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David Ford, History EditorTours > Winchester

Tour the City of Winchester
by David Nash Ford BA, Editor, History on Britannia

Great Hall of Winchester Castle

The Great Hall is all that is left of Winchester's famous castle. The present building was erected in the 13th century and it remains today as the finest surviving aisled hall in the country (along with Westminster). The interior is quite stunning with its slender purbeck marble columns and its open-beam roof. Hanging on the west wall is the supposed Round Table of King Arthur fame. The hall is visitable throughout the year along with a fascinating exhibition on the history of the castle and a reconstruction of Queen Eleanor's medieval garden.

The building has a long and interesting history. Kings and Queens have gathered here to dine or meet out justice for centuries. The hall has always been used for the holding of courts of law: a practice which only finally ended in the early 1970s, though the Hampshire County Courts do still stand alongside. Sir Walter Raleigh was condemned to death here in 1603! In more recent times, it has been the setting for several movies including 'Lady Jane.'

On the west wall of the Great Hall hangs the tabletop of the legendary 'King Arthur's Round Table.' Both local and national folklore credit it with having resided in this building (and its predecessors) for some 1,500 years! Winchester's association with King Arthur is certainly ancient and the place was identified as his glittering city of Camelot as early as 1485.

Sadly, scientific analysis has proved that the Winchester Table was only made in the 1270s, during the reign of King Edward I: a man who took a great interest in the Arthurian stories. Still, seven hundred years old is not bad for a table. Edward probably used it for the feasts at Jousting Tournaments. Henry VIII later had the table painted with seats for twenty-four named knights and a portrait of himself as King Arthur. He wanted to show off his distinguished pedigree to the Holy Roman Emperor.

Besides the Great Hall, there is little remaining of Winchester Castle. However, large sections of its northern extent were excavated in the 1960s and some of the remains discovered have been left exposed for examination.

As you stand above the old 12th century Keep, an information board explains what lies around you. Here are the footings of the circular 'New Tower' built for King Henry III in 1222 at the point where the castle walls join those of the city. The smooth facing stone is still visible as well as the remains of a guardrobe (soldier's lavatory). The main feature, however, is the Sally-Port plummeting into the depths of the earth. Looking very much like a dungeon, it is actually quite the opposite: a much needed escape route under the castle walls.

Next Stop: Peninsula Barracks

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