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David Ford, History EditorTours > Winchester

Tour the City of Winchester
by David Nash Ford BA, Editor, History on Britannia

St. Cross Hospital

At the centre of the little hamlet of Sparkford, just south of Winchester, rises the ancient Hospital of St. Cross. It was founded in the 1130s by Prince Henry de Blois, Bishop of Winchester, for "thirteen poor men, feeble and so reduced in strength that they can scarcely or not at all support themselves without other aid"; more a sort of retirement home than a hospital as we know it, today. The complex's huge Church of St. Cross mostly dates from around this period and its beautiful Norman zig-zag decor is much in evidence.

Most of the buildings to be seen today, notably the high-chimneyed brothers' quarters, date from the 15th century when the establishment was enlarged with the addition of further inmates, former servants of the state fallen on hard times, under the patronage of Cardinal Henry Beaufort. The successors of these men still wear the magenta gowns of the 'Noble Order of Poverty,' while De Blois' brothers wear the black robes and cross of St. John. The most well-known tradition remaining from these far off times is the receiving of the Wayfarer's Dole: a piece of bread and a small cup of ale given to anyone who asks at the Porter's Lodge. The Church, Brethren's Hall, Kitchen, Ambulatory and Garden of this wonderfully peaceful set of ancient buildings are open to the public throughout the year.

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