The Guildhall Winchester has a long history, with the original building’s construction being completed in 1873; however, the site it was built on has its own unique history.
King Alfred the Great’s widow, Aelswith, founded a nunnery and retired there after her husband’s death in 899AD. The nunnery later became St Mary’s Abbey and grew to be one of the largest nunneries in England until King Henry VIII’s demolition of nunneries in 1538. The land remained under the crowns control until Mary Tudor gifted it to the city corporation due to their assistance in staging her marriage to Phillip II of Spain.
The idea for the construction of Guildhall came about due to the central governments increasing of local councils responsibilities meaning a larger space was required. The original brief for the building consisted of space for the police, fire brigade, courts, jails, a museum, a library, offices and meeting rooms, a public exhibition hall and kitchens and toilets. The entire build came to a total of £14,000 which, by today’s standards is extremely cheap for a build of this calibre. The council announced an architectural competition with a closing date of the 31st of December 1870, and they received 46 applications, the winning application came from Hastings architects Jeffrey and Skiller with a gothic build which had been going through a revival since the 1840’s and had been promoted as the national style.
The statues in the Broadway frontage were created to depict both Winchester’s legendary and real history, including King Arthur’s establishment of the Order of the Round Table, William the Conqueror compiling the Doomsday Book and many others. The Broadway frontage is the most ornate part of the buildings exterior being built out of stone and featuring the statues and other decorations, whereas the rest of the building was constructed out of brick with little to no exterior decoration. The Guildhall then went on to have an extension built, known as the West Wing, which allowed easier access to the library as well as the newly established art school. In 1892 a further extension was added by John Colson who built a new banquet room, later named the King Charles Room. Colson also installed new toilets and kitchens as well as adding further extensions to the large hall such as changing rooms and a backstage area.
In 1898 the museum left Guildhall and moved to Westgate, before moving once again in 1903 to a purpose built museum. In 1908 the limestone steps at the front of the building began to rapidly deteriorate and in as little as four weeks were completely demolished and recreated using pre-cast concrete known as ‘Empire Stone’. In 1936 the library left the West Wing and was relocated to Jewry Street, the fire brigade also relocated to North Walls in 1936, whereas the police station continued to occupy part of the Guildhall until they were also relocated to North Walls in 1966.
In 1969 an electrical fire broke out in the West Wing which destroyed the interior, the roof and many council documents, including those that related directly to Guildhall. In 1972 Guildhall and the West Wing extension were listed Grade II meaning that they had either historic or architectural interest. In 1974 the local government went through a reorganisation meaning that there were a larger number of council members but nowhere to hold meetings, despite the relocation of previous Guildhall inhabitants leaving many rooms vacant, they were not big enough to hold council meetings. In 1982 the council decided to make changes and Guildhall was drastically altered. Areas such as the jails and police house were demolished and rebuilt as larger rooms were built in their place to accommodate council meetings but also to be used as venues that could be rented out for various events. In the 1980’s the West Wing underwent a renovation in which extra floors were added and the entire wing were converted into offices after the fire a few years previously. Between 2009 and 2010 Guildhall went through further renovations which included fixing and replacing roofs, general upkeep of the Broadway frontage and uncovering many original Victorian features that had been previously covered with plasterboard.
Many of the more modern renovations were only able to happen due to the generous donation of Bapsybanoo Pavry who became the Marchioness of Winchester despite only visiting the city once. As a sign of the cities gratitude her portrait is displayed next to the Bapsy Hall alongside a display case full of information and antiques left by Bapsy.