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Winchester City Wall

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Kings Gate; West Gate

In the civil parish of Winchester.
In the historic county of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.
Modern Authority of Hampshire (City of Winchester).
1974 county of Hampshire.
Medieval County of Hampshire.

OS Map Grid Reference: SU48142909
Latitude 51.06354° Longitude -1.31907°

Winchester City Wall has been described as a certain Urban Defence.

There are major building remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.
This is a Grade 1 listed building protected by law*.


Medieval city walls, of limestone rubble, based on C3 Roman circuit, fragmentary, but traceable throughout their length. Two gates remain. Walls shared by the city, Wolvesey Palace, Cathedral Close and Castle. Murage grant of 1228 first in series until late C14 when much building was done. Repairs continued until mid C15.

At the present day place-names alone, with the two gates of Westgate and Kingsgate and the Hermit's Tower, and traces here and there of foundations and materials, remain to mark the existence of the old city boundaries and walls. Yet it was not until 1791 that Eastgate, Northgate and Southgate were destroyed, and only then because their extreme decay, lowness and narrowness made them dangerous for traffic. Eastgate stood several feet west of the old Soke Bridge, the east wall running thence south to meet the wall of Wolvesey Castle, which formed the southeast corner of the boundary, and north to Durngate along the back of the modern Eastgate Street. Durngate, or the postern gate, was at the extreme north-east corner, where the bridge now crosses the river on the way to Winnall. Then the north wall went west along the present North Walls, its foundations being under the row of cottages which runs up the north side of the North Walls, some of those facing Trinity Church having been built within the last fifty or sixty years partly out of materials of the wall. Northgate, over which was the church of St. Mary, after the Reformation a porter's lodge, was at the north end of Jewry Street, just at the entrance to St. Bartholomew Hyde Street, about where the modern lamp-post stands. Thence the wall as it went west made a slight bend to the south, running along at the back of the modern houses on the south side of City Road as far as the Hermit's Tower (a modern erection on the old site of a drum tower), where it turned south, passing along the present Tower Street to Westgate. At Westgate the city wall became the castle wall, which curved round to the south-east to meet the city wall again at Southgate, which stood a few yards south of the point where Southgate Street and St. Swithun's Street meet. From Southgate the wall passed down behind the houses on the south side of St. Swithun's Street, running almost parallel with the Close wall as far as Kingsgate. From Kingsgate it passed east, as the good bits of remaining wall in some of the gardens plainly show, behind the houses on the north side of College Street to meet the Wolvesey Castle wall as it crossed the brook almost opposite the entrance to St. Mary's College. A ditch ran round the city, several traces of which can still be seen; but that part of the ditch round the royal castle was separate from the city ditch and was supplied with water from a different source.
Westgate, to a considerable extent, retains its original form. It is of late 14th-century date and is of two stories. The central arch is original and is of drop two-centred form. On the west, the outside, it is of two continuous moulded orders. On either side the wall face is advanced, the projections being carried up to the parapet, which between them and over the entrance is overhanging and machicolated, with chamfered corbels supporting it. Behind the moulded orders is the groove of the portcullis, the recess for which is visible in the chamber over the roadway. Above the arch is a moulded and enriched string course, and below the machicolation a second string set with grotesque heads and foliated bosses. In the middle stage thus formed are a pair of loop-holes terminating at their foot in small circular openings. Above these are two square panels with labels, containing quatrefoils and shields. On either side of these are grotesque heads forming openings for the drawbridge chains. The eastern or inner face has been somewhat more restored. The arch is two-centred and of three moulded orders. Above it is a late 14th-century window with a twocentred moulded head with a label and moulded jambs, which, originally of two lights, has had the tracery knocked out and a wooden frame inserted. On either side are offset and weathered buttresses, in the top stage of which are trefoiled niches, and there is a third and similar buttress to the north on the other side of the modern arch over the footway. Above the latter is a second window similar in every way to the one above described. The south footway passes outside the old structure under modern buildings. On the flanking wall to the south is a door, completely restored, to the vaulted staircase leading up to the chamber over the roadway and from thence continued to the roof. The chamber is used as a museum of objects connected with the city and contains the old city chest, the bronze moot horn, some of the old standard weights and measures and a miscellaneous collection of arms, armour, &c. From the 17th to the early 19th century it was used as a debtors' prison, and the semi-dungeon into which the poorer debtors were thrown is beneath the museum and is indicated on the outside by a blocked-up window.
Kingsgate, over which is St. Swithun's Church, retains a few traces of 14th-century date, but appears to have been altered about the 15th century. It is pierced by three arches, that on the west being modern. The side arches are plain chamfered and much restored. The 14th-century central arch to the south is of two moulded orders and is set between small buttresses. On the north the central arch is of the same date and of two chamfered orders. There is no vaulting over the roadway or the footpaths.
Many times in the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries grants were made by the kings to the citizens to help in the repair and rebuilding of their walls. Thus in 1228 Henry III granted them 50 marks due from them as tallage to aid in inclosing their walls. Further in the same year, in aid of inclosing the town for its security and the safeguarding of the parts adjacent, the king granted the Mayor and good men of Winchester that they should for the next two years take a custom of d. from every cart of the county bearing goods for sale into Winchester and of d. from every such cart of every other county, also of d. for every horse or mare, bull or cow brought there to be sold. In August 1234 a similar grant was made for two years, in 1236 the time for taking the same custom was further extended for three years, and again in 1241 for another three years, again in 1256 for seven years, and for further terms of seven years in 1264, 1271 and 1317. Nicholas Devenish, Mayor of Winchester, in 1339 obtained licence from the king to allow him to 'lade as many sacks whereof the custom and subsidy would amount to the said sum, in the port of London before Michaelmas and take them to the staple, as he was elected mayor for the current year and was charged by the council to repair the walls of the city and cause it to be sufficiently enclosed.' His successor-elect Robert de Farnefold evidently shrank from the mayoral duties, of which this defence of the city was one, since he petitioned at the Exchequer to be discharged of office because 'of the feebleness of his ageing body' and because 'he dare not take it on account of divers causes considering the changefulness of the time.'
The desperate state of the city is shown by a petition of the mayor and bailiffs in 1376 begging the king to grant them an aid either from their fee farm or from the ulnage of cloth to help in the repair of the walls; for the greater part of the wall of the city was fallen to the ground and a great part of the fortification was also ruinous and would soon fall to the ground. Moreover, 'la greindre partie de mesme la cite est pleinement gaste et anienti par reson du povert et nientmeyns plusours hommes de lour resceantz de jour en altere passent hors de mesme la cite par cause de lour graunt charge q'ils portent en ycelles.' The king promised to consider the petition. In 1378 he ordered the mayor and bailiffs 'where the walls, turrets, gates and dykes are so dilapidated and out of repair as to imperil the city if the French landed, as they recently did, to continue notwithstanding the opposition of some evil disposed persons to repair and reconstruct the same.' For this purpose they might compel by distress or otherwise all persons who had lands, tenements, rents, or even merchandise within the liberty of the city to contribute thereto each according to his means, 'excepting only privileged men and weak poor beggars.' They might also pull down and remove buildings adjacent to the wall or the city dyke or trees or other nuisances, providing they paid the owners of the site and the houses the value of the same as appraised by six or four good men of the city. Further in 1385 the mayor and bailiffs were bidden to compel all who had lands, tenements, or rents in the city or suburb and all who lived by trade and 'got gain' to contribute to the repair of the walls each according to his means. Also they were bidden to take carpenters and workmen for the work at the expense of the community and imprison any who should refuse contribution. During the next few years grants were made from the ulnage of cloth in Winchester and the county for the repair of the walls. Thus in September 1389 £20 was granted for eight years from the ulnage to 'the king's tenants in Winchester who have been impoverished by pestilence and other chance losses.' In 1393 this grant, then to the value of £26, was given for five years to the mayor and commonalty.
In August 1400 the citizens were granted an allowance of 40 marks for six years from the fee farm of the city for the repair of their walls, and in 1406 the mayor and bailiffs were again commissioned to compel during the next seven years all those who had lands and rents in the city to contribute, according to their means, towards the repair of the walls.
The 16th century was a quieter time for Winchester, and less is heard about the repair of the walls. However, in 1564 they were reported to have been newly repaired at the cost and charges of the Marquess of Winchester, and henceforward care was to be taken to keep them free from ivy, young springalls and weeds, 'which hath been the chiefest decay of the same walls.' In the same year William Lawrence, who had lately purchased of Richard Bethell a meadow near the town ponds, and could not conveniently come into the same with cart and carriage, was allowed to make 'a sufficient gate for a cart to pass through the town wall where never yet hath gate or door been.' He was to have free ingress and egress by and through the same gate with carts, provided he should make, repair and maintain the same gate, and should 'shut the same gate at all times at command of the mayor for the safety of the Queen's city.' (VCH)
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:20:07

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