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History of Winchester


It all started here about 4500BC when southern England was first settled and arable farming began. About 2000BC central Hampshire presented a varied landscape of arable fields, pasture, downland and woodland, cut by a number of marshy river valleys. In the early Iron Age, about 400BC an encampment was established on St. Catherine's Hill. Around 100BC (Middle Iron Age) a defended enclosure was constructed on the western bank of the River Itchen. This enclosure was abandoned about 50BC.

In AD43 the conquest of Britain had begun by the Roman Emperor Claudius. By AD70 a Roman town had been established alongside the River Itchen and was named "Venta Belgarum" which means "the market place of the Belgae" By the third century Venta Belgarum had become the fifth largest Roman town in Britain. Roman occupation of Winchester ended in the 5th century after which the transmutation into Saxon "Wintanceaster" had begun. By 519AD it had developed into the new capital of the Saxon kingdom of Wessex.
King Alfred was born in 849AD, the fourth son of King Aethelwulf, King of the West Saxons, who lived in
Wessex. When he was young he went to Rome to receive the Pope's blessing, probably with his father. When his father died he was crowned King of Wessex, in Winchester. Few characters as heroic can be found in history. He was as remarkable in dispensing justice as he was in fighting wars. He loved art and learning, and welded his nation together. His Christianity shone in all he did, and contrasted very strongly with the barbarism of those he fought. He pardoned and baptised defeated enemies, which was very difficult for his contemporaries to understand. It was by such actions as well as his scholarship, administrative abilities and brilliance that he earned the title of Alfred the Great.

A lot happened here over the next 600 or so years, here are some of the main events. In 1066 William the Conqueror made Winchester the joint capital with London and built a new castle. The (new) Cathedral was completed in 1093, the third to be built on the same site. In 1222 building commenced on the the Great Hall and In 1276 Charles l held the first Parliament in Winchester, where it continued until 1499. Winchester College was founded in 1382 by William of Wykeham, and is the oldest school in Britain. In 1554 Queen Mary Tudor and Phillip of Spain are married in the Cathedral. In 1603 Sir Walter Raleigh, with others, was tried and condemned to death in the Great Hall. In 1642 the Parliamentarians took the City, a year later the Royalists took it back. In 1645 Cromwell took the city and the clergy deserted the Close. In 1665 the Monarchy was restored and five years later King Charles ll moved his court to Winchester to avoid the plague in London, unfortunately it followed him and arrived a year later.

Relatively speaking, not a lot happened over the next couple of hundred years - unless you were Lady Alice Lisle! She was sentenced to death by Judge Jeffreys at a "Bloody Assize" in the Great Hall and was beheaded near the City Museum, for harbouring two refugees from the battle of Sedgemoor.

Jane Austen's last residence
Moving on a while. It was in 1817 that Jane Austen arrived in Winchester, from Chawton (Nr Alton, Hants), to be closer to her doctor, Giles King Lyford. Winchester, by then, had become established as a medical centre with an excellent reputation - and a public hospital, the first to be built in England outside of London. Rooms had been rented for her at number 8 College Street, a house situated between Winchester College and the old city wall. Her condition deteriorated quite quickly but she continued to write whilst she was able to hold a pen. She died on 18th July 1817, aged 41, in the arms of her sister Cassandra. Her funeral took place on July 24th and she was laid to rest in a vault that had been prepared for her in the north aisle of Winchester Cathedral. The entry in the Cathedral register is incorrect as it gives the date of her death as July 16th.

Another visitor was the poet John Keats who was inspired to write his ode "To Autumn" here.

The latest Winchester "first" came about in 1914 when the Theatre Royal was built. It is believed to be the first Picture House in England.

These are just some of the highlights in Winchester's fascinating history. For more information visit the web site links below. If you are contemplating a visit to our beautiful city contact the Tourist Information Office on 01962 840500.

Winchester Cathedral, Official site
Visit Winchester, Information site
Hants Web, Hampshire County Council, Winchester and Central Hampshire

Catholic History of Winchester

Sixty three Catholic Bishops served here, from Bishop Wini in 662 to Bishop John White in 1560, when the Benedictine Cathedral fell into Protestant hands. We have a Saint too, St Edburga of Winchester who died in 960, her feastday is on June 15th. A Benedictine abbess she was the daughter of King Edward the Elder and his third wife Edgiva, and granddaughter of Alfred the Great. She became a nun at Winchester Abbey, then abbess. Her Shrine is at Pershore in Worcestershire.
In the late 10th century Bishop Ethelwold, encouraged by King Edgar turned the old minster into a
Benedictine monastery. In 1070, four years after the Norman Conquest, the last Anglo-Saxon bishop of Winchester was thrown into prison and a Norman bishop, Walkelin, was appointed. His task was to replace the Old Minster by a huge Romanesque cathedral. Work started in 1079 and by 1093 parts were already in use. On 15th July that year the monks returned for the last time to collect the relics of their patron, St Swithun. Until 1539, and the dissolution of the monasteries, Winchester cathedral was the "monastery church of the Priory of St Swithun"

Much of the Catholic history, since the Reformation, is centered around the Royal Hotel and the Milner Hall opposite, two venues well known, and used, by Winchester Catenians.

Lady West's House, as the Royal Hotel was known in the mid sixteenth century, was a refuge for hunted priests and Mass was said there in a secret chapel. We learn from the Winchester records that in 1573 and again in 1584 that complaints were made to the Bishop and the Mayor that "an assembly was determined to meet and hear Mass" A search was instigated and whilst no Priest was found they did find "divers new and old papistical books, a chest full of vestments and many other Popish stuff and relics". Lady West must have been very well connected as she was never punished for her beliefs, she carried on as before and died of old age.

Winchester played an important role in the revival of the English Benedictine Congregation. It was at Ponsholt, in West Meon, ten or twelve miles Southeast of Winchester that Dom Sigebert Buckley, the last monk of Westminster, died in 1610 having, by tradition, aggregated the new monks to the Old Congregation. In the 17th century monks were living at Longwood and Stoke Charity close to Winchester. In Winchester itself Dom Ambrose Brown, was resident from 1717 to 1741, and Dom Alexius Shepperd from 1741 to 1745. Their residence was probably Hyde House "an undemolished piece of old monastery where some Roman Catholic gentry are still tolerated with residence, and where, it is said they still have an Oratory, and live according to the rule sof St Benedict".

John Milner (1752-1826), a Londoner, was educated at Sedgley Park School and the English College at Douai where he was ordained on 21st December 1776. He received a doctorate from the University of Douai. He came to Winchester in October 1779, after two years in London, and remained here until his appointment as Vicar Apostolic of the Midland District and Titular Bishop of Castabala in 1803
.
In 1792, Winchester's Catholic community come into public prominence with the arrival in the city of a great number of French clergy, exiles from the revolution, who were billeted in the decaying remains of Charles ll's projected palace. The King's House. At one stage there were over a thousand priests in residence, the largest community of priests ever gathered in England. The last left in 1798.

In June 1794, the English speaking sisters of the Convent of the Glorious Assumption in Brussels, fearful of being caught up
in the French revolution and it's Napoleonic sequel, fled to England. Traveling via Antwerp and Rotterdam the community took ship on The Providence and docked in London. The community was the first English convent or monastic house to arrive in England. The sisters were very fortunate as they were rented a house, in London, by the father of one of the nuns, Ignatia Collins. Dr Douglas, the then Vicar Apostolic, arranged for the community to transfer to the property in Winchester which was to be their home for 63 years. Dr Milner had made sure the building was ready for them, (14 choir nuns, 5 lay sisters and 4 novices), and a chapel fitted up. Benefactors from the Catholic community come forward to help, assisted by the French refugee committee. A confessor from amongst the French clergy was found for them and Dr Milner encouraged them in every way - even allowing them to use a monstrance rather than a ciborium for Benediction. On a visit to bless the community Bishop Douglas, with Dr Milner present, gathered the nuns " in order to consider what points of the Statutes it would be necessary to alter or modify". Changes were made, and for a time habits were only worn in the early morning when they couldn't be seen, changing into secular dress for the rest of the day. Rules of Inclosure were changed and Seculars were allowed inside the Monastery, in order to do away with the prejudice and ignorance in which the people of England had been brought up to regard Religions and monasteries in general. The Horarium was changed - rising at night was discontinued. The nuns opened a small school, "a dame school" in September 1794 with Dame Ignatia Collins as it's mistress. It had facilities for boarders and a "poor school".

Apart from the occasional crisis life went on without change until one night in 1857. At 4am the community quietly left Winchester Station in a special hired train to East Bergholt in Suffolk. A decision had been made to move to a new home as early as 1852, then in 1856 they purchased Old Hall and secretly prepared it in readiness for their occupation. "The most Blessed Sacrament had been moved three days earlier by Rev. Father Allerry, accompanied by three nuns and a lay sister". It was rumored they left because they were troubled by soldiers sitting on the wall and watching them and their young pupils. It is more likely that the building of numbers 7, 8 and 9 St Peter Street was a greater threat as the windows of the upper floors looked right into the convent gardens. After their departure, the old convent building was sold and became The Royal Hotel, as it is today. The Winchester Nuns were the first enclosed community of religious since the Reformation - and the first to have an abbess blessed, Dame Austin Tancred in June 1796.

Rev Dr Milner's Chapel

St Peter's Church today

In 1799 the Reverend Dr Milner, whilst the priest at Winchester, built his church to a design by the London architect John Carter, a new "freestanding chapel in keeping with the character of the city".This was the first Catholic church to be consecrated in England since the reformation. Situated in Fleshmonger Street, now known as St Peter Street, it stands in the grounds of Peterhouse and St Peter's, our parish church. In 1810, Dr Milner was consecrated Bishop in his own church. The service was followed by a Synod of all the Bishops of England, across the road in the Convent of the Glorious Assumption, now the Royal Hotel. For a while, before becoming a Convent, Dr Milner had considered using the building as a seminary or possibly even a new home for the threatened Douai College. The chapel continued in use until 1926 when the new St Peter's Church, the Mother church of our parish, was opened at a cost of £30,000. The original chapel, pictured above was restored in 1987.

Winchester Catenians often hold social events in the Milner Hall and at the Royal Hotel where their council meetings are also held.