history into present day.

I hope you have enjoyed my little insight into why rugby was more popular than football in Winchester, hopefully as I do more dissertation research I can share more with you all.

Winchester Since the Twentieth Century

For the final post following Winchester throughout the centuries, we’re looking at the twentieth and twenty-first, and what has happened in the past 115 years in what is, compared to most cities, a sleepy little place.

Way back in 1908, Winchester was not so sleepy. Over three days, riots broke out. Known as the Winchester Gun Riots, they were caused by protesters’ discontent with the Mayor’s decision to take down the railings around a Russian cannon won in the Crimean War.  The cannons had originally been presented to the citizens of Winchester and not the council. By taking the railings away, the council were seen as stealing what rightfully belonged to the people of Winchester. According to reports, mobs took to the streets, wrecked shops and homes, and the military was called in three times to sort the situation. Reports were recorded to have been exaggerated, with some claiming that only a few windows and lamps were broken. The riots were partially led by Joe Dumper, who strongly believed the former weapon should remain with the citizens. A play was performed in Winchester by the Peter Symonds College about Dumper’s role in the Riot, but otherwise has not remained in Winchester’s public consciousness. The gun responsible for it all was reportedly melted down to make more weapons in the Second World War.

The Winchester Gun Riot - taken from City of Winchester Trust
The Winchester Gun Riot – taken from City of Winchester Trust

During the Second World War, children from Portsmouth and Southampton were evacuated to Winchester, Andover and Romsey. Winchester were preparing to take in up to one thousand children at the beginning of the war, with the city being divided into different sections to maintain control over how the children were divided and housed. The Peninsula Barracks, which had housed the Rifle Brigade from 1800, including during the Second World War, fought in North Africa and were vital in the invasion of North West Europe and takeover of Hamburg in the mid-1940s.

When the army left the Peninsula Barracks in 1995, it left a space for the Winchester Military Museums. Although the former barracks themselves have become private flats, the buildings surrounding are now museums documenting both World Wars, as well as paying particular attention to the Rifle Brigade who once lived there, with one of their museums named after the Brigade’s nickname: the Green Jackets.

The twentieth century was also a time when Winchester carried out more artistic endeavours, with the implementation of the annual Hat Fair in 1974. Despite its name, it is not a celebration of hats (although that would be quite fun to see down Winchester High Street) but instead celebrates street theatre – every summer dozens of street performances take place, including audience participation and workshops for those who wish to take part. The Hat Fair was inspired by the people and heritage of Winchester, originally starting out as a busking festival. In fact, it is where the title of Hat Fair comes from – the tradition of putting money into the busker’s hat. The ‘hats’ are still the fair’s way of making money, and the event is otherwise completely free to attend. Not a bad way to spend a couple of sunny (or in, Winchester’s case, probably rainy) afternoons next summer!

Also in 1974, a series of medieval mystery plays were staged at Wolvesey Castle, a medieval ruin in the centre of Winchester. The amphitheatre put up for these performances were later used during the remake of Brief Encounter (1974) and is one of many instances in which Winchester has been the filming location for large productions.

Wolvesley Castle
Wolvesey Castle

Winchester has now become one of the main filming locations in Britain for even major Hollywood films, mainly due to its low-cost and picturesque, medieval surroundings. Films such as Pride and Prejudice (2005), The Da Vinci Code (2006), Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007) and Les Misérables (2012) had parts filmed in Winchester.

As we have just celebrated Christmas, it seems relevant to focus on the beautiful Christmas Market, which started up in Winchester in 2006. It is now recognised as one of the best in Europe, due to its location at Winchester Cathedral, a centrally placed ice rink (only £6 per student!) and an array of various gift stalls full of decorations, presents and (most importantly) food. Although originally planned to perhaps only be a one-off affair, the Christmas Market became so successful it has carried on every year since, bringing over 350,000 visitors each year.

A display at Winchester Cathedral's Christmas Market
A display at Winchester Cathedral’s Christmas Market

It’s no surprise really, as Winchester Cathedral sets up quite an idyllic little area for Winchester’s Christmas Market. It remains, after all these centuries, one of the central points of this little city, from back when it was a small Anglo-Saxon church to one of the most famous cathedrals in the country. It seems fitting then, that this post should end on a song that was quite famous when it was released in 1966, although not directly related to Winchester, a sign of its legacy in the twentieth century.

Further Reading

City of Winchester Trust

The Winchester Riots

Ancestry.com: Joe Dumper

A Brief History of Winchester 

Winchester in the Second World War


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, http://www.winchester.ac.uk/aboutus/Pages/Ourhistory.aspx

‘A Brief History of West Downs School, Winchester’, The Old West Downs Society, 18th October 2010, http://www.westdowns.com/owd_schl.htm

‘Winchester Prison’, Weeke Local History, 29th June 2011, http://www.weekehistory.co.uk/weeke/other/prison.htm

Winchester in the Sixteenth Century

After centuries of being known as a vital city in English history Winchester had descended from being the country’s capital to being a town of virtually no importance. During the 1500’s, within the reign of the Tudor dynasty, Winchester saw a decline in interest, politics and prestige apart from a few crowning moments smattered across the century.

Due to the rise of London being the hub of trade and the royal household in the South of England, Winchesters revenue dwindled and unemployment rose due to the population boom after the scourge of the Black Death in the previous centuries. Hampshire then failed to provide jobs for the burgeoning youth of early modern Winchester; this led to discontent between those who held the work available and those who were fighting for work to survive. The authorities of Winchester attempted to increase annual fairs from one to three throughout the year to increase trade and the populace of Winchester, but even this failed to bring the city back to its former popularity. Also during this time, the council headed by the Bishop of Winchester created a house of correction teaching the unemployed new trades such as glove making and clerical work. This caused discontent between the new workers and those who worked in the guilds as it meant there was more competition for customers.

Subjected to dissolution of the monasteries that ripped through England throughout Henry VIII and Edward VI’s reign, Winchester saw the burning and attack on St Mary’s Abbey which was a prominent nunnery first established under Alfred the Great in the ninth century. Hyde Abbey and St Swithun’s priory was also a cause of agricultural and cultural loss along with the Hampshire friaries, the clerics and people of which regularly worked the fields. A lot of the materials from the destroyed buildings were taken and used elsewhere to help produce new palaces and buildings across the Southern English shires in the 1530s. One of the medieval buildings that survived Thomas Cromwell’s attack was the St John Cross alms house hospital/chapel that sat on the outskirts of Winchester. It was built under Henry de Blois, Bishop of Winchester (Grandson of William the Conqueror) and saw an upsurge in leprosy sufferers and was strained under epidemics of the Sweating Sickness and plague during the 1500’s. This hospital still stands and functions as a charity base today housing seventy men therefore causing it to be the oldest of its kind in Britain.

The most exciting event to occur in Hampshire was in 1554 when Mary I, daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, married Philip of Spain. Winchester Cathedral was chosen due to its strong Catholic links during a time that was beginning to see extremist reforms in religion including Protestantism. It was also chosen due to it being the middle ground between Mary’s base in London and where Philip landed in Southampton docks. The marriage was proclaimed just two days after their initial first meeting.

Winchester City Museum – Review

The City Museum, found at the heart of our very own Winchester, displays the city through the ages through the key archaeological and social findings from the local area, from a Roman skeleton complete with coffin nails, to a medieval toilet seat. As a volunteer at the museum, I might be quite biased, but only because I’ve loved the museum for years as an interesting, entertaining and inspiring collection.


The three galleries inside the museum depict the city at the height of the key periods in its development from the capital city of England to the cathedral city it remains. The Roman gallery on the top floor, entitled Venta Belgarum after the city’s name of the period, depicts the city through the Roman finds from the area, the most notable being the intact mosaic found in Sparsholt which dominates the gallery. An interactive light-up display depicts the developing landscape of the city due to the Roman alterations to the River Itchen, which used to flow straight down what is now known as Winchester High Street.


The key thing to remember as you walk through the galleries is that even if you don’t know the city too well, most of the displays are transferable and could well represent the circumstances and living standards in other areas of the country, but it’s also great to see the beautifully historic city around us adapting to social and economic change.

IMG_3196Keep an eye out for Gunni, the Anglo-Saxon whose burial can be found in the Wintanceaster gallery alongside the medieval Moot horn, which is said to have been heard from as far away as St Catherine’s Hill when it was blown at the Westgate. While the Anglo-Saxons and the Middle Ages have never been my strong point, this gallery along with every other displays the city’s development during the period in a straightforward manner that appeals to visitors no matter what age or interests. While you take a walk around the museum, you might wonder where the Tudor era fits in – it doesn’t, because Winchester Museums’ collections for this period are situated in the Westgate Museum, which is definitely worth a visit if you have an interest in the era and particularly, the dissolution of the monasteries which impacted Winchester.

IMG_3191The ground floor welcomes the more recent history of the city known as Winchester, beginning with the 1800s and closing at T Foster and Sons, the tobacconists. As a volunteer, I spend most of my time behind the counter and have learnt a great deal about the shop and its rich history. Established in 1871, Thomas Foster’s shop once showcased and distributed pipe tobacco and ready-rolled cigarettes to customers at 34 High Street. Just over a century later and the shop’s second owner, Stanley Cobb, passed away and the shop was rebuilt within the walls of the City Museum in 1980, preserving every detail down to the mahogany counter constructed from tobacco shipping crates. The displays of cigars and cigarettes ranging from the old favourites Players and Marlboro to the more obscure Abdullah and Perfectos make for an eye-opening cross-section of the history of smoking and the glamour before the health warnings.

While most museums cater to a more mature, intellectual audience, City Museum devotes itself to keeping children happy, with two different Lego play areas and numerous relevant activity stations on each floor. I have to admit, even I haven’t worked out how to complete some of them yet! The most appealing activity for children appears to be the dress-up stations, where visitors can try on outfits fitting for the period each gallery focuses on, from togas to Edwardian servant suits.

With free admission and amazing displays backed up with a friendly atmosphere, I couldn’t ask for more from a museum – even if I do say so myself.



To continue with the history of Winchester theme, this blog entry will briefly cover Anglo-Saxon Winchester or Wincanceaster.  I will begin with Winchester at the point of the departure of the Romans and then briefly cover the main areas that show the significance of the Anglo-Saxon capital.

Although many towns and cities became deserted, Winchester wasn’t completely abandoned following the end of the Roman period, though the population went into decline. According to archaeological settlement evidence, when the Saxons immigrated to Winchester in around the mid fifth century, they set up settlement outside the city walls instead of within them. The ceaster element of the city’s name indicates that in old English the Saxons arrived at Winchester that was surrounded by Roman walls. It became clear however that the population didn’t have the resources to attend to the upkeep of the city, since the old Romans drainage system fell into disrepair and the Roman south gate collapsed. The River Itchen also reclaimed large areas of the eastern part of the city meaning parts of the city had now become uninhabitable.

Politically the city continued to survive under Cerdic and his family when his son and grandson Cynric “succeeded to the kingdom” in 519 AD. The king of Wessex from 611 to 641, Cynegils (perhaps Cerdic’s great grandson) converted to Christianity in 635 along with the rest of the West Saxons thus making the city religiously important. Under the reign of Cynegils second son Cenwalh (642-73) a minster church was built that became known as the Old Minster. This made Winchester the very heart of the civilisation of Wessex and of England. Thus Winchester became the capital of Anglo-Saxon England. In 678 the Bishop of Wessex, Bishop Haeddi moved his throne to Winchester and the Old Minster became a Cathedral church. It also became the place where Kings and Bishops were buried.

Despite the advances that the Anglo-Saxons had made in Winchester, nothing could prepare them, and the rest of Britain, for the dangers ahead. The Vikings had swept over Britain, raiding and looting as they went and in the 850s and 860s they attacked Winchester. Under King Alfred the cities defence proved adequate with the defences being restored for the first time since the fourth century. Winchester also became part of the Burghal Hidage defence system from 886. This was a system of thirty towns in all that were fortified boroughs (Winchester being one of the two largest) with an estimated 2,400 men manning the cities defences. Under the reign of Alfred and his son Edward the Elder the Viking threat was faced and pushed back.

One of the most important features of Anglo-Saxon Winchester was the construction of the New Minster and Nun minster under King Alfred and his wife Ealhswith. They were both finished after 900 AD. The New Minster, completed under Edward the Elder, was run by secular clerks whilst the Nun Minster provided an area for worship for holy women within a cloister. The continued building at the Minsters would become the main focus in Winchester up to the Norman Conquest.  The three Minsters (including the Old Minster) thus greatly improved the significance of Winchester as an Anglo-Saxon city and also as England’s capital.

Here concludes the brief summary of Anglo-Saxon Winchester. I hope that this piece has highlighted the importance of the city both religiously and militarily to its own survival. Whilst the capital was moved to London following the Norman Conquest, Winchester will always have a place in the history of England with its past living on.



Barbara Carpenter Turner., Winchester (1980).

Tom Beaumont James., Winchester; From Prehistory to the Present (1997).