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A Walk Through Winchester
by David Nash Ford BA, Editor, History on Britannia
Winchester is one of the most delightful of British Cathedral Cities and perhaps the most historic. Descending from London on the M3 Motorway, you can see the ancient settlement nestling between the South Hampshire Downs for some distance, with the majestic cathedral dominating the scene. The city streets reveal a host of other historic buildings, shops and restaurants, all waiting to be discovered. There is ample, well sign-posted parking and also a park-and-ride scheme.
Originally a Celtic settlement consolidated into a major town, known as Venta Belgarum by the Romans, Winchester (from Venta-Castra) is best known as the Saxon Capital of both Wessex and England, and there are signs to remind the visitor of this throughout the city. The most obvious is the striking statue of King Alfred the Great, most famous of the Anglo-Saxon Kings, who re-founded Winchester as one of his defensive Burghs and laid out the present street plan. Alfred, sculpted by Hamo Thornycroft in 1901, looks out across his city from the eastern end of the Broadway, just within the, now demolished, East Gate of the City Walls.
Nearby, the Abbey Gardens are laid out on the site of the Old Saxon Nunnaminster, founded by Alfred's widow, some eleven hundred years ago. The history of the Nunnaminster (or St. Mary's Abbey) extends throughout the Middle Ages, when it grew into a large community of nuns with an inspiring church to rival that of the monks at the cathedral. It was a place of pilgrimage and housed the Shrine of St. Edburga. Sadly, the complex was completely dismantled after the Dissolution of the Monasteries. In the Gardens stand the 18th century Abbey House, residence of the Mayor of Winchester, which may have been erected over part of the Abbey buildings, and the Abbey Mill, built on the site of the original.
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