Hospital of St Cross

The Hospital of St Cross and Almshouse of Noble Poverty is a medieval almshouse in Winchester, Hampshire, England. It has been described as "England's oldest and most perfect almshouse".[1] Most of the buildings and grounds are open to the public at certain times.[2] It is a Grade I listed building.[3]

Hospital of St Cross
Foundedc. 1132–36
FounderHenry of Blois
Legal statusCharity
The Reverend Terry Hemming
Listed Building – Grade I
Designated24 March 1950
Reference no.1095374

The hospital and church seen from St Catherine's Hill


It was founded by Henry of Blois, Bishop of Winchester, grandson of William the Conqueror and younger brother to King Stephen in 1136.[3]


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 thirteen poor men and 100 men at the gates);[4] 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.[5]

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 1789.[5] The eastern or infirmary range is occupied by an ambulatory.[5]

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.[6]

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.[7] They are often referred to as the "Black Brothers" and the "Red Brothers".[8] 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.[9]

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.[10]


The Hospital was used in the filming of The Day of the Triffids, and in the BBC adaptation of Wolf Hall.[11] It was also featured on Songs of Praise.[12]

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.[17]


  1. ^ Jenkins, Simon (1999). England's Thousand Best Churches. ISBN 0-7139-9281-6
  2. ^ "The Hospital of St. Cross opening times". Retrieved 30 September 2010.
  3. ^ a b "Hospital of St Cross and Almshouses of Noble Poverty". Historic England. Retrieved 29 March 2018.
  4. ^ "History". Hospital of St Cross. Retrieved 28 November 2018.
  5. ^ a b c Page, William (1912). "'Winchester: The hospital of St Cross', in A History of the County of Hampshire". London: British History Online. pp. 59–69. Retrieved 28 November 2018.
  6. ^ Hopewell, Peter (1995). Saint Cross: England's Oldest Almshouse ISBN 978-0-85033-965-9
  7. ^ "The Hospital of St Cross - The Brothers". Retrieved 11 January 2017.
  8. ^ "The Hospital of St. Cross brothers". Retrieved 30 September 2010.
  9. ^ "Join The Hospital of St. Cross". Retrieved 30 September 2010.
  10. ^ "Visiting The Hospital of St. Cross". Retrieved 30 September 2010.
  11. ^ "Wolf Hall: The Locations". BBC.
  12. ^ "Songs of Praise, Winchester". BBC. 13 June 2010. Retrieved 30 September 2010.
  13. ^ "Plea Rolls of the Court of Common Pleas; CP 555. 1399; 4th entry; "Johes Campden magr' domus sine hospital' Ste Crucis iuxta Wynton"". National Archives. Retrieved 28 November 2018.
  14. ^ The Gentleman's Magazine. Volume 102. 1807. p.1239
  15. ^ "Winchester priest celebrates 50 years". Hampshire Chronicle. 4 April 2014. Retrieved 28 November 2018.
  16. ^ "The Hospital of St Cross - Contact". Retrieved 11 October 2022.
  17. ^ Robert Bernard, Enter Rumour, Four Early Victorian Scandals, 1962, reprinted in Faber Finds 2012

External linksEdit

Coordinates: 51°02′53″N 1°19′19″W / 51.048°N 1.322°W / 51.048; -1.322