Winchester's Great HallWinchester's Great Hall was built by Henry the Third. Born at Winchester Castle in 1207, he loved to return to Winchester but a siege in the 13th century had left Winchester Castle in ruins. Henry the Third set about revamping Winchester Castle building its Great Hall and transforming the castle into a fortress and a palace. Henry the Third's reign was marked by an increased sophistication in art, architecture and design. This trend is self evident in Winchester's Great Hall.
The 13th century saw architectural improvements in castle hall style. In a move away from the gloomy 12th century, castle halls were now designed to be brighter and more luxuriously furnished. The first of these was Winchester's Great Hall. It would also prove to be the finest. Built to a double cube design (110' by 55' by 55'), the Great Hall had all the finest aspects of Early English Gothic Architecture. Pointed arches, plate tracery windows and Purbeck stone columns are set off by decorated walls which accentuate its elegance and lightness.
The heart of the castle, the Great Hall was where the king dined, discussed affairs of state with his barons and clergy and sat in court to administer justice. Over the centuries, the Great Hall has continued to serve as a court of law and it was here that Sir Walter Raleigh was condemned to death. Raleigh had fallen out of popularity with the monarchy for his involvement in a coup on King James I. Fortunately for him, the great explorer and importer of that great gift, the potato, was afforded a last minute royal pardon.
In 1773 the Grand Jury Chamber, designed by Thomas Whitcombe was built at the west end of the Great Hall. However, the 19th century brought a population increase which required new courts. In 1873, a new assize courts were built by T.H. Wyatt at the east end of the Great Hall. Wyatt's new courts were demolished in 1938. From that time the Hall itself was used as a court until the new Crown Courts were built in 1974. Restoration work was carried out by the Hampshire County Council in 1975. Since then the Royal Wedding Gates have been installed, Queen Eleanor's Garden built and the landscaping outside the Hall completed.
Winchester's Round Table – the real King Arthur's Round Table?
On entering Winchester's Great Hall, you'll immediately notice its spacious yet artistic design. Your eyes will be drawn to the high-vaulted ceiling and as they peel downwards, will be drawn to impressive sight of the hanging Round Table.
King Arthur’s Round table was built between 1250 and is inscribed, "This is the round table of Arthur with 24 of his named knights." It is 8 feet in diameter, weighs 1 tonne and four hundredweight and is made from 121 pieces of oak. Beautiful it may be, the original it is not. Scientific research conducted in 1976 revealed that the great Round Table dates to about 1270. The dendrochronological study used tree ring patterns to determine the age of the relic. Unfortunately for enthusiasts, the results showed that the Round Table was made some six centuries after the original. It is likely that the Round Table dates to the reign of Edward I. Like many of his aristocratic contemporaries, he had become infatuated with the Arthurian legend. The trend was re-enacted in Round Tables, events which included a combination of jousting, feasting and dancing involving inspired participants dressed in a similar fashion to their legendary heroes. The Round Table dates to approximately the same date (1280's) that Edward I held such an event.
The Round Table that you'll see in Winchester's Great Hall was painted by order of King Henry VIII. The knights' places at the Round Table are marked by alternating green and white panels with each of the knights' name written in gold in accordance with the Arthurian legend. However, the centre of the Round Table is decorated with the Tudor Rose and at King Arthur's seat you'll see a portrait of Henry VIII.
On your visit to Winchester's Great Hall it's worth taking a peek into the attached museum which gives details of the history of Winchester and Winchester Castle. Also worth a look is the quaint Queen Eleanor's Garden, a medieval reconstruction which lies just behind the Great Hall.
Address: Winchester Castle
Postcode: SO23 8PJ
Town/city or near: Winchester
Open from March to October between 10am and 5pm and from November to February from 10am to 4pm. Christmas Eve and New Years Eve open from 10am to 3pm. Closed Christmas and New Years Day.