Kingsgate, with St-Swithun-Upon-Kingsgate above, WInchester, southern England

Philip Mitchell

WINCHESTER, United Kingdom

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At first glance one would not realise that the upper storey of this historic gateway houses a small gem of a parish church, but go through one of the arches, climb the stairs you will find on your left, and you will discover one of the medieval treasures of Winchester. The staircase’s timber frame dates from about 1500, its cladding from the late seventeenth century, and the new staircase from as recently as 1954. Churches built over city gates were more common in times gone by, but this, the church of St-Swithun-upon-Kingsgate, is one of the few survivors.

Medieval Winchester had five main city gates, of which now only two survive. In the Saxon period this, the King’s Gate, may have provided 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. There is no record of the church above 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 who worked for the Abbey. No matter: St Swithun-upon-Kingsgate must have been a place of Christian worship for at least some seven hundred and fifty years.

It 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.

The roof is a steep pitched, open collar, seventeenth century construction, but 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.

On his daily walks during his stay in Winchester in 1819, Keats would have passed through this gateway to reach College Street from the Cathedral Close.

With its thick, flint-covered, rubble-filled medieval walls, it is among English Heritage’s Grade I listed buildings.

Artwork Comments

  • CraigsMom
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