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David Ford, History EditorTours > Winchester  > A Walk through Winchester

A Walk Through Winchester: Part II
by David Nash Ford BA, Editor, History on Britannia

The present City Mill (right) was built on the River Itchen (beyond the old city walls) in 1744. It is owned by the National Trust, who have restored the water wheel and opened it to the public. It also houses their Winchester Shop. The Mill Room, Mill Race and Island Garden are open to the public. Eating places with views of the River Itchen here include Pizza Express and the Beer Garden of the 'Old Monk' opposite.

On the other side of the river is the delightful "Old Chesil Rectory" Restaurant (the oldest secular building in the city, dated 1450; see photo) and the Chesil Theatre in old St. Peter's Church. They sit below St. Giles' Hill, the site of one of the largest and busiest fairs in Medieval Europe.

Excavations have revealed much about the other buildings of St. Mary's Abbey and the foundations of part of the church nave and side aisles are displayed (with explanatory boards) in Abbey Passage on the edge of the Gardens. Adjoining these remains is the large Victorian Gothic Guildhall, which houses the City Art Gallery and a large and well-stocked Tourist Information Centre: an excellent starting point for anyone's visit to the city. A wealth of Visitors' Information Boards can also be found in the tower of St. Maurice's Church further up the High Street. Almost opposite the Guildhall is the Chapel of St. John, an interesting building which was part of a medieval hospital. The adjoining St. John's House was home to a Crusades Heritage Centre for a while, but this has now closed. The old Friary, long gone, stood at the entrance to Eastgate Street. The Bus Station can also be found in the Broadway.

Heading west, the Broadway becomes the High Street, now largely pedestrianized and the heart of Winchester's shopping district. A pleasing mix of bow-fronted Regency and projecting Elizabethan facades, front most of the big High Street names. Here too we find another reminder of Saxon days gone by. Godbegot House (right), a beautiful timber-framed 16th century building, supposedly stands on the site of the old manor house of Godbegot, an estate north of the High Street which King Aethelred the Unready gave to his wife, Queen Emma, in 1012. The house is now a pizzeria with street seating that is very popular on sunny summer days. The alley-way down the side leads below the overhangs to the Royal Oak, supposedly 'England's Oldest Bar'.

The High Street has other gems too. Lloyds Bank, opposite Godbegot, was the old City Guildhall. History Boards are displayed in the windows. Above Queen Anne's Statue the Jacobean City Clock still tolls the curfew bell at eight o'clock each evening. The tiered Market or Butter Cross, erected in the 1440s, is forty-three foot high and still as popular a meeting place today as in medieval times. The city's market is now held near the Brooks Shopping Centre, a shoppers paradise just north of the High Street and a popular venue for street entertainers. 'The Brooks,' named after the streams in which the medieval tanners and fullers worked was the site of a major programme of archaeological excavation before it was built. The results of these investigations are explained in 'The Brooks Experience': a lively view of Roman and Medieval life in Winchester through moving tableaux, information boards and artefacts. It is housed in the lower parking levels of the building.

Duck down the tiny Great Minster Street, by the Butter Cross, for a glimpse of how the cramped streets of Winchester used to be. Craft, antique and antiquarian book shops give the area an Old World feel. There is a tiny church hidden here between the shops. St. Lawrence-in-the-Square is thought to have been the Chapel Royal of the old Palace of the Saxon and Norman Kings of England. It is usually open to visitors. The palace, a, probably wooden, complex of buildings, lies buried beneath the Museum Square and beyond where the streets open out to reveal the jewel ofWinchester, its great cathedral.

Do not be too overcome by the cathedral's beauty to notice the Eclipse Inn or visit the small city museum (right). 'The Eclipse' was originally the 16th century rectory of St. Lawrence's. In 1685, it was the scene of the execution of Dame Alicia Lisle of Moyles Court (Ringwood) who had harboured two rebels during the Monmouth uprising. There is a commemorative plaque on the City Museum. This latter building is not to be missed for it houses many exceptional delights of Winchester's past. Here you can discover all about Roman Winchester and the surrounding area. Of particular interest are the 2nd and 4th century floor mosaics excavated from the city and nearby Sparsholt Roman Villa. The Saxon exhibits give a fascinating insight into the life of the monks at the cathedral, famed for their 'Winchester Style' of artwork. Children will love the two reconstructed Victorian shops on the upper floors.

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