- Your visit
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Located at the top of the High Street in the historic city of Winchester, Westgate Museum is housed inside a surviving fortified medieval city gateway. The museum tells the story of this remarkable building, and the history of Tudor and Stuart Winchester. It also offers great rooftop city views.
A debtors’ prison for 150 years, this beautifully refurbished listed monument is the last of the main medieval gates into the city. Today, Westgate Museum’s displays include a famous collection of pre-imperial weights and measures and a fine painted ceiling made for Winchester College in anticipation of a visit by Mary Tudor and Philip of Spain on the occasion of their marriage in Winchester in 1554.
There are plenty of hands-on activities for all the family to enjoy during your visit. Try on a replica coat of armour and Tudor costumes and pose for a photograph! Make a brass rubbing to take away and have a go at the Westgate spotter trail. Throughout the year, we run a programme of fun, family-friendly events and activities.
An Ancient City Gate
Explore the medieval Westgate Museum building, dating mainly to the 12th–14th centuries, which stands on the site of earlier gates dating back to Roman times. Climb the stairs to the atmospheric Westgate chamber where you can see the portcullis arch and gun ports that formed a part of the city defences, the earliest in the country. Look out for graffiti carved by debtor prisoners from the 16th–18th centuries and view the unique set of Winchester standard weights and measures, once used to prevent short measures. Climb up the ancient steps onto the Westgate roof to imagine yourself as a city guard looking out over views of the city.
A Tudor Royal Wedding
Westgate Museum features displays telling the story of Winchester in the 16th and 17th centuries. In 1554, Queen Mary Tudor married Philip of Spain in Winchester Cathedral, and Westgate Museum is now home to a beautiful Tudor ceiling commissioned by Warden White of Winchester College, with a frieze probably added by him on the occasion of the royal wedding. A portrait of Ralph Lamb who attended the wedding can also be seen, dressed in the finest Spanish style.
Seventeenth Century Winchester
The city suffered during the English Civil War as Oliver Cromwell captured the castle and later demolished it. On his way to trial and execution in London, Charles I was presented with the city mace at the Westgate by the royalist mayor in 1648. His son Charles II planned a great royal palace in the city. Civil War armour, King Charles II’s boot and a staff belonging to Oliver Cromwell’s son and successor, Richard Cromwell, can be seen in the museum today.
In a corner of the Westgate chamber hangs a gruesome set of gibbeting irons reputedly used to display the executed body of Jack the Painter, a notorious traitor who was caught trying to burn the docks in Portsmouth at the time of the American War of Independence. Leg irons hang from the walls as a reminder of crime and punishment in former days.
For 200 years Westgate Museum chamber was used as a debtors' prison, with Little Ease to the left of the original door in the archway used as a lock-up for drunkards and petty criminals. The prisoners whiled away their time cutting their names, dates and pictures on the walls of the room and these can be seen today, carved into the softer chalk. There is even a prisoner’s inscription carved onto a floorboard.
Weights and Measures
Westgate Museum is home to a unique set of standard weights and measures, used in the city to prevent unscrupulous traders from ‘giving short measure’. In Anglo-Saxon times, a law decreed that all measures must agree with the standards kept in London and Winchester. From that time the bushel for weighing dry goods became known as the ‘Winchester Measure’; the Winchester Bushel is still in use in the United States today.
Westgate Museum has an exhibition shop for you to purchase gifts and souvenirs from your visit, including souvenirs of historic Winchester, guidebooks, postcards and items suitable for children and adults.