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St John's, the oldest parish church in Winchester, lies on the slopes of Magdalen Hill. This area is known as The Soke, meaning the suburb. In mediaeval times it was outside the city's jurisdiction, subject only to the authority of the Bishop. The church building was certainly in existence in 1142, though its exact age remains elusive. Parts of the building may have been significantly older since the church stands in the middle of an important fourth century Romano-British cemetery.
The tower is a later addition in the fifteenth century. Eventually, the Soke became a quite prosperous area of Winchester, partly due to the growth of the St Giles Fair on the hill above the church. The first scholars at Winchester College lodged in the area and attended St John's whilst the college was being built by William of Wykeham. This was also one of the last churches pilgrims would attend before setting out for Canterbury. St John's was built on an early drovers' way into the city from the downs and indeed was once known as St John's Upperdoune.
The street follows a Roman road, and Roman coffins have been found here. Since it is set on a steep ridge above the then walled city, with the Cathedral and Castle over the river, the church was also known at one time as St John de Montebus.
The church is open during daylight hours.