This week we look at another “lost” palace of London but this time it’s not one built primarily for kings and queens. Rather we’re taking a look at the former Thameside home of the Bishops of Winchester.
Located in Southwark, Winchester Palace (also known as Winchester House) was built in the 12th century as the London residence of the bishop, a major landowner in the area.
The palace’s hall was extravagantly decorated and is known to have played host to royalty including King James I of Scotland and Joan Beaufort whose wedding feast was held there in 1424. It’s also suggested that King Henry VIII may have met wife number five, Catherine Howard, there.
The remainder of the palace was arranged around two courtyards and as well as buildings including its own prison and brewhouse, it also boasted a tennis court, bowling alley and pleasure gardens. It was used up until the Civil War – during which it served as a prison – before, in a growing state of deterioration, being let out for tenements and warehouses. Much of what remained was destroyed by fire in 1814.
Today all that remains above ground is a wall which stood at the west end of the great hall, mostly dating for the 14th century. Now in the care of English Heritage, it features a magnificent (albeit glassless) rose window, 13 feet in diameter, and three doors, believed to have led to the buttery, pantry and kitchen.
The palace was located in what was known variously as the ‘Manor of Southwark’, the ‘Liberty of Winchester’ or the ‘Liberty of the Clink’ (the word ‘clink’ refers to the bishop’s notorious prison – more on this another time). This was an area of land under the direct jurisdiction of the Bishop of Winchester and outside the jurisdiction of the City of London and become particularly known for prostitution – the Bishop was granted the power to licence prostitutes in the 12th century – with the prostitutes referred to as “Winchester Geese”.
The current ruins were found during the area’s redevelopment in the 1980s. Remains of Roman buildings were also found underneath where the palace once stood.
WHERE: Clink Street, Southwark (nearest tube station is London Bridge); WHEN: Anytime; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/winchester-palace/