Sunday, 3 February 2008

The Hospital of St Cross

Yesterday I went to visit The Hospital of St Cross, or to give it its full name, the Hospital of St Cross and Almshouse of Noble Poverty, because it was one of those lovely bright winter's days. UPDATED after Gattina's comment to add it's near Winchester in Hampshire.

The Hospital isn't a hospital as we know it these days. It was founded by Henry de Blois between 1133 and 1136 for "poor men, feeble and so reduced in strength that they can scarcely, or not at all, support themselves without other aid". Later, in the 1446, Cardinal Beaufort extended the scheme to include men of noble birth but now living in poverty. Hence the "noble poverty" in the name when the almshouse was founded 40 years after Beaufort's death.

Possibly the reason most people will have heard of St Cross is the Wayfarer's Dole, a piece of bread and a horn of beer offered to any traveller who asks for it. More than 800 years later, it is still available to those who request it.

I have been passing the Hospital on and off for many, many years, catching a wonderful glimpse of it through the trees as I pass.

St Cross church

This is the church itself and for some reason I find it a particularly pleasing shape as seen from the road, especially on my way home in the evening when the sun catches it.

On several occasions though, I have been tempted to visit properly. And it is totally enchanting: peace, antiquity, beauty.

Beaufort Tower entrance

Entering into the outer quadrangle, you see the Beaufort Tower where only one of the statues in the niches remains - one of Henry Beaufort kneeling. Through the arch you can glimpse the church on the south side of the inner quadrangle.


On the left of the inner quadrangle, the east side, is the ambulatory joining the church and the old master's lodgings. In spite of how it looks, it is the youngest of the buildings. It is thought that the upper level was intended as an infirmary. Through it is the entrance to the enclosed garden.


Opposite the ambulatory are the Brothers' quarters, seen here from an archway. The quarters are still in use today for 25 men who still wear the gowns of black or red, depending on their foundation: Knights Hospitaliers or the Order of Noble Poverty.

Brethren's Hall

To the north are the Brethren's Hall and kitchen. The hall was originally built in about 1340 as the Master's hall. The ceiling beams are made from Spanish chestnut. The hearth is in the centre with no chimney. The hall is used three times a year for a Gaudy lunch, a festive meal.

original kitchen

The kitchen remained in use until the late 19th century. The fireplace dates back to the 15th century.

view south

Leaving the Brethren's hall, you can seen the south side of the quadrangle. There used to be a south wing joining the quarters to the church but it was pulled down in the 1760s.

church interior

The church itself is the oldest part of all. It was started in about 1135, at the east end. The walls are over 1 metre thick (3 feet) and made of stone from Dorset, the Isle of wight and Caen in France.

birds beak carving

One of the windows, known as bird's beak window, is surrounded by this carving and if you look very carefully you will see why. The style is similar to that in St Nicholas' Church Bishops Sutton, and St Mary's at Iffley in Oxfordshire and is thought to be Scandinavian in origin.

Now, believe it or not, it took me about 20 minutes to take the pictures and rush around the whole place (they were about to close). I don't feel I've done it justice at all, but I hope to go back at a more sensible time soon.

In the meantime here are some links to further information:

British History Online - rather dry!
The Hospital of St Cross

Please do say if you find the slideshow takes too long to load. I've never tried one before and I'm not sure if it's more of a nuisance than anything else.


  1. That's a very big and beautiful old Hospital ! But where is it ?? Or did I miss something ?
    I have seen one much smaller but also quite old in Croydon (South London) from 1596.

  2. Sorry Gattina, I assumed everyone could read my mind! Though it's probably best that you can't :)

    St Cross is just outside Winchester in Hampshire. I've updated the post for everyone else.

  3. Ah, no problems with the slideshow! Wonderful photos! What a remarkable place. It doesn't show from the outside that it has so much to see. No wonder 20 minutes were not enough! I'd love to walk around there. Very shifting architecture too. Interesting yes!

  4. I just found your blog and am visiting for, I think, only the second time. The posts I have read so far are informative and full of great photography. I'll have to dig back into the archives to find out about the genesis and history of this.

    Your slide show loaded in an instant on my broadband connection. The only suggestion I would have may be something you have no control over if it is just a default Photobucket tool. I found myself wanting to slow down the slides, even pause once or twice to look at a photo more closely. I did not see any way to do that.


  5. What a lovely old building and the photos certainly do it justice. It's a lot bigger than it looks from the first picture.

  6. Lifecruiser, thanks! it is a remarkable place so I'm determined to go back for a longer visit. I'd really like to see if I can get a guided tour. I'm sure there is all sorts not immediately noticeable.
    Will welcome to you! Thanks you for your kind comments. I've had a look at the options in the slideshow and there is no way that I can see of changing the speed. I've changed the transition though, because the previous one was making me feel sea-sick!
    Caledonia Hi! Yes the view from the road hides most of the buildings. Glad you liked it.

  7. How gorgeous, I'll have to put it on my visit list!

  8. The slide show was great - pictures says more than a thousand words you know and it give a great insight of the place - thanks for sharing.

    your words, your description and your guides was great too and prooves that worlds helps a lot too!

  9. I discover this beautiful place a little late because I wasn't a lot of time on the web last week. Luckily, I found all the news on Cybercruisers! this is a beautiful old building and the slideshow is very nice too! It makes me think, reading all yours explanations I should learn more about England story. Even if I learn a little last year with my daughter when I was helping her for a big homework about Jeanne D'Arc.And it was very interesting.


Forethoughts, afterthoughts, any thoughts. Tell me.


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