|HCC Site ID:||1807||Parish:||Winchester|
|Designations:||CA, House LB II*, Temple LB II||Area:||small|
|Access:||Public Access||Ownership:||Winchester City Council|
Site and Location
Abbey Gardens are situated close to the Guildhall on The Broadway, in Winchester.
Abbey Gardens stands on the site of part of King Alfred’s Nunnaminster. The stream flowing through the gardens once fed the fishponds and powered the mill of the Nunnaminster, founded by King Alfred’s wife, Ealhswith. It was later rebuilt as St Mary’s Abbey. The land was divided into two and in 1751, the fine Abbey House with formal gardens was built on the eastern side later to become the Mayor’s official residence. In 1759, a Garden Temple with a Doric portico of 4 columns, entablature and pediment crowned with urns, was built across a conduit to hide the ancient mill.
In 1879, the western part of the gardens was separated and cleared for the building of the Guildhall. In 1890, Winchester Town Council applied to the Local Government board for a loan of £5000 to purchase the Abbey House gardens to be used as a Public Pleasure Ground. Folkestone Place, a row of houses facing the Broadway, was demolished and the grounds were laid out and ‘improved’ during 1890/91. During the 1890s the brick walk surrounding the property was gradually replaced by iron gates and railings paid for by Richard Moss. A bridge was constructed opposite the front door of the house and money was spent on turf, trees, shrubs, bulbs, seats, a notice board and even goldfish.
The Temple was repaired, cleaned and painted, a large greenhouse disposed of, paths laid out along the river, trees thinned out and 24 seats located. The gardens were open on weekdays from 11.00am–8.00pm and on Sundays from 2.00-5.00pm. A statue of Queen Victoria by Sir Arthur Gilbert RA, commissioned for the Golden Jubilee in 1887 and sited in the Castle Yard, was moved to the Abbey Grounds and remained there until 1910 when it was returned to the County Council and placed in the Great Hall.
During the 20th century the property was continuously maintained despite some setbacks during the two World Wars, for example in 1939 three ugly air-raid shelters were constructed and some iron railings were removed.
Today, there are two large lawns separated by landscaped borders and a pathway running through the middle, and various attractive trees. There is a rose garden and close to the Abbey House, a scented garden for the blind with a large water feature/sundial. Weeping willows hang over the mill stream until it reaches the Doric Temple with the channel of the Itchen runs through. The former mill with the protico became the popular River Cottage Kitchen which retained many of the interior mill workings and the Doric portico. Unfortunately the restaurant was forced to close its doors in 2020 followingthe Covid-1 pandemic, and it is hoped that both the mill interior and portico will survive.
The gardens are extensively used by the public, particularly in the Spring and Summer when they are especially attractive, while Abbey House remains the Mayor’s Official residence. There is also a well-used children’s play area.
Summary and Significance
Abbey House was built on the site of King Alfred’s Nunnaminster in the mid-18th, with gardens and a functioning mill to which a Doric Temple front was added for disguise. Acquired by Winchester Corporation in 1890 and laid out as public pleasure gardens; now a popular, well-maintained public park with children’s play area.
Hampshire Records Office
120M94/080 Hampshire Chronicle c 1969
Winchester City website
Updated August 2020