Winchester Palace - History and Facts | History Hit

Winchester Palace

London, England, United Kingdom

Winchester Palace in Southwark was a 12th century grand complex which was one of the most important buildings in medieval London.

Amy Irvine

09 Mar 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Winchester Palace

Winchester Palace in Southwark, London, was a 12th century grand complex and one of the largest and most important buildings in medieval London.

History of Winchester Palace

Founded by Bishop Henry de Blois (brother of King Stephen), Winchester Palace was home to the powerful Bishops of Winchester.

Southwark was formerly the largest manor in the Diocese of Winchester, and the Bishop of Winchester was a major landowner in the area – traditionally serving as the king’s royal treasurer (similar to the function of the Chancellor of the Exchequer does today). The palace was thus built to house the bishops in comfort and as a high-status London residence when they were staying in London or on royal or administrative business.

The current remains were part of The Great Hall (believed to have been built around 1136), which stood alongside the south bank of the Thames. Its gable wall has doors which once led to the buttery, pantry and kitchen. The hall would have been lavishly decorated and was often used to entertain royal guests, such as James I of Scotland and Joan Beaufort, who held their wedding feast here in 1424. Below the hall was a vaulted cellar, where wine and other goods were stored, with a passage to the river wharf.

The rest of Winchester Palace was arranged around two courtyards, and once housed many buildings, including a prison, brew-house and butchery. As the bishop’s private retreat from the stresses of medieval governance, the palace even had a tennis court, bowling alley and pleasure gardens.

Winchester Palace remained in use until the 17th century, when it was divided into tenements and warehouses. The ruins were rediscovered in the 19th century following a devastating fire in 1814 which had destroyed most of the building, and were finally revealed in the 1980s during redevelopment of the area.

Winchester Palace today

Today, all that is left of this once lavish residence are the Grade II listed remains of The Great Hall including the striking Rose Window. The remains are designated a Scheduled Ancient Monument, under the care of English Heritage.

Getting to Winchester Palace

These relatively obscure ruins are located on what is now Clink Street in the London Borough of Southwark, close to Southwark Cathedral (formerly St Saviour’s Church) and Borough Market.

The nearest station and tube station is London Bridge, which is less than 5 minutes walk. Borough and Monument tube stations are also about a 10 minute walk.

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