By Levi Clancy for Student Reader on
Winchester City Museum. Images by L. M. Clancy.
Founded AD 70
Less than 30 years after the invasion by Claudius' army, the Romans established a town at Winchester in AD 70. Venta Belgarum (the marketpalce of the Belgae) covered 58.2 hectares -- the fifth largest in the Roman province -- and probably absorbed its Iron Age predecessor. However alterations to the course of the river by canalisation meant that the settlement could be extended across the flood-plain of the River Itchen.
The Roman invasion, commanded by Aulus Plautius, had been launched at Richborough in Kent. Legionary soldiers with auxiliary troops marched across southern Britain capturing Iron Age hillforts and imposing Roman rule. Winchester's hillfort was long since derelict and as no Roman built fort to control the natives has yet been found the local Belgae tribe may have been friendly to the invaders.
A rectangular street grid was laid out within earth and timber defensive ramparts. On the sloping land the blocks, or insulae, occupied narrow strips; on more level terrain they were rectangular. An east-west main street was established with timber gates at each end. This replaced an earlier trackway that had led to a ford across the Itchen. Today's High Street preserves this ancient route.
Venta Belgarum is named in several documentary records. The earliest is Ptolemy's Geography, written in the 2nd century AD. A Roman milestone, found at Worthy Down near Winchester, mentions the res publica Belgarum (the canton of the Belgae). The town was an important center and like many Roman settlements the earth and timber walls and gates were reinforced in stone at the beginning of the 3rd century.
Until the mid-4th cent Venta Belgarum was a thriving town with administrators of differeing rank ensuring the commnity functioned efficiently at every level. Excavation in WInchester has uncovered a rubbish dump outside the city walls suggesting organized collections took place.
Sparsholt Villa was a luxury country house amidst a farmed estate, just off the Roman road linking Venta to Old Sarum (near modern Salisbury). The estate flourished during the 4th century AD but was derelict by AD 400, when Venta was undergoing collapse and Rome was losing control of Britain.
By AD 380 civic amenities ceased, repairs to roads, watercourses and drains were no longer undertaken and streets fell into disuse. Public builidngs and townhouses became ruins. The deferences were strengthened however and a military presence can be detected from grave goods in burials of the time. Clearly Venta remained politically important but unrest had changed its urban life. Someone in the town after AD 395 buried a necklace, 90 bronze coins and some scrap metal in a pot at the base of a wall in the Brooks area. They never recovered it.
In AD 410 the Emperor Honorius put an end to control over Britannia from central government in Rome; the coin supply dried up and mass production of Roman goods ceased. Despite economic collapse at the end of direct Roman control some occupation continued as the discovery of a bone comb, a silver inlaid knofe and some Anglo-Saxon pottery suggests. BY AD450 Venta was all but abandoned. Dark soil, created by decaying vegetation and rubbish, seals the latest Roman remains -- the clear sign to an archaeologist that the ROman period of Winchester had ended.
Life in Venta Belgarum
Little is known of the infrastructure that Venta Belgarum surely had, namely an amphitheater, public bath and aqueduct. A row of narrow buildings were excavated along the present High Street and were perhaps shops, indicating that trade flourished. Political stability and good roads brought commodities imported from other parts of Britain and the Roman world. Produce and fine tableware came from all parts of the Empire, while pottery, decorations and metalware were traded locally. One possible shop along the present High Street contained many fragments of fine Samian pottery from Gaul; perhaps it was a specialist ceramics shop.
Most homes built in Venta in the first century of Roman rule were too flimsy to leave any trace. By the early years of the third century AD, excavations reveal that Venta's richer citizens were living in considerable comfort. Two such dwellings lay under today's Brooks Shopping Centre and faced onto the Roman road, now under Middle Brook Street. They had been built by AD 100 of timber with mortar floors. By AD 150 they had been replaced by a house on flint foundations. By AD 200 many houses were reconstructed in flint and stone, often with underfloor hypocaust heating in one or two rooms.
Citizens of Venta Belgarum ate a varied diet, as evidenced by excavations from rubbish pits. They enjoyed domesticated animal meat including horse, beef, pork, mutton and goat. They also ate game animals including venison, hare, wild boar and waterfowl; and Fresh- and saltwater fish, cockles, mussels, periwinkles, barnacles and oysters. Their menu included cultivated cereals, fruits, nuts and herbs; and wild seeds and fruits whose remains were discovered in waterlogged soil. Pottery fragments reveal the use of imports from Southern Spain, including olive oil, olives and a fermented fish sauce called gram.
5th Cent - ?
The heart of Anglo-Saxon Winchester was not occupied. However, pagan Anglo-Saxon cemeteries have been found cluttered around Winchester. The Roman drainage system had broken and much of the town's lower area had reverted to a marshy flood-plain of the River Itchen. However, the ruined town perhaps remained a focus for local people and their rulers because the site was a convenient place to ford the river. Anglo-Saxon buildings have been excavated at nearby Martyr Worthy.
From 871-899, King Alfred rules the Kingdom of Wessex from Winchester, a thriving and bustling town with a population of several thousand people.
Queen Elfrida founds Whenwell Abbey near Andover. She gives a mill at Eastgate and other property in Winchester to the Benedictine nuns.
The Norman Conquest: Winchester surrenders to William the Conqueror after his success at the Battle of Hastings.
The Domesday Survey records a mill outside Eastgate owned by Whenwell Abbey and paying a rent of 48 shillings per annum to the Abbess.
Rebellion by Northern barons leads to the signing of the Magna Carta by King John at Runnymede.
At the end of a prosperous period in milling, a new tenant William the Miller pays four pounds in silver as rent per annum on a seven year lease, 'any great timbers needed' the Abbess will supply.
Plague arrives in Winchester, depleting laborers and allowing remaining workers to demand higher pay. Winchester has lost its status as England's capital city and the mill has declined due to poor harvests earlier in the century.
Led by Watt Tyler, people marched from southeast England to the City of London to protest against a poll tax imposed by King Richard II and to demand the end of serfdom. The ringleaders were later executed and their demands ignored.
Henry VIII ordered Dissolution of the Monasteries. All abbey possessions and land passed to the Crown. The confiscated land was redistributed.
Ownership of the mill passed from the nuns of Wherwell to the Crown.
Marriage of Mary Tudor and Phillip of Spain in Winchester Cathedral. The City is chosen as a safer option than London to witness the marriage of two devout Catholics. Queen Mary presents the still derelict Eastgate Mill to Winchester, partly to repay the cost of her wedding. The name City Mill appears for the first time.
Large numbers of homeless unemployed people led to a series of Poor Law Acts introduced in Elizabeth I's reign. Growth of the wool trade, land enclosures and changes in agriculture meant less work for laborers. Poor harvests aggravated the problem.
Differences between the Crown and Parliament erupted in civil war.
The Civil War led to the almost total destruction of the castle; its walls and towers were demolished in 1651, leaving only the 13th century Great Hall. The neglected city walls and gates fell slowly into ruin and were plundered for stone.
England became an exporter of grain, rather than an importer following agricultural technique developments.
Charles II chose Winchester as the site of 'a noble palace' designed by Sir Christopher Wren. The shell of the palace was complete and roofed when the King died in 1685 but the project was abandoned.
Winchester flourished in the 18th century, recovering from the aftermath of the Civil War. Its population and prosperity grew, as did its size. The walls were demolished as the inhabitants moved outwards, medieval buildings were faced with brick and the city provided goods and services to Hampshire society of all classes. Eighteenth century Winchester was a city of shopkeepers and small retail businesses, providing basic provisions and luxury merchandise. Most establishments were small, individually- or family-owned, offering a personal service in specialized wares. The lower ranks brought trade to the shops, but it was the affluent gentry's interest in their county town that created the city's wealth.
Wincher's professional classes -- doctors, lawyers and teachers serving the local gentry -- grew increasingly prosperous and contributed much to the city's social and economic life. The many soldiers quartered here brought money to the shopkeepers. While fairs, the courts, elections and shopping attracted visitors from the county to the inns and alehouses, which flourished. These developments, which spread a new pattern of commerce and society throughout the city, laid the foundations of modern Winchester.
The Enclosure Acts (which continued into the early 19th century) resulted in increased agricultural output. The landscape was transformed from small fields an wasteland into large corn-bearing fields. During the Industrial Revolution the population trebled and by 1851 had grown ot 21 million.
The railways brought expansion to early 19th century Winchester, and the number and variety of shops swelled alongside the resident and tourist populations. By the end of the century department stores had appeared, large shops which sold goods of a wide range rather than of a single type. Still individually-owned, they continued to offer a personal service, although it was supplied by staff rather than the proprietor, and complemented the small specialized shops.
From 1815-1846, the Corn Laws regulate the import of cereals to protect the interests of farmers and landowners.
Protests and riots against mechanical reaping machines take place, led by the fictional Captain Swing. Some 200 threshing machines are also destroyed. Severe punishments imposed on those protesters who are arrested and tried.
The Poor Law Amendment Acts enforce the building of workhouses in all parishes. The needy are only eligible for support if they become inmate but conditions are hard to discourage people for asking for help. Six Dorset farm laborers (The Tolpuddle Martyrs) campaign for wage rises but are sentenced to transportation to Australia.
In 1848 Winchester was struck by cholera, which left 34 people dead -- the culmination of a problem that had developed with the city's growing population. The removal of waste by cart was no longer an adequate solution to the drainage requirements and the following year a specially-appointed committee reported on the need for mains sewers. Their recommendations were not acted on for another 30 years. The waste disposal problem was exacerbated by Winchester's topography. Water from the downs to east and west drained into the low-lying city, the river and a honey-comb of cesspools providing the only means of escape for the water and solid waste. The high water-table meant sewage seeped into wells, causing contamination of drinking supplies and thus endemic disease.
1861 12 09
The 30-year delay in the provision of sewage occurred because of fierce factional fighting at local elections. Muckabites considered mains drainage unnecessary and likely to raise the rates and triumphed in the polls. They were opposed by Anti-Muckabites, mostly medical men who saw the ravages of bad sanitation, namely the inhabitants of the lower city who suffered from it. Only in the late 1870s did national legislation bring sewers to Winchester.
The Gun Riot (aka Dumper Riot) of May 1908 is the greatest recent civic unrest in Winchester. Anticipating the city's National Pageant, scheduled for that summer to raise essential finance for the Cathedral's structural repairs, the Mayor and City Council decided on a face-lift, and proposed removing the railings around the Russian Gun in the Broadway, the better to display it. Captured in the Crimean War, the gun was a focus for dissent; a protest meeting was rapidly convened, led by local house painter Joe Dumper. Before a citizens' petition was considered, the railings were removed and a riot ensued. Dumper, as ringleader, was carried around the town with the gun by a mob several thousand strong. The City Clock, windows and streetlights were smashed. Many Pageant displays in Winchester Palace were destroyed and a Saxon chariot was thrown in the river. Next day, to defuse the crisis, the authorities quickly enrolled the riot leaders as special constables and peace was restored. The gun and its railings were replaced and survived until a salvage drive during the Second World War.
The 'Great War' erupted, lasting until 1918, recruits able-bodied men, causing labor shortages and thus women assuming agricultural jobs.
The newly established Youth Hostel Association (YHA) leased the mill from the National Trust.
World War II lasted until 1945. Britain had imported 3/4 of its food including wheat, but the war led to self-sufficiency and increased home production; chemical fertilizer, tractors and machinery became vital.
Britain joined the EEC. Agricultural policy means supply prices are not set by demand but by political bargaining.
The Countryside Stewardship Scheme made payments to landowners to encourage practices that enhance the landscape, improve habitats, conserve historic sites and restore neglected land.