Bishop's Waltham Palace is one of three surviving palaces used by the Bishop's of Winchester in medieval times. The others are Wolvesey Palace (often referred to as Wolvesey Castle) and Farnham Castle.
In medieval England, Bishop's were very powerful men, not only in a religious context but often as close advisors to the monarch. With this power came considerable wealth, and great palaces were built to ensure that both the Bishop and the monarch had accommodation that was befitting their status as and when they and their large entourage travelled.
It is believed that the Bishop of Winchester may have had a residence at Waltham since Saxon times, although the first mention of it is in the Winchester Annals of 1138 as part of a list of buildings constructed by Bishop Henry of Blois. However, it appears that the palace was rebuilt by Henry on a much grander scale in 1158, and the main palace layout has changed little since this time despite having been altered by many subsequent Bishops.
Bishop's Waltham Palace was used extensively between the 12th and 14th centuries. Many of the larger buildings that survive include the western range that was originally built in the 12th century and would have been the main heart of the palace. This range includes the Great Hall, The West Tower and the Bishop's Great Chamber.
As the name suggests, the Great Hall was designed to impress and would have been used by the Bishops for hosting superb banquets and feasts. Behind the southern end of the hall, a passageway would have led to the West Tower, which not only provided private accommodation for the Bishop but also a place of safety in times of need. The Great Chamber that adjoins the tower, and forms a southern range, was the place where the Bishop held audiences and conducted the business of the day.
As mentioned previously, all these buildings were originally built in the mid to late 12th century, but most were subject to modernisation by Bishop Wykeham in the 14th century. Wykeham was also responsible for the other large surviving gabled building on the eastern side of the site - a Bakehouse and Brewhouse completed in 1381.
Further notable additions were made to Bishop's Waltham Palace in the 15th century by Bishop Beaufort. These included a northern range of palace lodgings, as well as a new chapel to the east of Henry of Blois' original structure. The lodging range, most of which is now only at foundation level, comprised 22 self-contained rooms across two floors. One of these has been recreated in the area above what is now the current ticket office. Both the ticket office and the room above were converted to a farmhouse in the 17th century, after the Palace was abandoned.
By the early 17th century, Bishop's Waltham Palace had reached the limit of its development. It was now a substantial complex, with the most important buildings surrounding a courtyard cloister walk at the southern end, and the remainder forming a much larger inner courtyard to the north. The entire complex was surrounded by a moat.
Unfortunately, the history of Bishop's Waltham Palace took a catastrophic turn. Fortified on behalf of the king during the English Civil War, the palace was captured by parliamentarian forces in 1644 and set alight. Although restored to the Bishops of Winchester at the time of the restoration, it was considered to be no longer habitable and the site was subsequently abandoned. Ultimately, as with the majority of sites that went out of use, it proved to be a convenient quarry for the local inhabitants.