A Brief History of the Hospital of St. Cross, Winchester

Introduction

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The Cardinal Beaufort Tower, 14th C

The Hospital of St. Cross is a medieval almshouse located in Winchester, approximately a mile away from the city center and Winchester Cathedral.

Winchester itself is easily reached from the M3, and a 1 hour 15 train ride from London Waterloo.

Founded in the 12th century, it is the oldest and the largest medieval almshouse in Britain.

It is a surprise and truly one of those places that completely exceed your expectations. Please check the website for visiting times.

History

The land that the Hospital of St. Cross stands already had a religious background

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14th c Almshouses

when Henry of Blois founded the hospital between 1132 and 1136.

This makes it one of England’s oldest charities.

Henry of Blois was one of William the Conqueror’s grandsons, and in 1129 he was created Bishop of Winchester.

The Hospital was created to support 13 men who were too ill to work, and also to feed the local poor. Up to 100 men would show up to the gates every day to receive food.

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View of the Cardinal Beaufort Tower from the Church

The 13 men became the Brothers of St. Cross, and the Hospital remained a secular foundation rather than a monastery.

In medieval times, it had plenty of land to cultivate and farm, including a mill to support its need to feed many people.

 

Cardinal Henry Beaufort, a son of John of Gaunt become Bishop of Winchester in 1404 and later founded the Order of Noble Poverty at St. Cross.

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14th C Almshouses

He is responsible for adding the Almshouses to the complex.

The hospital was also a stop for pilgrims on their way to Canterbury, and they could take advantage of the ‘Wayfarer’s Dole’

The Wayfarers Dole was a gift of bread and ale to travelers and you can still request it at the Porters Gate!  – Wish I had known this at the time 🙂

Today, there are 25 brothers living in the Hospital.

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The 14th Century Dining Hall

The buildings in the complex date from the 12th century, and include a 16th Century gatehouse and guest wing, kitchen and brewhouse, plus the Cardinal Beaufort tower, which dates to 1450.

On the north side of the Inner Quad is the 14th-century hall, where the brothers and poor men used to dine. It has a wonderful timber roof and looks very much like how I imagine it did 600 years ago

The Hospital church is a sight to behold and I was astounded by its size and beauty.

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The Nave, Looking East

The church was built in the 12th/13th century and is a fine example of Norman architecture, with stone from Caen.

The first part of the church to be built was the Chancel in 1135, with beautiful Norman windows, carved with a chevron design.
Many of the windows retain their original Norman design, but most of the arches are in the Gothic style.
Thankfully the hospital escaped damage or closure during the reformation in the 16th century
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Norman windows with Chevron design and 19th century stained glass

In Summary

Visit! It was one of the most fabulous places I visited in England and I was lucky to have it all to myself. It is so separated from the modern world that it feels like you have walked through a time portal. I will blog about my visit in my next post.
If you would like to see more photos from my visit to the Hospital of St. Cross, please visit my flickr
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Through the Beaufort Tower

 

References
Wikipedia – Hospital of St. Cross
Hospital of St. Cross Website
BritainExpress.com – St Cross
British History Online – St. Cross

 

 

 

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