The Ruins of London – Winchester Palace
The new exhibition at Tate Britain – Ruin Lust has set us thinking about ruins in London. Ruined buildings obviously have a fascination. They are a visible reminder of the past, an obvious sign that London was not always as it is now. Ruins also act as an urban memento mori – a thought that all the fine buildings we have now may end up as ruins. A ruined building also had classical associations, a link between London and ancient Rome – we mentioned in the blog last year how Sir John Soane wanted to show the quality of his designs for the Bank of England, he depicted them in ruins, hundreds of years in the future.
The clear favourite ruin among the Footprints guides though is the Winchester Palace
Neil Sinclair says “The ruins of the great hall are all that’s left of Winchester Palace, the grace and favour London residence of the bishops of Winchester. Founded in the 12th century by Bishop Henry de Blois, brother of King Stephen of England, Winchester Palace once occupied a site of some 10 acres and included extensive and lavish accommodation for the bishops and guests, a brewery, pike ponds, grazing areas for livestock, entertainment facilities and much more. It had its own jetty with direct access to the River Thames. English Heritage has a drawing of what the great hall might have looked like in its prime at: http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/winchester-palace/history-and-research/
Winchester Palace great hall was where King James I of Scotland and his newly married bride Joan Beaufort (niece of Cardinal Henry Beaufort) held their wedding feast in 1424.
Sadly, the marriage didn’t last long (or at least King James I of Scotland didn’t). He was murdered. Find out more on Neil’s walk Outlaw London on 31st March
Dave Brown is also a fan. “I love the rose window and incongruity with surrounding buildings, and also find the links with the Elizabethan and Jacobean Theatre fascinating – not to mention the Bishop of Winchesters Geese, the Elizabethan slang for the prostitutes who were licenced by the Bishop of Winchester and made the area London’s red light district in Shakespeare’s time. The Inns, Gambling Houses and Brothels lining Bankside used to paint the sides of their buildings with large signs to attract the punters from the other side of the river. You can find out more about this on our Shakespeare walks.”
Sean Gay says “The model on the North side of Southwark Cathedral ( close to The Screen) demonstrates exactly what the Priory and Winchester Palace would have looked like including all the gardens and the outbuildings”
Richard Watkins also loves the Rose Window but he’s less happy about the context of the building “It’s a travesty how they built that horrible wall right up against it.”
We will talk about some more of our favourite London Ruins next time – but let us know yours – email your suggestions and pictures to or tweet us @footprintsldn