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A brief history of Winchester

The settlement of Winchester begins in about 150BC when a large defended enclosure was created on the western slopes of the modern city, in the area of Oram's Arbour. Since that time, great kings and bishops have left lasting reminders of their presence.

During Saxon times, Winchester was the capital of England - chosen by King Alfred (Alfred the Great) - and the city remained a Royal residence for centuries afterwards.

Why not bring history to life with a guided tour?

Below is a brief chronology of Winchester through the ages to illustrate the importance it has played in history.

Iron Age

150 BC Hill fort built on St Catherine's Hill.
150 BC Trading centre established on western side of modern city, near Oram's Arbour.

Romans

70 AD Romans start to create a defended city "Venta Belgarum - marketplace of the Belgae", a regional capital.
410 Romans depart, Venta disintegrates.

Dark Ages

400 - 600 The era of the legendary warrior King Arthur. Was Winchester 'Caer Gwent', Camelot?

Saxons

Winchester becomes a royal and ecclesiastical city, the centre of Wessex and England.
635 King Cynegils brings Christianity to Winchester.
648 First Christian church, Old Minster founded.
861 Bishop Swithun, confidant and advisor to Alfred, dies.
871 King Alfred crowned and makes Winchester his capital. Founds New Minster. Nunnaminster is founded by his queen.
971 Swithun's grave opened, prior to re-interring in enlarged Old Minster, 40 days of rain.
1035 King Canute dies, buried in Old Minster.

Normans

1066 Winchester surrenders to King William the Conqueror, who extends the Saxon royal palace and builds a castle.
1079 Construction of present Cathedral begins.
1086 Domesday Book is compiled in Winchester.

Middle Ages

1100 Wicked King Rufus buried below Cathedral tower. 7 years later it collapses.
1137 Bishop Henri de Blois founds Hospital of St Cross.
1141 Chaos in Winchester during war between Stephen and Queen Matilda.
1160 Illuminated Winchester Bible created.
1207 King Henry III (often Henry of Winchester) born at Castle, baptised in Cathedral.
1222 King Henry III modernises Castle and builds Great Hall.
1290 Approximate date of Round Table.
1302 Fire destroyed royal apartments at Castle, which were not rebuilt. Later royal visitors stayed at Bishop's Palace, Wolvesey.
1348 Black Death kills half of Winchester's population.
1382 Bishop William of Wykeham founds Winchester College.
1402 King Henry IV marries Joan of Navarre in Winchester - great feast at Wolvesey Palace.
1486 King Henry VII's first son, Arthur, christened in Cathedral.

Reformation

1522 King Henry VIII entertains Emperor Charles V in Great Hall. He has his own image painted on Round Table to stress the antiquity of his line.
1538/39 King Henry VIII's commissioners destroy St Swithun's shrine in Cathedral. Dissolution of the city's three monastic institutions.
1554 Queen Mary Tudor marries Prince Philip of Spain in Cathedral.
1603 Sir Walter Raleigh tried for treason at Great Hall, but later reprieved.

Civil War

1642 Roundhead troops ransack Cathedral. West Window smashed, library raided.
1644 Battle of Cheriton >> click here for more information and activity sheets on the Battle of Cheriton
1645 City, then the Castle, fall to Parliamentarians.
1651 Castle destroyed on Cromwell's orders.

Restoration

1665 King Charles II favours Winchester. Plans a grand palace designed by Wren. King's house is not completed by time of King's death.
1666 Plague strikes the city, resulting in loss of quarter of the population in the next decade.
1714 'New' Guildhall, now a bank, built. Rival Members of Parliament provide Town Clock and statue of Queen Anne.  

Georgian

City prospers with small shops and trade and the growth of the professions. 1817 Novelist Jane Austen dies in Winchester.
1819 Poet John Keats visits Winchester and writes his ode 'To Autumn'.

Victorian

1840 The new railway brings prosperity and day tourists.
1863 Royal Hampshire County Hospital built, Florence Nightingale consulted on design.
1887 To mark Queen Victoria's jubilee, a statue is commissioned from the sculptor of Eros, Alfred Gilbert. It can be seen in the Great Hall.
1894 King's House destroyed by fire. Peninsula Barracks rises from ashes.
1901 City is centre of international celebrations to commemorate King Alfred. A statue by Hamo Thornycroft is erected in the Broadway.

20th century

1905 - 1912 - William Walker, the diver, saves Winchester Cathedral.
1937 Controversy as the new bypass separates city and St Catherine's Hill.
1944 Churchill and Eisenhower review troops at Peninsula Barracks prior to D-Day.
1986 900 years since the Domesday Book was compiled - major exhibition held in the Great Hall.
1987 - 1988 Excavations of Roman, Saxon and medieval Winchester at the Brooks.
1993 900th anniversary of the consecration of the Cathedral.
1994 Le Tour de France visits Winchester.
1994 The old bypass is closed as the missing link of the M3 cuts controversially through Twyford Down.
1999 An archaeological dig at Hyde Abbey discovers the likely location of King Alfred's tomb - in this 1100th Anniversary year.

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