Winchester Palace, also known as the King's House and Peninsula Barracks

Winchester Palace

Winchester Palace was built on the site of the Winchester castle which was stormed by Oliver Cromwell in 1645 after a short siege during the English Civil War. Despite the damage done to the castle during the siege it was still considered a defensible position and so Parliament ordered it destroyed in 1650.

In 1682 king Charles II purchased the site of the former castle from the City of Winchester and commissioned Christopher Wren to design and build a royal palace on the site. The king had spent an increasing amount of time in Winchester having partly been lured there by horse racing. The palace designed by Wren was inspired by the French royal palace at Versailles near Paris and it was planned to be aligned with the west front of Winchester Cathedral.

An avenue connecting the two was also envisaged for the houses of the nobility and gentry that would inevitably wish to follow the King's lead and have a residence in Winchester. The work progressed quickly and the main shell was finished when the king died in 1685. Charles' successor James II was less keen on Winchester and his turbulent reign left little time or money for projects such as Winchester Palace and so it remained unfinished.

William of Orange and Mary paid little attention to Winchester and its palace and it was not until the accession of Queen Anne to the throne in 1702 that interest was again shown in the palace, this time as a residence for other members of the Royal household such as her consort Prince George of Denmark. Still the palace remained empty and it was not until 1756 that a use was found for the palace, that of a prison.

1756 saw the start of the seven years war and Winchester Palace was chosen to house prisoners of war. Over the next 35 years the palace saw French, American, Spanish and Dutch prisoners, all captured during the various colonial wars of the time including the American War of Independence. In 1792 the nature of the residents changed again when the palace was appointed for the housing of French religious refugees who had fled France as a result of the revolution.

The palace saw its final change of use in 1792 when British soldiers were billeted there for the first time and the first floor level, which had been built as banqueting rooms, was split into two levels to increase the buildings capacity. The palace remained the central barrack to the larger Peninsula Barracks site for 102 years as new buildings were built around it but the night of December 19th, 1894 saw the end of the palace.

A fire broke out in the palace just after midnight and quickly spread due to a lack of water with which to fight it. By the time sufficient water arrived the fireman had to turn their attention to protecting the 12th century Great Hall, the only surviving building from the medieval castle, and the palace was gutted leaving an unsafe shell. The palace was demolished and two new barrack buildings were constructed in a similar style to the Wren building using some salvaged architectural detailing. The site continued to be used as army barracks until 1986 when the army left and the buildings were subsequently converted into residential flats in the 1990s.