There was not always a book and print shop incorporated under the east side of Kingsgate, but what a perfect spot for such an antiquarian enterprise!
Medieval Winchester had five main city gates, of which now only two survive. In the Saxon period this, the King’s Gate, may well have provided the access to the royal palace on the western side of Cathedral Green. The city walls have Roman foundations and Kingsgate’s main arch is part of those walls, but there is no mention of the arch until the so-called Winchester Domesday Book of 1148.
Rather surprisingly, perhaps, the upper timbers we can see here support the little church of St Swithun-upon-Kingsgate above. There is no record of it until 1264, when we read that it was burnt down by disgruntled citizens in a dispute with the Prior of the neighbouring Abbey, now the Cathedral. It was probably in use at that time as a chapel for lay people working at the Abbey. The present St Swithun-upon-Kingsgate must therefore have been a place of Christian worship for at least some seven hundred and fifty years.
After the fire the church was rebuilt and has been much restored over the ensuing centuries, though it has had its ups and downs. The Prior paid four shillings and eight pence to have the glass repaired in 1484, and after the shrine of St Swithun in the cathedral was destroyed in September 1538 and the Monastery dissolved in November 1539, it became a parish church. It is now part of the parish of St Lawrence with St Swithun. By 1660 the building was in a sad state of repair and misuse; Robert Allen, the porter of Kingsgate, was living with his family in one end and keeping pigs at the other. 1677, however, saw the restoration of the building and the re-hanging of the bells. Later on, the church features in literature: it is St Cuthbert’s in Anthony Trollope’s novel ‘The Warden’ of 1854.
Because of the constant pedestrian traffic, extra brick arches were added either side of the main stone gateway during the 18th century. In 1991 the insertion of a fine 18th century bow window recycled from the old George Hotel (the site of the present Barclay’s Bank) allowed the creation of the present shop, now a distinct feature of this ancient gateway in the 21st century which is grade-listed by English Heritage.
This view would have been familiar to the poet John Keats. When he was staying in Winchester in September 1819 he would have gone through the gateway to reach College Street from the Cathedral Close on his daily walks out across the water meadows to St Cross.
(This image was featured in the Historic Places group, 17 September 2011)