Winchester Palace ruins: A surviving piece of Medieval London amidst the wharves
The history of these striking 12th century ruins on Bankside.
While London has been in existence for over 2000 years, there is little that remains from the earlier centuries. The Tower Of London and sections of the old Roman Wall are just a few pre-17th century remnants of the City of London. Over the centuries, the city has been ravaged by fire, plagues and bombs. Back in the 13th Century, the population of London was extending beyond the City walls, as the adjoining City of Westminster was also rapidly growing since the 11th century – with people spreading across the River Thames to the South Bank.
Of course, during Shakespeare’s times, Bankside had become renowned for being the Soho or Shoreditch of London of the time – where the population went to party and be entertained. However, a few centuries before the Elizabethan playhouses entertained the masses, Bankside became home to Winchester Palace – a city base for religious leaders.
The town of Southwark belonged to the old Diocese of Winchester – when the Hampshire city was the capital of Saxon England – and was a handy base for the Bishop when he needed to visit London for royal or state business. Henry of Blois, the Bishop of Winchester at the time, decided to construct the palace in the 12th century as a permanent base. The palace included a Great Hall, prison, wine cellar, brewery and butchers, among other buildings on the large site. As well as providing somewhere to rest, it soon became a place for entertainment. The palace played host to royal guests over the decades and was the location of James I of Scotland and Joan Beaufort’s wedding reception in 1424. The bishops certainly lived well – even having access to tennis courts, garden and bowling alley.
The palace remained in use for nearly 500 years until the 17th century when the building was divided up into warehouses and tenements. However, like many of London’s greatest buildings, it was largely destroyed by fire in 1814. The existing ruins, which lie on the Thames Path, were partially re-discovered in the 19th century following another fire, and redevelopment of Bankside in the 1980s uncovered more. Today, all that’s left is the stunning rose window and the gable wall with doors leading to the pantry, buttery and kitchen.
- The remains of Winchester Palace lie on the Thames Path, just west of the Golden Hinde ship replica and a few minutes walk from Southwark Cathedral. Free to visit. Nearest station: London Bridge. For more information, visit the English Heritage website.
To find out about another historic building along the Thames Path, read the story behind Hay’s Galleria.
For the rest of Metro Girl’s blog posts on London history, click here.