The Old Bishop’s Palace
Wolvesey castle (its correct name is the Old Bishop’s Palace) was one of the greatest of all the royal and ecclesiastical buildings. Winchester was the richest bishopric in England, and its bishops were powerful men, the relations and advisers of kings. The palace was used by the bishops of Winchester throughout the middle ages for ceremonial purposes.
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The site was established in the 10th century. It was bounded by the Roman city wall on the south. On the east, its boundaries were marked by the cathedral and part of the Roman wall. St Mary’s monastery marked the northern boundary.
At first the approach to the palace was through a gate in the city wall. An outer courtyard would have had stables, barns, a prison, and a wool house. An inner courtyard was moated on three sides.
The Saxon palace was added to after 1066. At this time the Norman bishop William Giffard built the west hall. It was Henry of Blois, bishop from 1129-71, who was largely responsible for the remains of the buildings the way we see them today. He was the brother of king Stephen and wanted the palace to reflect his wealth and power.
He added the east hall as a public hall (built of flint and mortar). It had a high gallery, two rooms on the ground floor on either side for food storage, and on the first floor a private meeting room.
He also added the chapel and the kitchen, and remodelled the tower. The keep was thought to serve as the kitchen block. Later he built the gatehouse on the north side for defensive purposes. It was remodelled in the late 14th century for accommodation.
Another bishop, William of Wykeham, did much repair work, built a new curtain wall, and changed the private apartments. In the early 15th century cardinal Beaufort built a courtyard cloister walk and chapel and reroofed the east hall and added new larger windows. Queen Mary and Philip of Spain were married in the east hall on 25 July, 1554.
By the mid 1600s the palace was mostly abandoned. The bishops chose to stay at Farnham or at Southwark palace. Some of the stone from Wolvesey castle was used to build the baroque palace, Wolvesey, now used as the home of the bishops of Winchester. The medieval chapel adjoins this building.
Wolvesey castle is located in the center of Winchester, Hampshire, ¾ mile from the cathedral; access from College St.
Tel. 02392 378 291
Open: daily, April-end Sep, 10am-5pm. The medieval chapel and Wolvesey, the present home, are private and not open to the public.
An English Heritage property
Photos by Barbara Ballard and courtesy Hampshire Cam