05 June 2023

Winchester Palace, once
one of the largest buildings
in mediaeval London

The 14th century rose window in Winchester Palace, once the London palace of the mediaeval Bishops of Winchester (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

During last week’s visit to Southwark and Southwark Cathedral, two of us also visited the ruins of Winchester Palace, once one of the largest and most important buildings in mediaeval London.

The palace was built in the early 13th century as a home for the powerful Bishops of Winchester, but was mostly destroyed by fire in 1814. A few walls are all that remain of the palace, but visitors can see the impressive remaining walls of the Great Hall, including the magnificent rose window in the west gable.

Winchester Palace was first built in the 12th century by Bishop Henry de Blois, a brother of King Stephen, and the great hall was probably built ca 1136. The palace was built to house the bishops comfortably when they were in London on royal or administrative business.

Winchester had once been the capital of the Saxon kings of England. Southwark was once the largest manor in the Diocese of Winchester, and the Bishop of Winchester was a major landowner in the area. Traditionally, the mediaeval Bishops of Winchester were also the king’s royal treasurer, the equivalent of the Chancellor of the Exchequer today.

The Bishop of Winchester attended the king at his court in Westminster and at the Tower of London and also attended Parliament. Winchester Palace served as the London townhouse of the Bishops of Winchester. Many bishops similarly had palaces in London, such as Lambeth Palace, the residence of the Archbishops of Canterbury, and Ely Place, the townhouse of the Bishops of Ely.

Winchester Palace was in the parish of Southwark, then in Surrey, on the south bank of the River Thames, opposite the City of London and on what is now Clink Street, near Saint Saviour’s Church, now Southwark Cathedral.

The remains seen today are part of the Great Hall (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The hall was enlarged and the rose window built in the 14th century, possibly by Bishop William of Wykeham (1367-1398).

The remains seen today are part of the Great Hall. The gable wall of the hall has doors that once led to the buttery, pantry and kitchen, and it has a magnificent rose window. Below the hall was a vaulted cellar, where goods such as wine could be stored, with a passage to the river wharf.

The rest of the palace was arranged around two courtyards housing many buildings, including a prison, brewhouse and butchery. As the bishop’s private retreat from the stresses of mediaeval governance, the palace also had a tennis court, a bowling alley and pleasure gardens.

Below the hall was a richly decorated vaulted cellar with direct access to a wharf on the River Thames for bringing in supplies. Royal visitors were entertained at the palace, including The Great Hall would have been lavishly decorated in the 15th century, and was often used to entertain royal guests.

James I of Scotland and Joan Beaufort held their wedding feast there in 1424 after their wedding in what is now Southwark Cathedral. She was a niece of the then Bishop of Winchester, Cardinal Henry Beaufort, and of King Henry IV.

The palace was associated with the Liberty of the Clink on the south bank of the Thames. This was an area free from the jurisdiction of the City of London, and it became an area where activities suppressed in the City could flourish openly.

Gaming houses, bowling alleys, theatres and brothels abounded. It took its name from the notorious Clink prison which lay within the Liberty and gave rise to the slang expression ‘in the clink,’ or in prison. The Bishops of Winchester received rents from the many brothels, leading to the local prostitutes being known as the ‘Winchester Geese.’

During the English Civil War, Sir Thomas Ogle was imprisoned there. During his time in prison, he tried to draw Thomas Devenish, a member of John Goodwin’s Independent congregation, into a royalist plot to split the Parliamentarian Independents from the Presbyterians in order to boost Charles I’s numbers in Parliament.

From 1682 to 1686, the palace was remodelled, adding Corinthian columns and pilasters, to give a more contemporary Renaissance look. The sculpture and masonry was by Edward Strong the Elder.

The palace remained in use until around 1700, when it was converted and divided into tenement housing and warehouses. These were mostly destroyed by fire in 1814. Part of the great hall and the west gable end with its rose window became more visible after a fire in the 19th century fire and were finally revealed in the 1980s during redevelopment of the area.

The remains of Winchester Palace are a Grade II listed building and as a Scheduled Monument are under the care of English Heritage. Winchester Palace is managed by Bankside Open Spaces Trust, which has planted a mediaeval-style garden in the remains of the Great Hall.

Bankside Open Spaces Trust has planted a mediaeval-style garden in the remains of the Great Hall of Winchester Palace (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (8) 5 June 2023,
Trinity Monday

Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick, was built in 1831, but there has been a church on the site since the 13th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

This day, the day immediately after Trinity Sunday, was traditionally known as Trinity Monday (5 June 2023). The calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship today remembers Boniface (Wynfrith) of Crediton, Bishop, Apostle of Germany, Martyr, 754.

Trinity Monday remains an important day of celebration in both Trinity College Cambridge and Trinity College Oxford. However, Trinity Monday is no longer celebrated on this day in Trinity College Dublin. This year, Trinity Monday was marked in TCD on 24 April, when new honorary fellows, fellows and scholars were announced. The ceremony is one of the oldest and most colourful at TCD and refers back to its foundation in 1592.

Over these few weeks after Trinity Sunday, I am reflecting each morning in these ways:

1, Looking at relevant images or stained glass window in a church, chapel or cathedral I know;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

The east end of Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick:

For five years, I was priest-in-charge of the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes in the Diocese of Limerick, including Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick (2017-2022).

Holy Trinity Church was built at the west end of Rathkeale in 1831, but there has been a church on the site since the 13th century. Along with the hilltop pinnacle of Saint Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, the tower of Holy Trinity forms a notable skyline in Rathkeale that is visible for many miles.

A comprehensive list of Rectors of Rathkeale survives from the mid-15th century, when Dennis O’Farrelly (Offeralye) was Rector from 1459 to 1471.

It is believed the present church was designed by the Limerick-based Pain brothers, James Pain (1779-1877), whose other works in the Rathkeale group of parishes include Castletown Church and the former Rectory in Askeaton, and George Pain (1792-1838). The church is the third to be built on the site and may incorporate parts of a church that was standing there in 1825.

The simple and regular form of the nave and the single-cell with tower design are characteristic of Board of First Fruits churches of the era. Samuel Lewis wrote in 1837: ‘The church is a very handsome edifice, in the early English style, with a lofty square tower, embattled and crowned with crocketed pinnacles: it was erected in 1831, near the site of the former church, and is built of black marble raised from a quarry on the river’s bank near the town …’

Funds were raised in 1877 for a new chancel, so the church is a composite of work carried out throughout the 19th century.

The carved stone features add artistic interest to the fa├žade, as do the stained glass windows by Catherine O’Brien: the east window depicting the Parable of the Sower (1931) and the double lancet window in the south nave depicting Saint Paul and Saint Luke (1937). The variety of window openings includes Tudor and Gothic Revival styles.

The churchyard is the burial place for many Palatine families who moved to this area in the early 18th century. They were brought to the Rathkeale area by in 1709 by Thomas Southwell, whose family inherited some of the old Billingsley and Dowdall estate in the Rathkeale area. The names of the Palatine families buried here include Bovenizer, Teskey, Shier and Sparling.

The most imposing memorial is the Massy vault, built in 1800 by James FitzGerald Massy of Stoneville in 1800 and restored by Lucy Massy in 1907.

Beside Holy Trinity Church stands Church Street National School, formerly Rathkeale Number 2 School, built almost 200 years ago, at about the same time as Holy Trinity Church.

The East Window in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, by Catherine O’Brien, depicting the Parable of the Sower (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Mark 12: 1-12 (NRSVA):

12 Then he began to speak to them in parables. ‘A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a pit for the wine press, and built a watch-tower; then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. 2 When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants to collect from them his share of the produce of the vineyard. 3 But they seized him, and beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. 4 And again he sent another slave to them; this one they beat over the head and insulted. 5 Then he sent another, and that one they killed. And so it was with many others; some they beat, and others they killed. 6 He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally he sent him to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” 7 But those tenants said to one another, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.” 8 So they seized him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. 9 What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others. 10 Have you not read this scripture:

“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
11 this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is amazing in our eyes”?’

12 When they realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowd. So they left him and went away.

The window in the west tower in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s prayer:

The theme in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) this week is ‘Protecting the Environment in Zambia. This theme was introduced yesterday by USPG’s Regional Manager for Africa, Fran Mate, with a reflection from Zambia for the United Nations World Environment Day today.

The USPG Prayer invites us to pray this morning (Monday 5 June 2023, Trinity Monday; World Environment Day):

Let us pray for all events marking World Environment Day. May they raise awareness of the harm caused by environmental degradation and challenge us to take meaningful action.


God our redeemer,
who called your servant Boniface
to preach the gospel among the German people
and to build up your Church in holiness:
grant that we may preserve in our hearts
that faith which he taught with his words
and sealed with his blood,
and profess it in lives dedicated to your Son
Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion:

God our redeemer,
whose Church was strengthened by the blood of your martyr Boniface:
so bind us, in life and death, to Christ’s sacrifice
that our lives, broken and offered with his,
may carry his death and proclaim his resurrection in the world;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Inside Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, looking east (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Yesterday’s reflection<

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The two lancet windows by Catherine O’Brien in the south nave in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, depicting Saint Paul and Saint Luke (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)