Winchester Palace: History and Architecture of the Former Royal Residence

Winchester Palace, located behind Southwark Cathedral and Borough Market in London Bridge, was once one of the most magnificent buildings in England. Today, all that remains are its ruins, which are a reminder of its former grandeur. The palace has a rich history that is worth exploring, including the dark past of its bishop pimp.

Many people have walked past the ruins of Winchester Palace and wondered about its history. In this article, we will delve into its past, tracing the palace’s history and uncovering its secrets. We will also provide practical information and a map to help visitors explore the ruins.

Key Takeaways

  • Winchester Palace was once one of the grandest and most beautiful buildings in England.
  • The palace has a rich history, including the dark past of its bishop pimp.
  • Visitors can explore the ruins of Winchester Palace with the help of practical information and a map.

History of Winchester Palace

The Bishop of Winchester resided in the Winchester Palace from 1140 to 1626. Built in the 12th century, the palace was located in London, which was then the Saxon capital of the country. The palace was built on a site of over ten acres, which is difficult to imagine from the single remaining wall we see today. The Great Hall, dating back to the 12th century, is the only section of the palace that still stands today, complete with its later 14th-century rose window.

Powerful bishops would come and stay when passing through London, and it even hosted some royal guests and at least one royal wedding reception, that of King James I of Scotland and Joan Beaufort. The palace grounds contained a brewery, theatres, grazing areas, and even a private dock for journeys along the Thames.

However, the palace’s history is not without controversy. Alongside all the splendor and glory, a distinctly less savory affair lurked in the background: the stews or brothels licensed by the bishop that proliferated in the area. One such stew sat next to nearby Cross Bones Burial Ground, created for the burial of the prostitutes who, though licensed by the bishops, were not allowed to be buried on consecrated ground.

The palace flourished for over 500 years until, in the 17th century, it was divided into low-cost housing. In the early 1800s, fire ravaged the building, and it was largely forgotten about. Eventually, it was unearthed and entrusted to the care of Heritage England and is now considered one of the last great remnants of medieval London.

The Liberty of the Clink

The Priory of Bermondsey was granted a liberty, essentially a bit of land controlled by the bishops, not policed by local law, in 1104. In 1149, this liberty was sold to Henry of Blois, the Bishop of Winchester and resident of Winchester Palace. Henry of Blois used some friends in high places to turn the Clink into a place of nefarious activity. It was the king of England himself, King Henry II, who licensed the illicit activities.

It is not clear why King Henry II did what he did. Chances are he sagely saw prostitution as a problem that could not be eliminated but could be controlled. If so, the Clink would have made the ideal spot for some kind of red-light district as it was out of the City of London’s jurisdiction. The Clink became more famous than Winchester Palace itself, with ladies of the night taking on the name Winchester geese. Many of these Winchester geese are the ones buried in Cross Bones Cemetery.

Their names even coined a few phrases. Goosebumps may actually get its name for a slang reference to venereal disease caught from the Winchester geese. To be “bitten by a goose” meant the same.

The Ruins of Winchester Palace: Practical Information and Map

Winchester Palace is a historical ruin located in Southwark, London. The palace was built in the 12th century and was once a residence of the Bishop of Winchester. Today, visitors can explore the remains of the palace and learn about its rich history.

Practical Information

  • Address: Clink Street, Southwark, London SE1 9DG, United Kingdom
  • Opening Hours: 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM (Monday – Sunday)
  • Admission Fee: Free
  • Nearest Tube Station: London Bridge Station (Jubilee and Northern Lines)
  • Website: English Heritage


Here is a map of the Winchester Palace ruins for visitors to better navigate the site:

Winchester Palace Map

Visitors can explore the ruins, including the remains of the Great Hall and the Bishop’s private apartments. Informational signs are posted throughout the site to provide historical context and background information.

Overall, the Winchester Palace ruins are a must-see for history buffs and anyone interested in exploring London’s rich cultural heritage.