Winchester Castle


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:
Location Description:
The monument is centred on SU4774329416.


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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Location Description:
The monument is centred on SU4774329416.
Winchester (District Authority)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:
SU 47734 29387


The upstanding and/or buried remains of part of the Roman defences, part of the Roman and early medieval city, medieval Winchester Castle, and the C17 royal palace known as the 'King's House'.

Reasons for Designation

Winchester Castle, a multi-period site encompassing part of the defences of the Roman civitas capital of Venta Belgarum (Winchester), part of the Roman and early medieval city, medieval Winchester Castle, and the C17 royal palace known as the 'King's House', is scheduled for the following principal reasons: * Survival: archaeological remains relating to the early medieval and medieval periods survive particularly well, including archaeological structures and deposits stratified up to at least 3m deep and a substantive proportion of upstanding medieval fabric. The Great Hall is arguably the finest surviving medieval aisled hall in England; * Potential: partial excavation has indicated that the monument retains a high degree of archaeological potential for buried remains dating from the Roman period onwards; * Diversity: the multi-period remains demonstrate occupation of the site over an extensive period and will add to our knowledge and understanding of Winchester, a major urban centre for nearly 2000 years; * Documentation (historical): Winchester Castle is well documented in historical sources, serving as one of the largest and most important of English royal castles.


Winchester Castle was a motte and bailey castle built by William the Conqueror from 1067, following the Conquest the previous year. Motte and bailey castles are medieval fortifications introduced by the Normans, which comprised a large conical mound of earth or rubble, the motte, surmounted by a palisade and a stone or timber tower. An embanked enclosure containing additional buildings, the bailey, adjoined the motte. These castles acted as garrison forts during offensive military operations, as strongholds, and, in many cases, as aristocratic residences and as centres of local or royal administration. They generally occupied strategic positions dominating their immediate locality. The motte at Winchester was later replaced by a tower keep castle; a strongly fortified residence in which the keep is the principal defensive feature, but latterly became an enclosure castle; a stronghold in which the principal defence comprises the walls, mural towers and gatehouses bounding the site.

The castle was situated in the south-west corner of Winchester, within the city defences, and its construction necessitated the levelling of a densely occupied area. The city’s western defences were laid out in the Roman period (as part of the civitas capital of Venta Belgarum) and at this point there was a large salient (projecting defensive line), defined by a bank and external ditch, built in the late C1 AD, extended and heightened in about the late C2, before a stone wall was added in the early-mid C3. The Roman city wall, which continued in use in the early medieval period, became the castle wall to the north, west and south. To the east, a bank topped by a timber palisade with an external ditch was constructed in 1067, forming the fourth side of the castle. A royal chapel had been built by 1072, when William held a council there, and was probably accompanied by a royal hall, chamber blocks and a prison. The construction of the chapel was followed by an earthen mound revetted with timber at the north of the castle, the first of a sequence of strong defensive structures at this point. Within a few years the timber revetment was replaced in stone and a masonry wall was also built in place of the palisade at the east. In the early C12 a stone keep was built on the mound, which was extended, burying the earlier royal chapel.

By about 1110 Winchester Castle was the principal royal seat in the city and housed the Domesday Book. During the civil war between King Stephen and Empress Matilda, Bishop Henry of Blois laid siege to the castle before the Empress abandoned it in 1141. Following the accession of Henry II, significant expenditure is recorded; the castle wall was rebuilt in 1169-71 whilst work was subsequently undertaken on the king’s chamber and hall, the queen’s chamber, a new chapel of St Thomas the Martyr (1174-7), a pentice (a lean-to building or covered passage) (1174-5), the chapel of St Judoc, a chamber for the king’s clerks, a herb garden, a bird house, the treasury and a new gaol. Under Richard I (1189-99) and King John (1199-1216), expenditure dropped and the castle became more a residence than a fortress. It was captured in 1216 during the rebellion against King John but fell after a siege that saw significant damage to the castle walls.

Under Henry III (1216-1272) Winchester Castle was repaired and strengthened. In 1222 a square tower at the north-east corner was replaced by a strong round tower equipped with sally-port passages. Henry was a frequent visitor to the castle and spent considerable sums improving the royal apartments. The earlier hall was replaced by the present Great Hall and the king’s and queen’s chambers were renovated, followed by the construction of the great chapel of St Mary in 1128. Furthermore the great gate was rebuilt in 1240, the castle ditch widened in 1243 and all the towers on the east side, facing the city, reconstructed by 1258. During the reign of Edward I (1272-1307) the castle continued to be regularly maintained. The great bridge was rebuilt and the castle walls repaired. It was probably during Edward’s reign that the ‘Round Table’, which is now in the Great Hall, was made.

In Easter 1302, when King Edward and Queen Margaret were resident, a fire broke out in the royal apartments. They both escaped unscathed but the castle suffered significant damage and royal visitors subsequently stayed elsewhere in Winchester, usually in the bishop’s palace at Wolvesey. During the C14 and C15 the castle became less important as a royal stronghold and more so as a legal and administrative centre. The castle housed the royal gaol whilst the Great Hall was the scene for numerous parliaments or councils of state. Maintenance became sporadic and after 1500 only the Great Hall was kept in repair. In the Elizabethan period this building was used for the courts of Assize and Quarter Sessions and a ‘house of correction’ was set up, probably in the former gaol. Significant funds were spent on renovating buildings in the inner ward in the first half of the C17. However during the Civil War Parliamentarians laid siege to the castle, which held out for a week before heavy cannon fire breached the walls. In 1649 the Council of State resolved that the defences should be permanently dismantled and the castle walls and towers were thrown down.

The site of Winchester Castle was transformed following a visit by Charles II in 1682. He resolved to build a new royal palace surrounded by a park, and the city offered the site of the castle. It was surveyed by Sir Christopher Wren and an ambitious scheme designed. The new palace building was to be arranged around three sides of a courtyard open to the east and articulated by a system of internal loggia-corridors. The piano nobile was to include five sets of state apartments. Where the ground fell away to the east would be a great terrace, through which a flight of steps would reach an outer court on a lower level. Wren intended to open an axial vista from the palace to the west front of the cathedral. In March 1683 work began but following Charles’s death in February 1685 was halted by James II. The shell of the palace had been built and roofed but it was otherwise incomplete, and would never accommodate the monarch. The ‘King’s House’, as it was known, served as a prison in the C18 before it was transferred to the Barrack Department of the army in 1796. The ruins at the south end of the castle were levelled to provide a parade ground and the King’s House was reconstructed with the addition of an extra storey in 1809-11. The castle ditch to the west was in-filled for another parade ground in 1837-8 and in the 1850s an officer’s mess and hospital were built. Following a fire in December 1894 the King’s House was demolished. It was replaced by the current terrace, originally known as ‘Peninsula Barracks West Block’ but latterly ‘King’s House’, incorporating the stone columns and central facades of Wren’s original buildings. This accommodated the army until the late C20; the Ministry of Defence relinquishing its occupation of most of the site in 1994 for private residential use, although the former North Barrack Block was retained to house military museums. INVESTIGATION HISTORY The first known excavation on the site of Winchester Castle was by Captain Cartwright in 1797. There were partial excavations in 1873 and 1930-31 before more extensive work was carried out under the directorship of Professor Martin Biddle in 1963-4 and 1967-71, and the City Archaeologist Kenneth Qualmann in 1975, 1978-1981 and 1984. The excavations undertaken by Professor Biddle were in the area known as ‘Castle Yard’, immediately north of the Great Hall (Castle Hall). In addition archaeological evaluations and/or watching briefs were undertaken in 1987-1990, 1994-96, 1998-99, 2009, and a geophysical survey in 1998.


PRINCIPAL ELEMENTS: The monument is situated on the south-west side of the original Roman settlement of Winchester (Venta Belgarum). It includes the buried remains of part of the Roman defences, the buried remains of part of the Roman and early medieval city, the upstanding and buried remains of medieval Winchester Castle, and the buried remains of the C17 royal palace known as the 'King's House'.

THE ROMAN DEFENCES At the west and south of the site are the buried remains of part of the defences of the Roman city, which here formed a large salient about 244m long and 61m deep. Partial excavation (in Castle Yard, near the Great Hall) has recorded a low rampart upon which an earth wall was built in about the late C1 AD. This was replaced by a larger earthwork embankment, 18.3m wide and up to about 3.3m high, in about the late C2. Cut into this embankment is the early-mid C3 Roman city wall, which is 2.9m wide and built on a foundation of puddled clay. Underlying the buried remains of the Roman defences is an Iron Age ditch, approximately 8m wide and 3.5m deep, which originally formed the south side of a settlement enclosure known as ‘Oram’s Arbour’.

THE ROMAN AND EARLY MEDIEVAL CITY The construction of the medieval castle saw the creation of an earthwork platform approximately 235m long from north to south and 68m from east to west, which buried the remains of the Roman and early medieval city beneath it. Partial excavation has recorded that structures and deposits relating to the Roman and early medieval city are preserved up to at least 3m below the modern ground surface. An intramural street has been identified, which is about 2m wide and runs north-east to south-west, parallel to the line of the Roman wall and 9m inside it. To the east is a north-south street, which was probably linked to the intramural street, and originally ran some 200m to the south wall of the city. Flanking this street are early medieval timber and masonry buildings. Partial excavation has revealed a stone building, which has walls constructed of coursed flint with Quarr stone quoins forming ‘long-and-short work’, standing 3m high beneath the medieval castle.

THE MEDIEVAL CASTLE The earliest identified building relating to the medieval castle is an early Norman chapel built in about 1070. The northern third of the building was recorded through excavation, the remainder extending beneath the Great Hall. It is aligned broadly east-west with a rectangular nave, 11m long and approximately 7m wide, and a chancel formed of an apsidal east end extending 6m to the east. There are doorways in the north and west walls and wall benches against the internal walls of the nave. It is constructed in an Anglo-Saxon tradition with long-and-short work at the external angles of the nave.

The castle defences initially comprised the city defences on the north, west and south, and a bank and ditch topped by a timber palisade to the east. This palisade was later replaced with a stone wall. Partial excavation has recorded the northern extremity of the defences, which include a curtain wall with an internal projection, and an internal cross-wall built of flint rubble on a chalk foundation cut into the earlier bank. This formed a strong-point at the north end of the castle, dominating the West Gate of the city, and is thought to date to about 1169-71. Adjacent to this wall are the foundations of a late C12 keep, which is 15.9m square with foundations 4.6m thick and at least 5.5m deep. On the south side the foundations incorporate relieving arches. Attached to the keep at the west side are the north and south walls of another chapel. Immediately to the north is a round tower, which was built in 1222 at the northern apex of the castle. The remains of this tower have been partially uncovered and thus partly survive as upstanding remains. It is 12.8m in diameter and has flint rubble and limestone walls faced in ashlar. At basement level is a central chamber with entries to two sally-port passages which pass under the eastern and northern castle ditches, originally to issue on one side within the city and on the other outside the city to the west. A further passage at the south provided access via a flight of stairs from the eastern curtain wall. Built into the curtain walls that adjoin the circular tower are two garderobes.

The Great Hall of the castle remains upstanding and is situated about 40m to the south-west of the circular tower. It was built between 1222 and 1235, altered in about the mid- to late C14, and restored in 1873-4. The hall is a rectangular building of five bays, 34m long from east to west and 17m wide. It is built of flint rubble and limestone with limestone and ashlar dressings, a gabled tiled roof, and lead-covered lean-to side aisles. High up in the gables of the east and west walls are three stepped lancet windows, the lower parts of which have been blocked. On the north and south sides are two-light trefoil-headed windows with a plain transom and plate tracery pierced by a quatrefoil. Above these were originally circular windows but they have been moved and their stone frames incorporated into the walls between the trefoil-headed windows. Separating each of the bays are buttresses. The central window in the north wall, which uniquely has three quatrefoils within the plate tracery, has been truncated by a C19 pointed arched doorway of several orders. It replicates an original doorway in the south wall. Above the north and south walls were originally dormer windows but these were removed in about the C14 and replaced by a plain parapet supported on a corbel table. Internally the Great Hall is divided by a five bay arcade of two-centred arches into a central area, or ‘nave’, and side aisles. The arcades are supported on Purbeck marble columns. Covering the ‘nave’ is an open timber truss roof. In the east wall of the hall are two C19 pointed arches. At the north end of the west wall is an original pointed arched doorway. Mounted on this wall is the ‘Round Table’, traditionally associated with King Arthur but built in the late C13 or early C14. It was originally unpainted but the current scheme, which includes King Arthur in state with sword and orb, is one of the early C16, repainted in 1789. Next to the west wall is a bronze statue of Queen Victoria designed by Alfred Gilbert in 1897. The Great Hall is both Grade I listed and scheduled.

Further medieval buildings will survive as buried remains; documentary sources record that the castle also included a ‘great gate’, several mural towers built into the curtain walls (including ‘St Catherine’s Tower’ and ‘Jews’ Tower’), the ‘king’s chambers’, the ‘queen’s chambers’, the ‘bishop’s chambers’, the ‘chaplain’s house’, the ‘Chapel of St. Judoc’, the ‘Chapel of St Thomas the Martyr’, a treasury, the kitchen and ‘great kitchen’, an almonry and a gaol.

THE C17 ROYAL PALACE The C17 royal palace known as the 'King's House' survives as buried remains. Partial excavation has revealed the foundations of the south and west wings. These wings have been shown to be 28m and 14.5m wide respectively.

EXCLUSIONS The monument excludes: all modern (C19, C20 and C21) buildings, including the former Peninsula Barracks West Block (also called the ‘King’s House’), East Block, North Block (The Gurkha Museum and Horsepower Museum), Gymnasium and Weapons Training Shed in Peninsula Square as well as Castle Avenue Offices and 5-9 Archery Lane (all Grade II listed), and Queen’s Court, but the ground beneath them is included; the statue of Sir John Colborne; modern notice boards and signs; modern fences and fence posts; railings; modern gates and gate posts; all modern tarmacadam, paving or gravel surfaces, pathways, roads, roadways or car parks; all modern garden walls and fountains; lamps and lamp posts; benches; bollards; flagpoles; postboxes; electricity or telephone poles; modern drains and drain covers; modern water pipes and electricity cables. However the ground beneath all these features is included.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
HA 1
Legacy System:


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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