A Weekend in Winchester

A few weeks ago I went to visit one of my uni friends in the stunning city of Winchester.

We walked round it for a solid three and a half hours. I hadn’t brought the correct shoes for this, and so my feet were pretty tender by the end! I also took twelve billion photos (about 60 or 70 in reality) which was probably to be expected because if there was ever a city with a lot of history in plain sight, it was Winchester!

I’m therefore splitting my trip up into two posts today and tomorrow (making the “weekend” part of this post both my experience of doing it and yours in reading it! Yes, I think I’m clever right now) otherwise we’d all be drowning in photos.

Before I get down into the pictures, humour me in my place-name obsession. If you want to skip this, click here.


As a settlement, Winchester has existed for a very long time indeed. There are several Iron Age hillforts around the city. I visited one, called St Catherine’s Hill, which you can see on this image:

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Source: http://www.natureonthemap.naturalengland.org.uk/MagicMap.aspx

I only took one photo of my climb unfortunately, and it is an uninspiring one of the way down.

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After the Roman invasion, this place became known as Venta Belgarum. This is a pretty interesting name because Venta isn’t Roman. It’s pre-Celtic. Did the Romans usually continue pre-existing names? I know very little about Roman Britain.

The Belgares were the Celtic tribe in the area at the time. My place-names dictionary only has “Venta” as the earliest recording, so was Belgares something descriptive added later?

Ah, add it all to my list of things which need further investigation.

So yes, the earliest form of this in my dictionary is “Ouenta” from about 150 CE. Then the Anglo-Saxon invasion happened, and the next recorded name is “Uintancaestir” in about 730. I have briefly mentioned this “caster/cester/chester etc” Anglo-Saxon name form before. It’s a very specific name which they gave to settlements that used to be Roman. This time they even kept the Roman name (more or less)!

My meanderings through history are over.

Onto the pictures!

The first place that we went to was the Great Hall. We had a really excellent tour; however I didn’t take notes or make recordings so I’ll be backing up what I remember from the photographs with judicious googling.

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This is the famous Round Table of Winchester. It was made between 1250–1280 but only painted by Henry VII in the early 1500s. Our guide explained which I’m not sure is 100% true but is 100% hilarious: in the intervening 300 years, people forgot how the table had been made, and what had started as merely a homage to the Arthurian legends became considered the actual legendary table itself.

(It was absolutely huge, that photo can’t really do it justice. It would have filled most of the top half of the room!)

Here you can see underneath the table to the left (as you’re looking at it) is a male figure and to the right is a female figure. This showed the side that the king and queen sat on, when this was used for its original royal hall purpose.

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Over the years the Great Hall was used as a courthouse quite a lot, and this was where the prisoners would go – presumably just until they were sentenced? Can’t remember. It’s a really small hole. Creepy.

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That faint white area in amongst the stones is a remnant of the original  13th century wall.

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I spent a very long time looking at this. This is a massive painting on the back wall of the hall. I’ve forgotten what the names actually were – were they MPs? Argh, I forget. However, for me the much more interesting thing was watching the progression of surnames.

As I’ve mentioned once or twice before, before surnames were inherited they existed as descriptive bynames. So, John Johnsson, John the Baker, John from Winchester, John the Short. Etc. All throughout this side of the wall, the earliest side, you have names like:

“1337 Robertus de Popham” (and roughly 20 years later in 1353, presumably a relative, Johannes de Popham)

This is a locative byname, showing either where he was from or where he was in charge of if he was an important person.  Five seconds of googling and you can see here that Popham was a tiny hamlet near Winchester (first documented 903 CE!), and that both Robert and John were members of the manor family.

These types are most common on the early wall, but you do get unmarked surnames which could have been hereditary (I’d have to do some serious digging to find this out), such as

“1349 Rogerus Normound” or “1345 Richard’s Fromound”

By the very bottom of the early wall in 1381, both names in that year are unmarked (Thomas Wortyne and Johannes Sandes) and as far as I remember from thereon in no-one has a “de” name. So I am hesitantly and on zero proof suggesting that this is an interesting and accidental view of surnames switching from descriptive to hereditary.

So we’re done in the Great Hall now; moving on!

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Text reads: In pre-historic times, the Itchen flowed in two main channels in the centre of the river valley, near the Cathedral. Following the foundation of the Roman town, about 70AD, this new artificial channel was created. This both reduced the chance of flooding in the town centre and provided an eastern defensive moat. In the medieval period, the river was nearly twice as wide as today.

Following along similar ancient lines, this is an actual piece of the Roman wall. Two thousand years old. I got chills.

Next we went to Wolvesey Castle. Most of the remains are from the 12th century. It is hands down the coolest set of ruins I’ve ever been in because the walls are so intact that it retains the sense of size and scale.

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And finally to finish this tour we will positively zoom up the timeline to have a look at the house which Jane Austen died in!

Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed looking at all the photographs! See you again soon.

A Weekend in Winchester