Battlefield History Tours

Battlefield History Tours
Incorporating History and Heritage tours

Cathedrals and Abbeys of England on 5 September 2019


Today our tour started, or should I say nearly didn't start. Michael our driver arrived before our programmed departure time, but I noticed that the bonnet would not stay shut on the coach. Michael immediately phoned the office to have a new coach sent to us. The coach did eventually reach us, but it was truly funny watching the coach fly past the entrance to our Novotel, time and again. This was real Keystone Cops stuff!!

Eventually an operations manager came out and -found- the coach hovering somewhere or else and escorted the coach to find us. By this time, we were late and timing wasn't an issue as we still had 1½ hours to reach the first Cathedral of our visits, Winchester. After everyone was found and the coach swapped over, we headed out to Winchester for our planned meeting with the Cathedral guide. Now, it is quite unbelievable that some of the drivers do not know their way around London. But all good as we loaded our gear onto the new coach and headed West.

As we arrived into Winchester, the first notable thing we saw was a very big statue of Alfred the Great who made Winchester his capital as did William the 1st after his conquest of England in 1066. But before all that, Winchester where the beginnings of the Cathedral date back to the 7th Century missions to England when St Birinus baptised King Cynegils of the West Saxons in 635. In 634 Cenwalh built a minster at Winchester and Bishop Haedds transferred his see there 3 decades later establishing the minster as his Cathedral.

Thus, Winchester became a royal and ecclesiastical centre, mortuary chests with the bones of Kings and Queens are still in the possession of the Cathedral. As William the 1st wanted to thank god for his victory at Hastings, he decided to build 20 new cathedrals and 200 castles across England. So, he gathered as many stone masons that there were available and realised that there were not enough to complete that huge task that he set. This was due to the Saxons did not usually build in stone, but wood where the Normans used stone for all their buildings. He then arranged a major apprenticeship scheme to train stone masons. The result is shown on one particular area of the Winchester Cathedral as the stonework is very untidy and the joints between the blocks are not fine and clean. But as the time went on one can see the improvements as the apprentices gained more experience. This was pointed out by our excellent guide Ian. If you visited this cathedral, or I suppose any on your own, you would miss much. Better to have a guide.

It took 41 years for the Cathedral to be built but not finished as over the following decades much has been changed and added. As the area was built on a peat bog, stone foundations needed to be driven deep to ensure stability. However, at one stage there was an extension built and the instructions to the builder was to do the work quickly. So, the builder decided to use Birch Logs as his foundation to save time. This worked well for 300 years but then in the late 19th Century due to the water table receding and air reaching the logs, they started to rot and that part of the Cathedral started to lean badly.

When looking at that part of the Cathedral one can notice the lean, that was stopped from leaning further in the very early 20th Century but is said that the columns in that area have more of a lean than the tower of Pisa. The lean was corrected by using a helmeted diver, Mr Walker, to go under the Cathedral, in the water and working in the dark, to dig 200 plus trenches and prepare the site for the pouring of concrete as a new foundation. It took him 7 years to complete which saved the Cathedral. The pub next door is named after him and there is a statue in the Cathedral in his honour.

The Patron Saints of the Cathedral are St Paul and St Peter but it is interesting that the legend of Santa Claus may have stated here when the was a poor fellow who had no marriage dowry for his 3 daughters and they could not marry as fiancés wouldn’t marry without a dowry and he approached St Nicolas for help. St Nicolas took 3 bags of gold and dropped them down the man’s chimney and all his daughters were able to marry. Presents down a chimney, who does that?

The Cathedral has association with the writers Izaak Walton and Jane Austen, both are buried there. However, the first inscription for Jane Austen which is on the tablet over her grave does not mention that she had been a writer and that was due to the time and all her books until her death when published recorded that they were written by a Lady. After her death her brother, who was an Admiral of the Fleet had the brass plaque that I show in one of my photos, installed adjacent to her grave and refers to her as the author. Many memorials to the Regiments that have protected England both here and abroad are within the Cathedral.

This was a wonderful start to our Cathedrals and Abbeys of England Tour. Much more to come.

Graham Fleeton


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