Winchester
Wolvesey Palace

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Victoria County History

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Author

William Page (editor)

Year published

1912

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Pages

13-14

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'Winchester: Wolvesey Palace', A History of the County of Hampshire: Volume 5 (1912), pp. 13-14. URL: http://british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=42043 Date accessed: 20 August 2014.


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WOLVESEY PALACE

There is still to be described the ruined episcopal palace of Wolvesey, the fortified castle of Henry of Blois. The ruins and the later 17th-century palace (now used as a church house) and the adjoining chapel lying immediately south-east of the cathedral are reached by a footpath through the Close leading by the Deanery and Cheyney Court (see supra) to the Close gate and so out of the cathedral precincts. Thence the road turns under Kingsgate, with its superstructure the little church of St. Swithun, and branches directly south along Kingsgate Street to St. Cross and east, past the entrance to the college, to Wolvesey.

The ruins of Wolvesey Castle cover a considerable area and have only a meadow and gardens between them and the city walls on the south and east. The complete plan of the buildings is not definitely known, but soundings with a bar have revealed the existence of large ranges of foundations on the west and adjoining the 17th-century building on the south. Of the eastern and northern ranges a good deal still stands, and is in the main 12th-century work of two dates, but both probably falling within the episcopate of Henry of Blois, 1129–71. The earlier work, probably c. 1140, consists of the gate-house, curtain wall and some buildings set against it on the north, a round tower at the north-east, with the curtain running from it to the middle of the north face of the keep, the keep itself and the wall running from its southwest angle to the garderobe tower, the core of the garderobe tower and the curtain running south-west from it. The later work is represented by the great hall and the added casing of the garderobe tower, and of still later date are the chalk wall joining the outer angles of the keep and garderobe tower, and that joining the north-east angle of the keep and the round tower.

The earlier work is doubtless that recorded to have been built by the bishop in 1138, and is plain and solid, the walls faced with coursed flints over a core of chalk and flint, and the keep is remarkable for the use of small stone shafts used as bonding stones through the walls, their ends showing on the wall face as a sort of ornamental masonry course. That they are older work used up in this manner is proved by the fact that one exposed at the ground level on the north side of the keep is worked with a spiral fluting. By tradition they come from the buildings of the New Minster, moved to Hyde in 1110, (fn. 1) and more of them are to be seen in the precinct wall north-east of the cathedral. The keep was divided into three rooms on each of its two floors by a cross wall from east to west, and a second wall running north and south, dividing the space to the north of the cross wall into two nearly equal parts. There is no stone stair to the upper floor; there was probably a wooden stair in the north-east angle and at the north-west an attached fore building.

On the north side of the castle are the remains of a set of rooms parallel to the curtain wall, and a gate-house flanked by guard-rooms or the like, projecting a few feet in front of the curtain.

The great hall, belonging to the later work of Bishop Henry, is now reduced to a mere fragment, its north wall alone remaining to any considerable height. But what remains is of most interesting detail, with a range of clearstory windows above a wall arcade of late Romanesque character. The corbel head at the north-east angle, from which the arcade springs, is, if original, a most remarkably advanced piece of work. The hall stood north and south, forming part of a block of buildings 29 ft. wide by about 140 ft. long; the screens must have been at the south end, and the south wall of the chambers beyond the screens stands to nearly its full height, showing detail of the same character as, but less elaborate than, the north wall of the hall. From this point a wall passage runs eastward to the garderobe tower in the curtain, the nucleus of which, belonging to the first work, is easily to be distinguished from the massive later work which cases it and gives it almost the look of a second keep.

The chapel is the only considerable remnant of the south range of the castle, and is still in use, being attached to the palace built by Bishop Morley in 1684. It is of plain 15th-century work and now rather bare, but stands on older walls.

The fragment of Morley's palace is a very charming piece of domestic work of two stories, faced with wrought stone, with curved pediments over the windows and a deep cornice; it stands north and south, fronting eastward, having a projecting southeast wing balancing the chapel at the north-east. It is now used as a clergy house.

Leland mentions a wet moat round the castle, but no traces of this now remain.

Footnotes

1 However, as Mr. Round has pointed out in Geoffrey de Mandeville, pp. 126–7, where the question is fully discussed, according to Giraldus Cambrensis Op. Hist. (Rolls Ser.), vii, 46, the bishop built his palace out of the materials of the Conqueror's palace. This, however, does not tally with the Hyde Cartulary; vide supra and under 'Political History.'