The Hospital of St Cross, England’s oldest continuing almshouse, comprises a group of grade I listed medieval and Tudor buildings, including this medieval hall and tower, Tudor cloister, Norman church, and gardens reflecting a seventeenth century connection with North America.
The term “Hospital” has the same origin as the word “hospitality”: for over 850 years St Cross has provided food and shelter to people in need, in the Christian tradition of caring for the less fortunate. It has been home to the Master and Brethren of St Cross since medieval times: there are presently 25 Brothers. Visitors can still receive the Wayfarer’s Dole, a horn of beer and a morsel of bread, given freely to anyone who requests it.
In this view north across the main quadrangle we see the chimneys of the Brothers’ apartments on the left. These date back to the fifteenth century. They are arranged on several staircases; on each staircase there are two apartments on the ground floor and two above, in much the same way as in the oldest Oxford and Cambridge colleges. There is one chimney stack for each staircase.
Typically, each apartment has a sitting room, bedroom, kitchen, shower-room and separate WC. The little flats are unfurnished and each Brother usually provides his own furniture. However, in cases of extreme poverty the Hospital can sometimes help with the provision of some furniture if needed.
In the centre is the 15th century Brethren’s Hall where the Master and Brothers gathered and ate over many hundreds of years. Almost all of its original interior features can still be seen today: the central hearth where a charcoal fire used to burn, the stairs leading from the Master’s lodging, the raised platform where he took his meals and the fine musician’s gallery above the entrance. Though no longer used every day, special events and certain feast days in the Church year are still celebrated here. The Victorian kitchen, meat room and cellar are also open for public viewing. These were probably all in daily use when Keats made his walks out to St Cross from Winchester during his stay in 1819.
On the right is the Beaufort Tower over the gateway that leads into the main quadrangle. Keats mentions a “gothic tower” at St Cross: was he referring to this one, or the magnificent tower of the church?
The paths that criss-cross the quadrangle in such a visually intriguing way help the brethren to get from their apartments to all the important rooms in the complex and to the main gate.