Winchester Palace review
You need to temper your expectations for this one because it's not a palace anymore -- it's a wall. So I don't want you dreaming about seeing a load of fancy French furniture and Renaissance paintings as you're walking past the Clink because there's none of that -- it's literally just a propped-up wall and a few flower pots on the floor. But it's still worth a quick look if you happen to be in the vicinity. Don't bother making a detour for it though.
We're going to have to go back a few years to tell this story... all the way back to 871 when King Alfred had his capital at Winchester. Back in those days the Bishop of Winchester doubled-up as his treasurer so he was a bit like our modern-day chancellor -- a cross between the Pope and Gordon Brown, if you can imagine such a thing. Two hundred years later the Normans started basing themselves out of London so the bishop found himself travelling back and forth across the south of England every week. And remember they didn't have any trains in those days (although I'm wondering whether their horses were quicker than our trains -- they might have been). That's when he decided to build himself a posh new headquarters at the end of London Bridge.
Because his new palace was outside the city walls he was able to rule the surrounding land like a mafia don. Southwark was like his Sicily, and his writ stretched from here all the way down to the Tate. Being a man of God you might have expected him to fill it with apothecaries, almshouses, chapels and churches, but nope -- he brought in bear pits, brothels, gambling dens, tawdry taverns and theatres -- all the stuff that was banned across the bridge. He even had his own prison called the Clink which you can go and visit afterwards (it's not the historical one, just a London Dungeon-like remake). With all the fines and bribes and taxes he was collecting his palace fattened into one of the largest and most important buildings in all of medieval London.
But that was then. Now it's all gone, it's all been swept away and the only bit still standing is a gable from the Great Hall and the short stumps of a cellar underneath. They've put some flower beds across the bottom to brighten it up a bit, but you've got to use your imagination to see the feast that Thomas Beckett had before he travelled down to Canterbury that final time. Try and picture the wedding celebrations that James I of Scotland enjoyed after getting hitched to his English missus in Southwark Cathedral. They both happened right here in this very room.
The rest of the palace was gradually abandoned or turned into tenements. It finally burnt down in 1814 and what was left of the walls were bricked up inside the new wharves and warehouses that dotted up along the Thames. The Luftwaffe then dropped some bombs on top and uncovered the remains we see today.
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