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Winchester High Street, Warren & Son, 1900

Wintonchester in Hardy’s novels is the ancient city of Winchester, once the capital of England. By the 18th century the city had fallen into a sleepy decline.  “A place of no trade, no manufacture, no navigation,” wrote Daniel Defoe in 1724. “A paltry town and small,” sneered Horace Walpole in 1755. Hardy’s view was more generous:

“...that fine old city, aforetime capital of Wessex, lay midst its convex and concave downlands in all the brightness and warmth of a July morning. The gabled brick, tile, and freestone houses had almost dried off for the season their integument of lichen, the streams in the meadow were low, and in the sloping High Street, from the West Gateway to the medieval cross, and from the medieval cross to the bridge, that leisurely dusting and sweeping was in progress which usually ushers in an old-fashioned market-day.”

By Hardy’s day, the fortunes of the city had been turned around thanks to the arrival of the railway in 1840. A new Guildhall, Corn Exchange and Market Hall were built. This photograph, one of ninety-nine views of Winchester and its neighbourhood published by Warren & Son in 1900, shows a busy High Street with flourishing shops. The medieval cross mentioned by Hardy can be seen beneath the street clock.

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