Eastern range, Peninsula Barracks, Winchester, southern England

Philip Mitchell

WINCHESTER, United Kingdom

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Artist's Description

Winchester’s Great Hall is the only significant remnant of a once splendid royal castle just above the west side of the city. The whole site is now listed as a scheduled monument by English Heritage, but it went through many changes before and even some since.

There had been an encampment here in Roman times and the historical significance of the site was reinforced when it saw the creation of a residence for King Alfred the Great. William the Conqueror followed this with a fully-fledged Norman castle, but a disastrous fire in the 14th century saw the beginning of its decline. Much later still, Charles II had plans to replace what was left with a palace to rival Versailles, with designs by Sir Christopher Wren, but this was never completed, a roofed but empty shell. Instead, it housed prisoners of war during the Seven Years War and the Peninsula Wars, falling victim to another fire in 1894.

By 1901, however, the buildings we see today had risen from the ashes, a magnificent military complex whose style echoed Wren’s plans for Charles II. During its eighty years as a barracks it was home to several regiments. During the First World War wounded soldiers were treated in a hospital Florence Nightingale had helped design. During the Second World War American and Canadian forces gathered here before the D-Day landings: Churchill even came down to inspect them. But the last army occupants, the Light Division, finally moved out at the end of 1985.

Amazingly, there were plans to flatten everything for a multi-storey car park! Luckily Huw Thomas, a local architect with vision and drive, had other ideas. He master-minded the conversion of the grandest buildings into fine apartments and town houses, the garrison chapel became a thriving small cinema and part of the lower Victorian range opened as central Winchester’s most prestigious hotel. As a finishing touch he created a modern parterre on the previously bare parade ground, complete with canals, fountains and clipped conifers, recalling European styles from the time of Charles II. To recognise its reopening as a public space it was fittingly renamed Peninsula Square. Five regiments now maintain their regimental museums within this historic military quarter of the city. This view is of the eastern range of the upper barracks.

Despite its somewhat formal, classical, 17th century look, none of this was here when Keats visited Winchester in 1819.

(Techno-trivia: this was taken with a Fuji Finepix HS10, hand held, though any half decent machine of comparable resolution with a lens that produces sharp images which are then run through a powerful program like Adobe Photoshop Elements would give similar results in the hands of a competent photographer.)

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