But the traveller in search of something besides the picturesque will not be contented until he has explored the wonderful region that enshrines the most unique of human works in Britain, belonging to remotely different ages and widely dissimilar in aspect and purpose—Salisbury Cathedral and Stonehenge. No one can claim to know Wessex until some hours of quiet have been spent within the walls of the ancient capital, and no one can know England until the spirit of the English countryside, the secluded and primary village of the byways with its mothering church, rich with the best of the past, has been studied, known and loved. This is the essential England for which the yeoman of England, whose memorials will be seen in almost every Wessex hamlet, have given their lives.
[Illustration: St. Cross.]
WINCHESTER AND CENTRAL HAMPSHIRE
The foundations of the ancient capital of England were probably laid when the waves of Celtic conquest that had submerged the Neolithic men stilled to tranquillity. The earliest records left to us are many generations later and they are obscure and doubtful, but according to Vigilantius, an early historian whose lost writings have been quoted by those who followed him, a great Christian church was re-erected here in A.D. 164 by Lucius, King of the Belgae, on the site of a building destroyed during a temporary revival of paganism. The Roman masters of Lucius called his capital, rebuilt under their tuition, “Venta Belgarum.” The British name—Caer Gwent—belonged to the original settlement. The size and boundaries of both are uncertain. Remains of the Celtic age are practically non-existent beneath Winchester, though the surrounding hills are plentifully strewn with them, and if Roman antiquities occasionally turn up when the foundations of new buildings are being prepared, any plan of the Roman town is pure conjecture. The true historic interest of Winchester, and historically it is without doubt the most interesting city in England, dates from the time of those West Saxon chiefs who gave it the important standing which was eventually to make it the metropolis of the English.
The early history of Winteceaster is the history of Wessex, and when Cerdic decided to make it the capital of his new kingdom, about 520, it was probably the only commercial centre in the state, with Southampton as its natural port and allied town. As the peaceful development of Wessex went on, so the population and trade of the capital grew until in a little over a hundred years, when Birinus came from over seas bearing the cross of the faith that was soon to spread with great rapidity over the whole of southern England, he found here a flourishing though pagan town. After the conversion of King Cynegils the first Wessex bishopric was founded at Dorchester near the banks of the Thames, but by 674 this was removed to the capital where there had been built a small church dedicated to SS. Peter and Paul, probably on the site now occupied by the cathedral and originally by the church of Lucius and its predecessor.