Winchester Hidden Waterways Walk

Went on another of the summer’s Hidden Walks in Winchester using this handy little map handed out to us:

Lots of pretty old brooks in Winchester.  The reason for ‘The Brooks’ shopping centre name is much clearer now!  Sitting as it does between Upper and Middle Brook.  Fairly obvious really when you stop to think about it.  You wouldn’t necessarily realise the brooks are there, but the street names are a bit of a give-away.
Colebrook Street looks back to the pedestrian footpath between the buildings which now cover lower brook. You can see and hear the river flowing just in front of the entrance to this pedestrian tunnel and underneath a street grating at the bottom end of the town markets. Surprisingly easy to miss on your day to day business!  This is the lowest elevation of the whole city apparently.
You can hear the ancient river flowing underneath the car park of the Mercure Hotel too as it leads on underneath Paternoster Row.

Truly old (manmade) waterways these ones.  Some background…  Saxon people didn’t like living in cities / towns and much preferred to be in the space and peace of the countryside.  But living in the countryside brought no protection from Viking raids which Alfred sought to protect the people from in the walled city of Winchester.  So to convince people to move, Alfred agreed to let/ had AEthelwold (nephew to Alfred the Great) [built] the three brooks (upper, middle and lower) in the late 9th century [Adendum: AEthelwold came much later than Alfred, the first formation of the brooks are thought to be attributed to Alfred’s reign – don’t believe everything you hear from a guide without doing some fact-checking] to make it seem more natural and hence convince Saxon countrymen to live in the city where Alfred could protect them.  Which apparently worked.
Which makes some of these waterways (now mostly hidden) over 1100 years old!  Blimey.
Ealswith, wife of King Alfred, was given the site of the Abbey Gardens to build a nunnery to help local women [gifted part of the city by Alfred upon which she later built the abbey gardens, or Nunnaminster as it was known, after Alfred’s death (so people think). It is thought nuns there helped local people in need by feeding those staying at local almshouses with food grown at the abbey.]  No abbey these days.  But a watercourse remains with more modern sluice gates just in front of River Cottage restaurant, which the watercourse flows under.
Winchester city mill, now a national trust property, is just one of what would have been a fair few mills in the city.   The energy used in the construction and use of urban farming infrastructure is one of the most criticised aspects of it’s use in terms of sustainability.  Needs sustainable power to make it practical.  Mills present the perfect opportunity to generate some.  They’ll be entering my master plan…

The sharp bend of Wales Street onto North Walls never used to be there, this huge Mill (formerly the cities most profitable & productive) was though; formerly on the site of the bridge.  Modern sluice gates are now sited where the water wheel would have been.
This is the water meadows on the north side of the city centre along with the chunky new flood defence walls.  You can see the steel channels for sliding in the flood gates.  Broad Ditch found here is the oldest canal in Europe they reckon.  See map insert above.

Finally, Middle Brook Street now and then.  Look how much nicer it could have been with all that water on your doorstep (ignoring waste dumped into it).  Following a dispute in the 17th century (I think) raised with the king about the use of the river by a dyer upstream, the monarchy passed rules reaffirming the river waters as ‘commons’ but at the same time limiting what could be dumped into it.  Early environmental protection laws!  I will be reintroducing parts of these exposed waterways into my master plan I reckon.


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