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.
This picturesque Elizabethan timber-framed building next to the Close Gate, with its towering gables and leaded windows, once served as the Bishop of Winchester’s courthouse. The long timber-framed building next to it dates from 1479 and was once the priory’s stable block.
These four imposing Norman arches are one of the few remaining traces of the monastery buildings swept away in the Dissolution. They were once part of the monastery’s chapter house, where the monks met daily to hear a reading from St Benedict and deal with business matters.
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.’
Following an opening ceremony on Tuesday 15th March, the much loved Dean Garnier Garden, situated in the Inner Close of Winchester Cathedral, has now reopened to the public. A place of stillness and beauty, the Dean Garnier Garden has been shut whilst essential conservation work was carried out to the stonework around the door.
One of our hidden gems, this tranquil and beautifully planted walled garden in the Inner Close stands on the site of the monks’ dormitory that was once part of the great medieval site.
Dean Garnier Garden opening times:
- Summer Weekdays –9am – 4pm
- Summer Weekends -9am – 5:30pm
- Winter Weekdays –9am – 4pm
- Winter Weekends –Closed
Easily recognised by its superb 13th-century vaulted porch with its pointed arches, this building was once the medieval prior’s lodgings. It was substantially rebuilt in the 17th century, but it’s fine ‘Prior’s Hall’, once a Great Chamber, retains a magnificent timber roof dating from 1459.
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.
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.
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.
Founded in 1931, this preparatory school for boys aged 4 to 13 is based in a fine late 17th-century redbrick house in the Inner Close. It is also one of the major choir schools in the UK, educating both our own Cathedral Choristers and the Quiristers of Winchester College’s chapel choir.
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.
Directly opposite the main entrance to the Cathedral, you will find our modern Visitors’ Centre, built between 1991 and 1993 to house the Cathedral Cafe and Shop. Its award-winning contemporary design, large terrace and pretty walled garden make it a great place to meet.