The Great Hall of Winchester Castle

IMG_20190731_110532

The Round Table, Great Hall, Winchester

During a recent trip to Winchester I visited what remains of its medieval castle. The castle was built at the highest point of the town, which was also the furthest point from the river. The only remnants of the castle these days are some stumps of walls, some vaults which are closed to the public, and the Great Hall.

You’ve probably come across the Great Hall in photographs, even if you didn’t know what it was. It’s best-known today for housing the Round Table and that’s what tourists pay to see. There’s a bit more to the Great Hall than that, but it’s what we’ll start with.

Edward I had the Round Table built, probably around 1290 for a banquet. He didn’t have it painted with the portrait of King Arthur and the names of the knights, though. The Tudor Rose in the middle of the table is a clue to the identity of the king who did have it painted: Henry VIII. King Arthur’s face was originally that of the young Henry, which must have been a bit confusing for him, since his older brother, who would have been king had he lived, was called Arthur. Over the years, various renovations have changed the features of King Arthur into those of an old man. It was only because X-rays were used during one of the more recent renovations that we have any idea of what King Arthur originally looked like. The Victorians, as is usually the case, were probably the guilty parties here.

The table is massive. It’s 18 feet in diameter and weighs 1 ton 4cwt. It was made of 121 separate pieces of oak and had 12 legs. When it was renovated in the 1970s, the wood was dated by means of dendrochronology and the youngest tree-ring they found was dated to 1219, suggesting that the trees used were felled no later than the second decade of the fourteenth century.

There’s a model of its original construction on display just outside the hall.

IMG_20190731_111648

Model of the Round Table, Great Hall, Winchester

IMG_20190731_111627

Model of the Round Table, Great Hall, Winchester

The castle itself was originally built by William the Conqueror at the end of the eleventh century.  Henry III was born there in 1207 and it was he who had the Great Hall built. A fire during the reign of his son, Edward I damaged the royal apartments so badly that they were never repaired and the royal family thereafter stayed in the palace of the Bishop of Winchester whenever they visited.

The Great Hall was used as a courtroom from the reign of Henry III off and on until 1973. Famous trials that took place there included those of the Earl of Kent (a son of Edward I) in 1330 and Sir Walter Raleigh in 1603.

The Great Hall has other delights, not least a herber garden set out in a style that would have been familiar to Edward I’s queen, Eleanor, who brought a number of plants to England from her native Castile.

IMG_20190731_105144

Queen Eleanor’s Garden, Great Hall, Winchester

The Victorians tried hard with their renovation. This wall, where the Round Table was hung after it was no longer needed for its original purpose, is covered with the names of the parliamentary representatives for Hampshire from 1283 to 1868. For many years, possibly centuries, there was a medieval mappa mundi on this wall.

IMG_20190731_104910

Great Hall, Winchester

They also made an effort with the windows. Apparently the long walls of the hall were originally painted with heraldic devices. The Victorians put devices of kings, queens, bishops and others important to the history of Hampshire in the windows. Here’s the window with the devices of Edward III, his son Edward of Woodstock, and his great friend William Montacute.

IMG_20190731_104135

Great Hall, Wincester

The Great Hall is well worth a visit if you’re ever in Winchester.

 

April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.

Available now:

TheHeirsTale-WEB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazon

 

 

21 Comments

Filed under Castle, Medieval Buildings, Thirteenth Century, Twelfth Century

21 responses to “The Great Hall of Winchester Castle

  1. The current Winchester Cathedral is one of my favourite places. I especially like visiting the underground croft and the statue of a man which is usually knee deep in water most of the time. This is due to several rivers converging under the Cathedral.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A fascinating article. Another place to visit on my UK list. I am never going to go on holiday anywhere else in the world at this rate. To many interesting things to see in England, Scotland and Wales.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you. There are indeed loads of interesting places. I’ve just come back from a couple of days in Bath, where there are many things to see. I drove back via Salisbury, which is also worth a visit of at least a couple of days. I passed Stonehenge on my way to Bath, but it’s incredibly busy at this time of year.

      Like

  3. A place I’d like to visit! Fab post April.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I did know a little about the Great Hall but this was so interesting and informative as always with your posts.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Rachael. I knew it would be impressive, because I’ve seen the outside a few times on my way to the station. It’s changed quite a bit over the centuries; the Victorians weren’t the only ones who liked to remodel and redecorate.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Great post, I love the Great Hall and haven’t visited it in years. I will add it to my list of ‘April inspired’ places to visit. X

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m glad you’ve got a list :-). You could also have a look at Westgate, which is just by the Great Hall. There’s a museum in it. It’s mostly about the Tudors and Stuarts, but there’s also something about the Civil War. You can also go onto the roof. It’s not very high, but it’s quite fun.

      Like

  6. I visited this place a few years ago and loved it. The herb garden is very lovely. Some great pictures!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ve only been in Winchester briefly. We were Jane Austening that day, and on our way to the J. A. house/museum, where we spent a fair amount of time. Thence to Chawton House, which we hadn’t previously known about. That pretty much took up our day, so Winchester itself is on our let’s-go-back-and-have-a-better-look list.
    As for the Victorians: oh dear. There were indefatigable researchers, writers, and editors among them whose generally reliable works are now available on line, but the alternative history of romantic restorations and myth-makings is a bit much.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve been to Chawton Cottage, but never to the big house. Sadly, the house Jane Austen lived in in Southampton has long since gone. It annoys me slightly that Bath, which she hated, and Winchester, where she only lived a few weeks and died , get all the attention. She was happy, if busy, for three years in Southampton.

      I’m afraid that I now refer to Victorians as vandals. I know nothing stays the same and buildings are changed over time for different uses and fashions, but the Victorians simply recreated a romanticised medieval past that never existed. They enjoyed ‘improving’ things.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. It’s a shame about the Victorians, but—echoing everyone else—this does sound like a lovely place to visit!

    Liked by 1 person

Please join the conversation

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s