Winchester is a wealth of history and culture. From the longest medieval cathedral in the world to a rectory dating back to 1425, take a trip and immerse yourself in history
Embrace the local history of Winchester with your senior loved ones. Wander the cobbled streets and absorb all the history that this amazing city has to offer. There is nothing better than getting out and about, (especially when the weather is nice) not only is it a great way to share quality time with your loved one, but it also is a jumping point into the treasure trove of history that is Winchester. So why not take a trip to the past and envision what life was like back in medieval times?
Arguably one of the most famous and impressive medieval cathedrals in England, and one of the largest in Northern Europe, Winchester Cathedral was built from 1079 to 1532. At 53,480 square feet, it is the sixth-largest in England (it also boasts the title of the longest medieval cathedral in the world at 558 feet) and is dedicated to various saints, primarily, Swithun of Winchester.
With a recommended visiting time of between 2-3 hours and stunning architecture, a 12th-century Bible and the final resting place of English novelist Jane Austen and various Saxon royalty it makes for a great day out. A nest of 1000s of years of history a guided tour is available from 10 am-3 pm Mondays to Saturdays. For a sunny day spend some time perusing the stunning walled garden and don’t forget to take the time to admire the intricate stained-glass windows. Take the time to marvel at the 1290 replica of King Arthur’s Round Table, built for a tournament held to celebrate the betrothal of King Edward Is’ daughter.
Not only is the glorious cathedral steeped in history, but its location is really rather special, located as a feature point of Winchester, surrounded by shops, museums, and restaurants. For those with mobility issues, there is ground floor access and you can ask at the entrance desk for any assistance you may need, there is also a touch and hearing centre.
Also known as Old Bishop’s Palace, these 12th century ruins are both free to enter and originally built as a palace for Bishop Henry of Blois, brother of King Stephen. Just minutes away from Winchester Cathedral this palace played host to some of the most powerful men in the Middle Ages, advisors to King, the medieval Bishops of Winchester.
Particularly captivating to visit on a sunny day, the grandeur and architectural skill can be easily imagined and seen by those who enjoy an excursion to Wolvesey Castle. Interestingly, the Bishop of Winchester originally lived in a community of Monks, but as their roles became more public an enclosed life became understandably impractical.
The Chesil Rectory
Now a fully functioning restaurant, we would be remiss not to mention the oldest commercial property in Winchester.
Admirably it is one of the best-preserved medieval buildings in Winchester, dating back to 1425 built by a wealthy merchant in the Middle Ages, the front of the building is almost all original (minus the windows which at the time would have been simple wooden bars or shutters). It also boasts a rather stunning16th-century fireplace.
Owned by Henry VIII during the 1500s and eventually given as a gift to his daughter, Queen Mary – better known as Mary Tudor (she features again later in this blog), Mary Tudor gave the Chesil Rectory back to the city as part payment for her wedding to King Phillip of Spain in 1554, which as many of you will know took place at the aforementioned Winchester Cathedral.
Interestingly, at one point in the 1700s, it was divided into two different tenements, one of which was a shoemaker, who actually started Winchester’s first Sunday school in the upstairs of the Rectory. That area is now available for private dining or as additional restaurant seating although it is sadly not wheelchair accessible.
Throughout the years the Chesil Rectory has seen a multitude of purposes, such as an antique shop, general store, tannery, and Bishop’s residence. Only a five-minute walk from the city centre, and a three-minute walk from the nearest car park it is well worth a visit if only to appreciate the very age and how well its original features and structure have survived. The phrase ‘they don’t build them like this anymore’ seems well suited.
Winchester City Mill
This National Trust spot is another ideal location to visit when the sun is shining. Considered to be the oldest working watermill in the United Kingdom, at over 1000 years old, it is a rare, surviving example of a working corn mill.
Rebuilt in 1744, the Winchester City Mill is a great example of quintessential charm and character that envelops the history of the United Kingdom. Under the care of the National Trust since the 1920s, in 2004 it was restored to full working order, with demonstrations of flour milling available. For those that do visit on a sunny day, enjoy a walk, and admire the local scenery, this beautiful spot also plays host as an official gateway to the South Downs National Park.
Unfortunately, there is no onsite parking available, but the nearest car park is a four-minute walk so it is still accessible.
Queen Eleanor’s garden
Open daily from 10 am-5 pm (excluding Christmas and Boxing Day), Queen Eleanor’s garden is a beautiful and tranquil outdoor space sat behind the Great Hall of Winchester Castle. This city oasis portrays an accurate recreation of an early medieval garden, and interestingly very few colourful flowers are used within the space, unlike we would have in gardens today. Instead, in a bid to remain as authentic as possible the garden is composed of plants that would have been used in the gardens of the time, many of which were grown for religious or personal virtues. One example being Holly and Ivy, both of which represented faithfulness in medieval times, Columbine, Roses and Strawberries all represent various aspects of Christian philosophy. An interesting concept that can be further expanded on by taking a guided tour.
The delightful ambience and intricate features such as the water fountain offer a sense of privilege, perhaps because the design of the garden was inspired by reports of royal gardens from the period. Named after two Eleanors, the first being Queen Eleanor of Castile (wife of Edward I) and the second being Queen Eleanor of Provence (wife of Henry III) both of whom spent long periods of time in Winchester, making the garden aptly named.
An exciting visit for history lovers who also have an interest in botany, or simply a beautiful and niche location to spend time outdoors.
Located at the top of the central Winchester High Street, the Westgate Museum dates back to the 12th-14th centuries and is based inside a surviving fortified medieval city gateway. The city’s museums offer a multitude of cultural possibilities.6 Fun Historical Outings Around Winchester
Fun fact, it has actually been built on the same site as previous gates which dated back to Roman times.
Unfortunately, this is not a wheelchair-friendly site and the steep staircase from the entrance of the street means it isn’t ideal for those who might be unsteady on their feet.
However, if you are able to visit, the view of Winchester really is spectacular so don’t forget your camera! It is steeped in history, used as a debtors’ prison for around 200 years the Westgate Museum still has the original prisoners’ graffiti, if you are going with any younger family members then to keep them entertained, they can try on a suit of armour or make an authentic brass rubbing.
The ceiling is just one of the many features not to miss, commissioned by Warden White of Winchester College, in honour of Queen Mary Tudors’ marriage to Philip of Spain at Winchester Cathedral. For those that would like to take a souvenir home with them, there is a small gift shop.
Winchester is positively brimming with history to be enjoyed and explored, preserved locations that can be visited, easy-to-reach and access attractions and a wealth of knowledge you can tap into. Take the time to explore Winchester and appreciate the history that it holds.
If you would like to find out more about supported living in this area and see if Home Instead Central Hampshire could be right for your loved ones.