london panoramic cityscape
Winchester HouseLondon
(Ruins)
Clink Street
Southwark SE1
TfL Fare Zone 1
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Over 1,400 years ago Winchester in Hampshire was the royal and religious centre of Anglo-Saxon England.
The Italian missionary St Birinus brought Christianity to the dominant Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex in the 7th century. In 648 King Cenwalh, invited Birinus to establish an important minster at Winchester. This became for first See of Winchester and St Birinus the first Bishop.
 
King Alfred made Winchester the capital of Wessex and the Diocese of Winchester covered the whole of southern England and stretched as far as the Thames in London and the Channel Islands.
 
The land on the south bank of the Thames near the present day Southwark Cathedral was given by King Stephen to his brother Henry of Blois, the Bishop of Winchester, in the 12th century.
 
Liberty of the Clink 
The ‘Liberty of the Clink’ was established and the London Palace of the Bishop of Winchester was built where Clink Street now runs.
 
Winchester House is all that now remains of this once great palace. The size of the 13th century Great Hall with its magnificent rose window measuring thirteen feet across gives us some idea of the splendour of this palace.
 
Built in 1190 on 70 acres of land the palace grew in size relative to the Bishops of Winchester’s increased influence, wealth and power. The Palace was built around two courtyards. The richly decorated Great Hall built c.1220 had vaulted cellars which opened directly onto the river wharf allowing easy transport of provisions and wares.
 
The palace had its own brewery, butchery, prison, tennis court and bowling alley. For over 500 years the palace and grounds dominated the south bank of the Thames.
 
Winchester Geese
In 1161 the bishop was granted the power to license prostitutes and brothels in the liberty. These prostitutes became known as “Winchester Geese”. The Liberty of the Clink was outside the jurisdiction of the City of London and was also granted immunity from the laws governing the county of Surrey.
 
They were a law unto themselves. Anything that was forbidden in another jurisdiction was looked upon favourably by the Clink Liberty. Of course this meant that heretics and breakers of the Liberty’s laws had to be incarcerated in the Bishop of Winchester’s own prison.
 
Thrown in the Clink
The slang term ‘thrown in the Clink’ meaning imprisonment dates from the time when the prison was owned by the Liberty of the Clink estate.
 
In the 16th century playhouses and theatres like The Globe were banned in the City of London but they flourished in the Liberty. The south bank became the entertainment hub of Elizabethan London. Hundreds of taverns catered to the crowds that flocked to the theatres, bull and bear baiting pits, to gamble and use the services of the “Winchester Geese”. When there poor unfortunate women died they were buried in un-consecrated land in Cross Bones Graveyard. The Graveyard is just a 5 minute walk from The Borough Markets.
 
The Bishops of Winchester were always closely allied with the Crown and were involved in many of the important events in Britain’s turbulent history. It was in this palace in 1424 that a lavish wedding breakfast was held after the wedding of James I of Scotland in Southwark Priory church.
 
King Henry VIII & Katherine Howard
Later, in the 16th century it is believed that King Henry VIII met his fifth wife Katherine Howard at a banquet held in the Bishop’s palace and organised by the Duke of Norfolk. Unfortunately it was not such a lucky meeting for Katherine because in 1542 she ended up being beheaded in The Tower of London
 
The Civil War which started in 1642 finished the cosy relationship between the Crown and the Liberty of the Clink estate. The property was seized by the Parliamentarians and used to house Royalists prisoners until the end of the war when it was sold off. Winchester House was returned to the church in 1660 when the monarchy was restored under Charles II. The palace was divided into tenements and warehouses.
 
Clink Prison Museum
Destroyed in 1780 the Clink prison was destroyed in the Gordon Riots of 1780 and in 1819 the Bishop’s Palace was badly damaged by fire. The Liberty of the Clink was finally abolished in 1889 when it became absorbed into the County of London under The Local Government Act of 1888. The remains of the Bishop’s Palace came to light when an old warehouse was demolished during the redevelopment of South Bank.
 
The Clink Prison Museum now stands on the site of the original prison.
 
Getting There
To plan your journey whilst in London, use the Transport for London 'Journey Planner' above.
 
The nearest London Underground Tube station is:
London Bridge Station      Jubilee and Northern Lines
 
Clink Street  Accessible from the west side of Southwark Cathedral.
 
The ruins of the Great Hall are at street level on the left side of Clink Street. On the right side of the street are 19th century warehouse buildings. At the end of Clink Street are the Clink Museum and The Anchor Inn.
 
Alternatively Clink Street can be reached from the north bank of the River Thames by using the pedestrian Millennium Bridge. Once on the south bank follow the river walk south towards Southwark.

Google Maps - Winchester House