Visit England's old capital city and discover the historical relics of past
England’s old capital is a prosperous and attractive place. With the expected relics from the past. Here you will find the bones and statues of the Kings of old, Roman remains and a city proud to have been the powerbase of the Kingdom of Wessex. The Kingdom under Alfred-the-Great's leadership resisted Viking rule in the 9th Century.
Explore Winchester's castle and the great hall, dating from the 11th-century. It is home to a 700-year-old replica of King Arthurs legendary round table. The Cathedral houses the stunning illuminated Winchester Bible, one of finest in Europe and England's last few chantry chapels, stunningly intricate individual chapels for VIPs.
Transfer from Southampton cruise terminal and stop in Winchester for a relaxing lunch, before touring the city. Continue your journey to London or stop in Stonehenge and discover the secrets of Europe’s most famous ancient monument.
The old capital of England
A brief history of Winchester
Like many of Britain's great historic Cities, the written history begins with the Romans. It isn't that the places had no history worth telling before; It is simply the fact that nothing was written down.
Deciding where to build always has either trade and security at the heart of the decision. The River Itchen cuts through the chalk downs en-route to the sea, a natural communication line and vulnerable without a fort with a garrison of soldiers for protection.
The Romans built a fort, and the City of Venta Belgarum became the chief town of the region. The name Belgarum comes from the tribal confederation of the Belgae; their cultural territory occupied southern England and a vast triangle patch of land on what is now Belgium, on the continent.
From the dark into the light
England emerged from the dark ages with the arrival of the next wave of Christian missionaries. The most famous of which is the landing of St Augustine in Kent in ad 597. The King of Kent, Ethelbert, welcomed Augustine and gave him land to build a place of worship in Canterbury. Prince Cenwalh founded the first Cathedral at Winchester in 635 ad, known as the Old Minster. It was the hoarding of wealth at Christian places of worship that attracted the pagan Vikings to the shores of Britain. The first region to feel the full force of Viking violence was the northeast but over time raids headed further south and west. The Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms needed a hero.
Enter King Alfred the Great
Winchester was King Alfred's (871-899) capital, and by the time he became the King of Wessex (the West Saxons), the Danish invaders had already overwhelmed Winchester in 860 ad, when Alfred was 11 years old. Alfred lost more battles than he won, but the realm's brave defence was enough to keep most of his Kingdom intact. He instigated the rebuilding of Burgh's or fortified hill-top settlements and limited the distance between strongholds to 20 miles. Alfred made sure all Burgh's were properly manned, justice was maintained, and people of lesser status treated fairly. The fortified towns (burghs) were crucial in repelling attacks and allowed Alfred to keep his citizens safe knowing, that the well organised, designed and serviced burghs stood firm.
Victory at last
The Battle of Edington was a great and decisive victory for King Alfred. Under the leadership of Guthrum, a great Danish army advanced across England. The Dane's seemed invincible. Guthrum took Alfred's winter castle and palace at Chippenham, Wiltshire. Alfred's army counter-attacked using a closed shield method defeating Guthrum and taking him prisoner. Normally in a situation such as this, Guthrum would have been brutally executed. Alfred was clever enough to desire a lasting peace. He requested Guthrum convert to Christianity and agreed on a border between the two factions, allowing Guthrum to rule eastern England and Alfred most of the west. The east section became known as 'Danelaw.' Ultimately, the laws, rules, and organisational skills of King Alfred meant that eventually, the Kings of Wessex would become Kings of All England.
King Alfred held education in high regards and made sure all of his officials could read and write. The translation of the Biblical text into Anglo-Saxon was another 'great' achievement. So there you have it, Alfred saved what remained of Anglo-Saxon England and most importantly made peace, this is why he is Alfred the 'GREAT' (871-899).
There is a large and impressive statue of Alfred the Great in the centre of Winchester; it tends to stir the emotions of pride in English people.
In ad 903, Alfred's son Edward founded the New Minster, and by the year 1000 ad, an abbey, old and new minster occupied a quarter of the walled city. The city prospered being a centre of learning and for its renowned craftsmanship working in silver and ivory. William the Conqueror built a new castle in the 11th century, securing his new realm and later the new Minster was rebuilt and became a cathedral. From the year 1100, Royal power moved to London, but Winchester remained an important city.
Henry III added a huge great hall and almost rebuilt the castle complete with an impressive Round Table. The Great Hall is where you see the Arthurian round table. The 13th Century hall has been in use as County Quarter Sessions until 1970 and is now used for Royal visits and events. In the later middle ages, Winchester grew as a result of the cloth industry. The River Itchen powered the growing number of mills.
Housebuilders rebuilt much of the city in the 18th century; elegant Georgian houses sprang up everywhere, and the town became gentrified. The railways arrived in the 19th century, and the population started to grow once more. Today Winchester is a handsome city with deep historical routes and make for a pleasant stop on any tour.
Winchester Cathedral is one of Europe's great buildings, representing history and architectural styles of over 1000 years. All great Cathedrals need a draw, an attraction, usually in the form of a saint, a tall spire or Royal tomb. Apart from being a place of coronation (before Westminster Abbey) and internment of Royalty, Winchester from the 9th century onwards had a Saint's grave.
The bridge-building, egg mending St Swithun. The one miracle attributed to St Swithun during his life is the restoration of broken eggs. On the day his remains were moved to the new Minster from the old Minster a terrible storm caused havoc. St Swithun has been associated with rainy weather ever since. It was said that if it rained on St Swithun's Day (15th July), it would rain for forty days after that. After creating St Swithun's shrine, the miracle's racked up, and the people came in their droves and made Winchester wealthy as a result.
Longest medieval church in the world
When the current Cathedral was finally complete in the 12th century, it had one big obvious feature, its length. Winchester Cathedral is still the longest medieval church in the world - it is 558 ft Long (170 metres). There were problems during construction, which is normal for Cathedrals. These huge structures in stone were at the cutting edge of what was possible in the middle ages. Without architectural aids such as a calculator or computer, inevitably things went wrong. In 1107 the central tower collapsed, undoubtedly there were horrific injuries. The disaster was attributed to the evil done by King William II Rufus, who was buried underneath the tower. Chroniclers did point out that the workmanship was pretty poor.
The rich Bishops of Winchester
The Bishops of Winchester became some of the most powerful men in the country. From the mid 13th to the 16th century, chantry chapels were built within the Cathedral to house the tombs of Bishops. To the viewer, they look much like Cathedrals in miniature, incredibly elaborate with delicate stonework. Most chantry chapels were destroyed during the Reformation, but some of the finest survived at Winchester. Their purpose is to guarantee entrance through the pearly gates of heaven. Think of them as VIP elevators to paradise, vehicles powered by prayer (and artistry) ram the soul of the occupant into the afterlife. The departed left vast sums of money for priests to pray at their private chantry's daily; things became lacks and priest neglected their duties, chantry's eventually were banned.
The Winchester Bible
The Winchester Bible is one of the finest 12th century illuminated Bibles. It is the size and quality of the designs that set the bible apart from others. Astonishingly, it was produced for Winchester and is still there. A single scribe wrote the Latin text, and it would have taken three years. The church would have slaughtered 250 calves to produce the 'vellum' pages. Six artists illuminated the pages using gold leaf and even higher value lapis lazuli to colour the images. It is a glorious work of art.
Jane Austen spent her final days living in Winchester; she needed to be close to her physician. She was 41 and had four novels published during her life and two posthumously. Your guide will take you to the grave in Winchester Cathedral. The original memorial stone makes no mention of achievements in literature; it was not appropriate for a lady to be a writer in the early 19th century. Thankfully, a newer memorial rectifies this injustice. Take a tour of Jane Austen's England.
Winchester College today is an elite independent boys school (private). Admissions start from age 13. It has heritage; the founder is William of Wykeham, a bishop of Winchester and man of great energy and intellect. He established Winchester College in 1387 as a school for 70 scholars and ten 'commoners.' The school motto is 'Manners maketh man.' A William of Wykeham quotation. Incidentally, bishop Wykeham is interred in a stunning chantry chapel in the Cathedral.
Touring and accommodation
When arriving into and out of the UK via Southampton cruise terminal, it makes sense to take advantage of where you are and tour the region. Stay at Chewton Hotel and Spa and take driver-guided day trips to Winchester, Stonehenge and the Jurassic Coast. Winchester is a short drive from Southampton and a perfect stop for lunch when travelling to London. Enjoy the city sights with the help of your driver-guide before continuing your journey. Please see our Southampton Transfers and Tours options.
Other places to visit nearby are Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, famed for the preservation of Henry VIII ship the Mary Rose and Admiral Nelson's HMS Victory, the key vessel at the Battle of Trafalgar (1805). Touring England's Wine Country and visiting Winchester is an option when arriving in Southampton Cruise Terminal.
Our driver-guided tour, Jane Austen's England, is perfect for those with a short amount of time. If you have more time, visit Chawton and Winchester Cathedral (Jane Austen's grave) and stay overnight at Chewton Glen Hotel. The following day can continue with the Austen theme by touring and staying overnight in the City of Bath. We would suggest the Royal Crescent Hotel for your accommodation. There is a wide choice of accommodation in the UK; Cottages, Manor House Hotels and traditional Guest Houses.
If this is your first time to England, we would recommend a custom version of our Town and Country Tour; it covers the famous places and allows you to utilise your private driver-guide by getting-off-the-beaten-path. Our Classic tour of Ireland is a good place to start for the first trip to Ireland, and we suggest the Classic tour of Scotland for your first trip to the bonny Highlands.
England's old capital
Discover the relics of England's past
- See King Arthur's Round Table
- See the Winchester Bible
- Tour the Cathedral
- See Jane Austen's grave
- England's finest chantry chapels
Jane Austen's Grave
Jane Austen's Last Home
The Cathedral Buttresses
Historic Streets of Winchester
Anthony Gormley's Sound Two in the Crypt
The Cathedral Organ
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