Mystery Solved: Winchester Palace

Archived from trip to London: April 2009

Winchester Palace Ruins

Winchester Palace Ruins

As my wife and I roamed the city of Southwark after crossing Tower Bridge on our way to the Globe Theatre, we came upon the ruin of what appeared to be a medieval rose window. We passed what remained of this wall very quickly as we tried our best to stay on schedule. Not knowing what we were looking at, I took a picture so that I could identify the structure when I got back home. Well, without having to work very hard, I solved the mystery. The ruin is of Winchester Palace, built in the 12th Century, and mostly destroyed by fire in 1814.

Rose Window, Winchester Palace

Rose Window, Winchester Palace

The palace remained in use until the 17th century, when it was divided into tenements and warehouses. Part of the great hall, and the west gable end with its rose window became more visible after a 19th century fire and 20th century redevelopment. It is believed that the great hall was built c.1136 and that the rose window was added 200 years later. The hall had a vaulted cellar below with direct access to the river wharf for bringing in wares, and was richly decorated. (Source)

Winchester Palace 1660

Winchester Palace 1660

The palace was located near medieval Southwark Cathedral which we passed as I hurriedly tried to find the George Inn and the site of the Tabard. We were very lucky in our choice of day to visit Southwark, one of my favorite destinations in London. It was sunny, slightly chilly, and clear. After passing the George Inn and snapping a few pictures, my wife and I had our breakfast in the form of Cornish pasties. We came upon the ruins of the palace as we made our way through the narrow streets just off the Thames river walk.

With so much of medieval London destroyed by fire, demolition, war, and redevelopment, I’m glad that we were able to get a glimpse of the old palace.


A Pint at the Cheese

Archived from trip to London: April 2009

My wife must love me an awful lot, because she was willing to indulge my wish to have a pint at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub after an overnight flight, several hours of trooping ’round London, and absolutely no sleep. This pub, the site of a tavern since the 12th century according to our bartender, was a frequent haunt of Dr. Johnson and Charles Dickens. It is also the likely site of Charles Darnay’s fictional dinner with Sydney Carton after his acquittal in A Tale of Two Cities.

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese

We approached the pub from the alleys leading from Gough Square, home of Dr. Johnson. It was late afternoon and we would soon be heading back to our hotel. The pub faces Fleet Street but is entered through an alley. The obvious description of small, dark, and old is apt, but what I’ll try to impart is the acrid smell of a coal fire burning in the front room. It’s a smell that I’d not encountered before – and I suppose it’s a smell that I subconsciously assumed was what the 19th century smelled like. The walls were dark, the ceiling dark, and cobwebs clung to every bit of flat surface. I loved it.

My wife and I sat in the front room, near what was rumored to be Dickens’ favorite table, and took in the atmosphere. This mostly entailed sitting quietly. I had a pint and tried to memorize every inch of space before me as my wife fought off an urge to doze.

We didn’t stay long – just long enough to say we were there. We caught a cab on Fleet Street rather than risking falling asleep on the Tube and riding the Circle Line forever. As I left, I tried to understand just exactly what my fascination with the place meant – it’s a fascination that I have for all places of literary interest, both real and fictional. I could imagine Dr. Johnson reading Oliver Goldsmith’s first draft of Vicar in that pub just as easily as I could imagine Charles and Sydney’s “good plain dinner.” One of those events certainly did not happen in this plane of existence; the other may have – I suppose that the point of my writing this entry is that I could care less what the difference is between these events; I cherish them both.