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Hospital of St Cross

The Hospital of St Cross and Almshouse of Noble Poverty is a medieval almshouse in Winchester, Hampshire, England, founded between 1132 and 1136. It is the oldest surviving charitable institution in the United Kingdom.[1] The founder was Henry of Blois, Bishop of Winchester, grandson of William the Conqueror and younger brother to King Stephen of England.

Hospital of St Cross
The Hospital of St Cross, St Cross, Winchester, UK
The Hospital of St Cross
Founded c. 1132–36
Founder Henry of Blois
Legal status Charity
Purpose Almshouse
The Reverend Reg Sweet

Listed Building – Grade I
Designated 24 March 1950
Reference no. 1095374

The hospital and church seen from St Catherine's Hill

It is also the largest medieval almshouse in Britain: it is built on the scale of an Oxford or Cambridge college, although it is older than any of the colleges at those universities. It has been described as "England's oldest and most perfect almshouse".[2] Most of the buildings and grounds are open to the public at certain times.[3] It is a Grade I listed building[4]


Charitable workEdit

The Wayfarer's Dole in 2004

The Hospital still provides accommodation for a total of 25 elderly men, known as "The Brothers", under the care of "The Master". They belong to either of two charitable foundations: those belonging to the Order of the Hospital of St Cross (founded around 1132) wear black trencher hats and black robes with a silver badge in the shape of a Jerusalem cross, while those belonging to the Order of Noble Poverty (founded in 1445) wear claret trencher hats and claret robes with a silver cardinal’s badge in memory of Cardinal Beaufort.[5] They are often referred to as the "Black Brothers" and the "Red Brothers".[6] Brothers must be single, widowed or divorced, and over 60 years of age. Preference is given to those in most need. They are expected to wear their robes and attend daily morning prayers in the Church.[7]

The Hospital continues an ancient tradition in the "Wayfarer's Dole", which consists of a small horn cup of ale and a piece of bread. The dole was started by a Cluniac monk and can be obtained by anyone who asks at the Porter's Lodge.[8]


The church from the inner quadrangle
Ambulatory entrance
Inside the church at St Cross

The building is constructed of stone and surrounds two quadrangles. The smaller Outer Quadrangle to the north consists of: the outer gate (16th century); the brewhouse (14th century); from the 15th century, the guest wing, kitchen (which had to produce food for the Master, 25 Brethren, 100 poor men and the servants);[citation needed] the porter's lodge and the three-storey Beaufort Tower of c. 1450. This has three niches above the arch, one of which still contains the weathered statue of Cardinal Beaufort, who was Bishop of Winchester, and the tower and spaces above the porter's lodge used to be the Master's lodging.

Passing beneath the tower, the Inner Quadrangle is reached. The north range includes the 14th-century Brethren's Hall (which had to be large enough for the Brethren and 100 poor men), entered via a flight of steps in a stone porch. There is a timber screen with gallery above, within which is also a splendid timber roof, arch braced; a central hearth and a dais where the Master dined with the Brethren in the main part of the hall; and a wooden staircase leading to the Master's rooms in the south-east corner. The main set of two-storeyed lodgings are on the north-west and west sides of the quadrangle; these house the 25 inmates and are notable for the tall, regularly spaced chimneys and doorways, each leading to four sets of apartments. There used to be a corresponding range on the south side joined to the church, but this was demolished in the 1760s. The east range of timber framing and brick with stone windows is a 16th-century long gallery for the use of the Master, raised on a cloister open to the quadrangle, which leads to an entrance to the church.

The 12th-century and 13th-century church in the south-east corner is more like a miniature cathedral than a typical almshouse chapel. The building is stone-vaulted throughout, with transepts and a central tower. The walls are over a metre thick, made from stone from Caen, Dorset, and the Isle of Wight as well as local flint. The roof is lead. The building is in Transitional Norman/Gothic style. Started in 1135, the chancel was the first part, built two bays deep with aisles. This is typically Norman, with round-headed windows and much chevron ornament. But the main arches in the arcade and beneath the central tower are slightly pointed in the Gothic manner. The three-bay aisled nave and transepts continue the style. Between 1383 and 1385, a large tracery window was inserted in the west front, and the clerestory windows in the nave were enlarged and a north porch added. Several medieval encaustic tiles survive on the floor. There are also traces of medieval wall paintings. The stained glass is mainly 19th century. The font came from the nearby St Faith's Church, which was demolished in 1507.

The complex has been listed as grade I by English Heritage.[9]


The Hospital was used in the filming of The Day of the Triffids, and in the BBC adaptation of Wolf Hall.[10] It was also featured on Songs of Praise.[11]

Masters of the HospitalEdit

Francis North, Earl of Guilford, son of a previous Bishop of Winchester, was Rector of St. Cross from 1829, and the long lasting enquiries into the large revenue that he received as such formed the inspiration for the novel The Warden by Anthony Trollope[15].


  1. ^ Hopewell, Peter (1995). Saint Cross: England's Oldest Almshouse ISBN 978-0-85033-965-9
  2. ^ Jenkins, Simon (1999). England's Thousand Best Churches. ISBN 0-7139-9281-6
  3. ^ "The Hospital of St. Cross opening times". Retrieved 2010-09-30.
  4. ^ "HOSPITAL OF ST CROSS AND ALMSHOUSES OF NOBLE POVERTY". Historic England. Retrieved 29 March 2018.
  5. ^ "The Hospital of St Cross - The Brothers". Retrieved 11 January 2017.
  6. ^ "The Hospital of St. Cross brothers". Retrieved 2010-09-30.
  7. ^ "Join The Hospital of St. Cross". Retrieved 2010-09-30.
  8. ^ "Visiting The Hospital of St. Cross". Retrieved 2010-09-30.
  9. ^ Historic England. "Details from listed building database (1095374)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 18 June 2013.
  10. ^ "Wolf Hall: The Locations". BBC.
  11. ^ "Songs of Praise, Winchester". BBC. 2010-06-13. Retrieved 2010-09-30.
  12. ^ Plea Rolls of the Court of Common Pleas; National Archives. CP 555. 1399;; 4th entry; "Johes Campden magr' domus sine hospital' Ste Crucis iuxta Wynton"
  13. ^ Winchester priest celebrates 50 years
  14. ^ "The Hospital of St Cross - Contact". Retrieved 11 January 2017.
  15. ^ Robert Bernard, Enter Rumour, Four Early Victorian Scandals, 1962, reprinted in Faber Finds 2012

External linksEdit