… ‘a Norman cathedral in miniature’
Simon Jenkins, England’s Thousand Best Churches
The fine Norman church is all that remains of the original 12th century Hospital. Building began in 1135 at the east end with the north porch added nearly 200 years later. The walls are over one metre thick and built from stone brought from as far afield as Caen (in Normandy), Dorset and the Isle of Wight, as well as some flint taken from the local chalk pits.
On a column on the north aisle is carved the cross of St Cross. In the window nearest to the eastern side of the north transept, the stone surround is strangely angled. Sunlight from the window falls on the cross only on 3rd May (the day in the church calendar of the Invention of the Cross) and 14th September (Holy Cross Day).
An oasis of beauty and tranquility, the Master’s Garden includes a wide range of plants with flowering interest throughout the year. The borders are very colourful in the summer months, with shades that are particularly sensitive to the historic location and grey garden walls. The garden includes a border planted to celebrate the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002.
The borders continue to be designed and watched over by horticultural expert and garden owner Victoria Wakefield, the former Chairman of Trustees.
The area incorporates the Compton Garden which commemorates Henry Compton, Master of St Cross from 1667-1675. He later became Bishop of London, when its diocese included America. Bishop Compton created the garden at Fulham Palace with plants from the New World at the time when they were very newly imported into England. This garden therefore also features plants introduced from America into England during Bishop Compton’s lifetime. These have been expertly researched and sourced.
The Compton Garden was relaid in 1986.
The tulip tree in the Compton Garden was planted by Her Majesty Elizabeth The Queen Mother to commemorate her visit to the Hospital of St Cross on 8th July 1986.
Another tree originating from the New World, a cercis Canadensis Texan White was planted by HRH The Duchess of Cornwall to commemorate her visit on 21st February 2008
The Brethren’s Hall is the place where the Brothers of the Hospital of St Cross formerly gathered to dine:
This atmospheric room with its fine roof made of Spanish chestnut was built as the Master’s hall c. 1340. When the Master’s lodging was moved west in the later 16th century it became the Brothers’ own hall.
Almost all of the hall’s original features are still here today: the central hearth where a charcoal fire once burnt: the stairs leading directly from the Master’s lodging; the raised platform where he took his meals at the high table; and the musicians’ gallery. High up in the wall at the east end was a window from which the Master could keep aney on proceedings from his lodgings.
The hall is the scene of the Gaudy Lunch (from the Latin gaudere: to rejoice), traditionally held several times a year in order to bring the Brothers together to enjoy a large convivial feast. Nowadays a Gaudy takes place three times a year.*
Beyond the hall lies the kitchen which was in daily use until the late 19th century. The fireplace dates back to the 15th century.
*From the Pitkin guide to The Hospital of St Cross and Almshouse of Noble Poverty
Love is like a beautiful flower which I may not touch, but whose fragrance makes the garden a place of delight just the same.
Nestling in the water meadows alongside the River Itchen and in the shadow of St Catherine’s Hill lies the ancient Hospital of St Cross. Renowned for the tranquillity of its setting and the beauty of its architecture, the Hospital is one of England’s oldest continuing almshouses.These fine medieval buildings have provided food and shelter for hundreds of years. The principal activity of the Hospital continues to be the provision of individual, private apartments for a living community of about twenty-five elderly men. Known as ‘Brothers’ they wear black or red gowns and a trencher hat for daily church and other formal occasions.At the heart of the Hospital’s inner quadrangle is a wonderful Norman church, its tower, chancel, transepts and nave soaring so high that it looks like a cathedral in miniature. Nearby stand a classic medieval hall and kitchen, as well as a Tudor cloister, with another ancient hall in the outer quad that serves as a tea room. The extensive gardens are immaculately maintained throughout the year.
Legend has it that the Hospital’s foundation originated in a walk that Henry of Blois, a grandson of William the Conqueror, took in the Itchen Meadows. He was supposedly stopped by a young peasant girl who begged Henry to help her people, who were starving because of the civil war. The parallel with the Virgin Mary was not lost on Henry, who was so moved by the girl’s plight that when, a little further along the river, he discovered the ruins of a religious house, he resolved to use the site to establish a new community to help the poor. How much of this is fact is unclear, but we do know that Henry of Blois was young, wealthy and powerful: a monk, knight and politician in one. Appointed Bishop of Winchester in 1129 at the age of 28, he founded the Hospital of St Cross between 1132 and 1136, creating what is said to be England’s oldest charitable institution.
The Hospital was founded to support thirteen poor men, so frail that they were unable to work, and to feed one hundred men at the gates each day. The thirteen men became the Brothers of St Cross. Then, as now, they were not monks. St Cross is not a monastery but a secular foundation. Medieval St Cross was endowed with land, mills and farms, providing food and drink for a large number of people. However the water was unfit for drinking so copious amounts of ale and beer were needed.
In the fifteenth century, Cardinal Beaufort created the Order of Noble Poverty, adding the Almshouse to the existing Hospital buildings and giving St Cross the look that it has today. His image appears on the Beaufort Tower.
The Hospital comprises two separate ancient charitable foundations, which have been merged for some centuries. Brothers from the two foundations are often referred to as the Black Brothers or the Red Brothers.The Order of the Hospital of St Cross (The Black Brothers)The Hospital of St Cross was founded in approximately 1132 by Bishop Henry of Blois. Brothers from this foundation wear a black robe, a black trencher hat and a silver badge in the shape of the Cross of Jerusalem.The Order of Noble Poverty (The Red Brothers)In 1445 the Order of Noble Poverty was founded by Cardinal Henry Beaufort. These Brothers wear a claret robe, a claret trencher hat and a silver Cardinal’s badge as a reminder of their founder.The Hospital has places for twenty five Brothers in total, each of whom is allocated his own self-contained flat. The flats date back to the fifteenth century and are all on the ground or first floor. Typically, they comprise a sitting room, bedroom, kitchen, shower or wet-room and separate lavatory. The flats are unfurnished and each Brother usually provides his own furniture. In cases of extreme hardship the Hospital can sometimes help with the provision of some items.A new Brother is assigned to either order, depending on which apartment is granted to him.
The Hospital of St Cross is famous for its unique and ancient tradition of providing the Wayfarer’s Dole. This is a horn of beer and a morsel of bread given to any visitor who requests it. The custom was founded by a monk from Cluny in France, whose holy order always gave bread and wine to travellers. The tradition still continues today. Visitors may request the Dole at the Porter’s Lodge as they depart.
The Hampshire church treasure Hinton Ampner, is found in the ancient church of All Saints, where vestiges of Anglo Saxon work can be glimpsed in the mainly Norman structure.
Hinton Ampner Church of All Saints, sits on it’s hilltop gazing out to Gander Down, in one direction it looks to the Meon Valley, in the other, across the Civil War battlefield of Cheriton, where two thousand Royalists soldiers lie now resting peacefully. This church treasure is an interesting find in that it reminds us of a time in England, when a year of Civil War had passed and more was yet to come, in particular for the villages of Hinton Ampner and Cheriton. Look for the vestry door surrounded by an arch which could be late Saxon or early Norman in period, it being a slender tall affair. The door itself is of no great note but a plaque on the door aged with a rich patina, tells us that Nicholas Lacy gave it to the church in Feburary 1643, the year before the Battle of Cheriton in which so many Royalists soldiers were slaughtered in the valley below the church. The Civil War in early 1643 was focused away from the southern counties and when local man Nicholas Lacy gave the church it’s vestry door, Leeds had just fallen to Parliamentarian forces and there would soon be a victory for the Royalists at Hopton Heath. What Nicholas Lacy would not know in Feburary 1643 though, was, that within six months the focus of the war would switch to the southern counties, as Lord Hopton had orders to subdue the enemy in Dorset, Wiltshire and Hampshire. The orders were changed yet again and the focus became Hampshire, when the Royalists seized back Winchester and Hopton moved to join with these forces. The Civil War was creeping closer to Cheriton, until eventually, in early 1644, Waller set up headquarters in the old manor house at Hinton Ampner, behind the church of All Saints, ready to halt Hopton’s army.
So why did Nicholas Lacy give the door in February 1643?
The parish records tell us that on the 4th February 1643, a Nicholas Lacy was buried. Whether it was ‘the’ Nicholas who was buried and the door willed by him or whether it was a son, Nicholas Lacy who was buried and the door given in memory, is not known but the times were troubled ones for the villages of Cheriton and Hinton Ampner and this door was erected in the midst of the problems the country was facing.