The ruins of a medieval palace (together with later additions) used by the Bishops and senior clergy of Winchester as they travelled through their diocese. Winchester was the richest diocese in England, and its properties were grandiose and extravagantly appointed. Much of what can be seen today is the work of William Wykeham, who was bishop from 1367. The ground floor of the Farmhouse is occupied by the Bishop’s Waltham Town Museum.
About ten miles S.W. of Winchester is the large village of Bishop’s Waltham. The chace and manor of Waltham (Weald-hame, or the home in the chace, or forest), belonged to the See of Winchester from its earliest creation: Semper fuit de Episcopatu, is said of it in Domesday Book; and it was the favourite hunting-ground of the princelike bishops of the twelfth century, when, from the absence of markets, they, like their Sovereigns, had to rely upon their game preserves for the daily food of themselves and their large following. The castle had a beautiful site, just to the S.W. of the present town, where the ruins of the late bishop’s palace, of which a considerable portion remains, show the grandeur of these prelates in the days of their power and wealth. The river Hamble, there a rivulet flowing through the valley, was embanked so as to form a large sheet of water, both for protection in front, and also to feed the castle moats, and supply the fish stews or ponds. The fortress was founded, as were Wolvesey and Merdon, by Bishop Henry de Blois, who, as he was one of the most powerful and warlike prelates of the day, was also one of the greatest castle builders. Perhaps this stronghold was originally intended for a hunting lodge, defensible like Knepp in Sussex and others, and to it, besides the chace of Waltham, was attached a park of l000 acres surrounding the place. It was at all events large enough for Henry II. to hold in it a great council for the purpose of buying supplies towards the Crusade projected by him; and Richard I., his son, was entertained here after his coronation at Winchester on his return from captivity. But the transformation of the place into a refined and stately abode is due to the princely taste and skill of William of Wykeham, when Bishop of Winchester. His great hall in the inner court, the front wall of which remains in a tolerably entire state, had the noble proportions of 66 feet in length by 27 wide, and was 25 feet high; it was lighted by five beautiful windows on each side, and there are the shafts of several brick chimneys of his time. He died here in 1404, in his eightieth year. Then Bishop Langton, who succeeded 1493, added much to the structure, and to his time is ascribed the outer court, now converted into a farm yard. Some other parts were added by other bishops. Of the older and defensible structure there remains a tower 17 feet square; and the wall which surrounds the area of the palace on the E. and S., and which originally ran round the whole of it, as is shown in the foundations, is most probably the work of Langton. The form of the place is a parallelogram divided into two courts, the W. side of the second or inner court being occupied by the hall, and its E. side by the chapel; there were towers at all the corners. Among the ruins of Langton’s buildings is one of large dimensions, now used as a barn, which has the appearance of having been a bakehouse, and is fitted with ovens, above it being the dormitories; the large building outside was perhaps the stable. Bishop Fox, the great statesman and prelate, and chief councillor of Henry VII., held the See of Winton from 1501 to 1528, and as the episcopal income was then equal to £44,000 a year of our money (1896 prices), he was able to keep up great State in his several palaces and castles, and we read that he kept an establishment of 220 menservants at Waltham. In this bishop’s will it is stated that he left all his castles, manor-houses and other buildings in good condition, which affords a useful date in appraising their subsequent decay. Grose tells us that this palace was battered down in 1645 by artillery from the E. side, placed on high ground near the Southampton road, and that the bishop escaped hidden in a manure cart. Bishop Poynet (temp. Edward VI.) first alienated Waltham in favour of the Marquess of Winchester; then after its demolition by the Parliament the manor was sold, and the bishop’s park turned into a farm. Afterwards, as the Bishops of Winchester had the castle of Farnham for a palace, there was no necessity for rebuilding this one, and the fine work of William of Wykeham and his successors was left to decay and so perished. (Castles Of England, Sir James D. Mackenzie, 1896)