Sunday, 20 September 2009

Drapers' Almshouse Outing to Winchester 2009

The Drapers' almshouse outings this year were for the first time to Winchester, a slightly lengthy journey for Queen Elizabeth's and Walter’s Close who had to navigate across London, but both took place on fine autumn days which got progressively warmer after a cloudy start, and were greatly enjoyed.

Unusually, this time residents were given a guided tour - of Winchester Cathedral - immortalised for most of the older residents in song. The beauty of the architecture is inspiring and the whole structure makes up in length what it lacks in height (it has the longest nave in Europe).

On the first visit, Sir Nicholas Jackson (whose grandfather was Cathedral Architect at a critical juncture in the Cathedral’s history – it was about to fall down and was saved by Jackson, Fox, an engineer and Walker, a diver) - knew the Cathedral’s Archaelogical Consultant, Dr John Crook, and the latter was kind enough to give the residents an introduction to the Cathedral and cover some of its fascinating history from the time that Winchester could be said to have been ‘the capital of England’. (The same history was covered by the excellent guides on the second visit).

Sir Nicholas was also found, to the residents’ astonishment, to have played in the Cathedral, a fact that the Drapers’ were accused of hiding, and this gave the visit added flavour as they surveyed the enormous Willis organ from the choir and wondered how such a monster could be tamed.

Although few residents climbed the stairs to see the Winchester Bible and none went up the tower, all were impressed with the beauty of the place and amazed at the extraordinary West Window which is made from fragments saved by the townspeople from the destruction wrought during the Reformation.

Most residents took their lunch in the Cathedral Cafe and then dispersed to the pedestrianised High St and beyond, some walking up to the Castle and into the Great Hall to see ‘King Arthur’s Round Table’ as well as the beautiful gates commissioned for Charles and Diana’s ill-fated marriage, and to survey the town below.

A few adventurous souls passed through the Cathedral Close and were taken on a tour of Winchester College by Herry Lawford, an Old Wykehamist, but only Christopher Barker passed by the meadows where Keats is said to have composed his ‘Ode to Autumn’, on his way to call on his old friend, the former Bishop of Winchester, who lives at St Cross.

Winchester is blessed with an extraordinary number of cafes and tea-rooms as well as fine gardens and riverside walks and pleasant hours were easily passed before the coach arrived for the journey home.