Winchester: St Cross Hospital (exterior)

So I admit that my headlines are starting to get a bit lame. I’ve over-categorized these blog posts because I want to get some specific pictures and information in each, and now I’m having a hard time coming up with headers that adequately explain the subject matter but are also snappy and interesting.  So, sorry snappy and interesting, these headers are going to be dull and informative. Perhaps later in the week I’ll feel more creative.

Just south of Winchester is the little town of Sparkford (although if the signs didn’t tell you, you’d probably assume you were still in Winchester). We walked there last Saturday in about 30 minutes from the town centre, along the River Itchen. You’ve probably never heard of Sparkford, and I highly doubt you’ve ever heard of the Hospital of St Cross, but next time you’re in the area, I strongly encourage you to stop by.


Coming upon St Cross from the meadows.



Founded in the 1130s by Prince Henry de Blois, Bishop of Winchester, the hospital’s stated purpose was to “thirteen poor men, feeble and so reduced in strength that they can scarcely or not at all support themselves without other aid”. You could consider the a retirement home, perhaps, more than a hospital in the modern sense. The coolest thing is that the place still supports men like this — it’s still a functioning retirement home!


It doesn't look as impressive from the outside as it does from the inside.



The site of St Cross Hospital consists of multiple buildings centered around a smaller, outer quadrangle and a larger, inner quadrangle. You enter through the outer gate (which is from the 16th century) and enter the smaller quadrangle. On the south side you’ll see the 100 Man Brewhouse (14th century); to the north is the kitchen and guest wing (15th century). Directly ahead you’ll see the Beaufort Tower, which stands 3-storeys and dates from 1450; the Beaufort Tower used to the quarters for the master of the almshouse.


Standing in the outer quadrangle, looking at the Beaufort Tower.



Once you pass under the Beaufort Tower, you have to pay your entrance fee at the Porter’s Lodge. This is also where the Wayfarer’s Dole is given out: a small cup of beer and a loaf of bread is free for anyone who asks. (I was tempted to ask, but I was pretty intimidated by the porter and wussed out!)Entering the inner quadrangle, you’ll first see the door to the gardens on your immediate left. (That’s going to be a separate blog post, because they were so lovely!).


Behind Alex is the corner where you exit for the gardnes. I love the little crenellated tower.

Along the north side of the square are the private residences of the brothers in residence. That area was closed off for privacy, but we could see a few old men sitting outside enjoying the sun. I told Alex that when I’m old and widowed I want to live there — but I checked and they only accept men. 😦  The flats for the brethren are quite orderly, and are recognizable by their tall chimneys. The flats are organized in foursomes, with two-up and two-down.



The wing of private flats for the residents.


Opposite the private area, and running between the courtyard and gardens, is a timber-frame long gallery. It was only for use by the master, and was raised on a cloister that was open to the courtyard. I assume it’s purpose was so that the Master wouldn’t get wet in the rain. Unfortunately we couldn’t go upstairs in the gallery — I wonder what’s up there?


The long Elizabethan gallery leads from the Beaufort Tower to the Church.

On the remaining side of the square is the church (which is also going to be a separate post), which is an amazing example of Norman architecture and dates from the 12th and 13th centuries. One website says “it is more like a miniature cathedral than a typical almshouse chapel.”



Looking up at the church.

St Cross is not just really cool and really old, it’s the coolest and the oldest. It’s is officially the oldest charitable institute in the UK. And it was founded by Henry de Blois, who features heavily in my favorite works by Sharon Kay Penman (I’m actually reading When Christ and His Saints Slept right now, and St Cross is mentioned in the book!).



Looking back at the Beaufort Tower and entrance. The door to the kitchens is just to the left of the main portal.




Posted on 04/04/2011, in Castles & Cathedrals, Exploring the UK, travel and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. If you’ve time, you might like to read Trollope’s “The Warden”, which was based on a Victorian scandal about the finances of the Hospital.

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