Lying at the spiritual and physical heart of Winchester, the Close is a large, tranquil green space in the city, much of it sheltered behind ancient flint and stone walls. It is also a bustling thoroughfare linking the town to Winchester College and the water meadows that lie beyond.
To the right of the Cathedral’s imposing west front, a narrow pedestrian passage leads through a buttress from the outer to the inner close. Built by Bishop Curle in 1632, the archway created a new outdoor route between the two areas – before that, pedestrians had to walk through the Cathedral. A Latin epigram nearby commemorates the separation of ‘those who would worship and those who would walk.’
The Inner Close
The north part of the Cathedral’s grassy inner close was once the main cloister of St Swithun’s Priory, off which lay the monks’ dormitory and chapter house. To the south, behind the monks’ refectory, was a smaller cloister with an infirmary to care for aged monks. Beyond the infirmary existed a more public outer court with a guest-house and stabling for visitors.
The Outer Close
A large crowded graveyard once filled the open area between the Cathedral and the town. This was cleared in the 19th century and later became the much-loved public space it is today. To the east, behind some railings, you will find the excavated site of the Saxon Old Minster and the New Minster that replaced it.
The Pilgrims' Hall
In 1310, St Swithun’s Priory erected a guesthouse for its many visitors, known since Victorian times as the ‘Pilgrims’ Hall’. Its magnificent timber roof is England’s earliest surviving example of ‘hammer-beam’ construction, complete with splendid carved heads, one of which may be the young King Edward II.
The Pilgrims' School
The Priory Gate
This fine wisteria-clad late 15th-century gate with its two massive iron-studded oak gates once gave access to the ‘working’ courtyard of the medieval priory, including a guest-house and stabling for visitors. It is still closed up every evening. The gate is topped by a tiny room, originally part of the organist’s house.