Great Hall in Castle Street (open daily 10 - 17, free) has been site of many historical events for centuries, for example, Parliament held its first meeting here in 1246. First fort on this hill was built by the Romans, followed by King Arthur’s Camelot. William the Conqueror built next fortress in the 11th century. Henry II built his castle on the remains of these fortifications (you can see them unearthed on the court yard). What remains now is the Great Hall, containing a Round Table, modeled after King Arthur’s and dated six centuries after his legendary rein. A blank 18-foot table hung on the wall for the first 150 years until Henry VIII commissioned the table to be painted with an Arthurian figure made after his own likeness.
The Great Hall also contains an impressive statue of Queen Victoria commissioned in 1887 to mark the Queen’s Golden Jubilee.
Through the great Hall is Queen Eleanors’ Garden, a reconstruction of a medieval garden with a sculptured falcon on the fountain. The wall forming one side of the garden is all that remains from the King’s House, built by Christopher Wren for Charles II in 1683.
Teeny tiny church..........
The church of St Swithun is actually upstairs, lying over the Kingsgate just outside the Cathedral close. In Medieval times it was quite common to build churches over town gates, but very few remain today so it is worth popping in (it is open most days). It would be very, very easy to miss.
This church was first mentioned in 1264, although the present building (and gate) most probably date from the 13th century. Most pilgrims to the shrine of St Swithun (in the cathedral) would have arrived at this gate, and would probably have stopped at this little church to give thanks for a safe journey.
In the 17th century it was used as the porter's house (he apparently kept pigs in it), but was restored as a church in 1677.
There used to be a statue of St Swithun on the east wall, but only its niche now remains.
This amazing medieval gateway was also a prison for 150 years, with walls covered in prisoners’ graffiti. There are armor and weights and measures collections. It worth visit due to wonderful rooftop view of Great Hall and High Street.
Winchester Military Museums
Winchester has several fine military museums. The best one, the one to see if your time is very limited, is the Ghurka Museum.
The Ghurkas are from Nepal. This small country, high up in the Himalayas, straddles the Indo-Chinese border region (near Tibet). In 1815, during the Nepal War, a force of British troops, led by Lieutenant Frederick Young, was ambushed by fierce Nepalese warriors. Young and his officers stood their ground even as their troops fled. The warriors asked why he didn't run, and he calmly replied "I did not come so far in order to run away" . The Nepalese admired his courage, saying "We could serve under men like you", and befriended him. Thus began a friendship between the British Empire and the tiny kingdom of Nepal that continues to this day.
The Ghurkas are small in stature, but have a well-earned reputation for loyalty, courage, and ferocity in combat--especially in close quarters. These tough, hardy soldiers have served the British with distinction in the World Wars, Malaya, the Falklands, the Balkans, the Middle East, and countless other places.
Their traditional weapon is the kukri, a small curved sword which has always been part of their uniform. In skilled hands, it is extremely deadly.
While visiting Winchester, don't miss this unique place. For more on these remarkable soldiers, see Johnny Ghurka: Friends in the Hills, by E. D. "Birdie" Smith, published by Arrow Books.
Winchester College was founded in 1382 by the then bishop, William of Wykeham. It is supposed to be the longest continuously operating school in England.
There are guided tours available (price £3:50 for adults) at set times showing you round many of the older parts of the building.