Bell's Cathedrals: The Cathedral Church of Winchester Part 7

The #Hospital of St Cross#, the oldest almshouse in England, lies one mile to the south of the town on the Southampton Road, and may be reached from Winchester across the fields for part of the way. Situated in the hamlet of Sparkford, it was founded originally by Bishop Henry de Blois in 1136, on the site of a small monastery destroyed by the Danes.

The founder's wish was to give refuge to "thirteen poor men, feeble and so reduced in strength that they can hardly or with difficulty support themselves with another's aid"; while a meal was daily to be provided for another hundred poor men. The Knights Hospitallers, in the person of their Master, Raymund, were in 1151 A.D. put in charge of the foundation. They agreed so ill, however, with the bishops of the neighbouring cathedral that, about 1200, the Pope appointed a commission which transferred to the bishops the right of choosing the master. The new arrangement did not work well, for a little more than a century and a half afterwards the master was found to be robbing his charge to such an extent that the scandal was intolerable. William of Wykeham turning his attention to the matter, a Papal Bull was procured ordering the use of the revenues for the benefit of the poor. The next bishop, Cardinal Beaufort, added to the buildings by the foundation of the "Almshouse of Noble Poverty," for the maintenance of two priests, thirty-five brethren, and three sisters. The master of the hospital was to be at its head, otherwise the institutions were to be distinct; but by the middle of the sixteenth century the hospital had practically absorbed the almshouse. At the end of the next century, in 1696, the master and brethren of the hospital made a public repudiation of their duties, and commenced either to destroy the buildings or to convert them to other than their original uses; and shortly after the southern side of Beaufort's quadrangle was pulled down. The abuses were rectified in the middle of the present century, and now a body of trustees, under the control of the Charity Commissioners, has the management of the two institutions. All the endowments of the hospital are still intact.


_Photochrom Co. Ltd., Photo._]

[Illustration: COUNTY HALL, WITH ROUND TABLE. From an Old Print.]

After one has passed through the remains of an outer court, the entrance to the buildings is by a gatehouse known by the name of the "Beaufort Tower." Over the groined vault of the doorway is the founder's chamber, surmounted by an octagonal turret. Three niches exist above the exterior or northern window, one of which has a kneeling figure of Beaufort, while the representation of the Holy Cross, formerly in the centre, and the figure of Henry de Blois have vanished. The niche on the inner side used to be occupied by a statue of the Virgin, which, after surviving the Civil War, fell about a hundred years ago. At the Porter's Lodge in the gateway the time-honoured "dole" of beer and bread is given to visitors. The square quadrangle on which the gate opens has the brethren's rooms on the west (the right hand as one enters), the ambulatory or cloister on the east, the church of St Cross at the south-east corner, and to the right of the church a view of meadows where the buildings were pulled down in 1789. In the centre of the grass is a sundial. Next the Beaufort Tower at the south side is the refectory, and beyond that the master's house. The refectory has three two-light Perpendicular windows, a high-pitched wooden roof, and a minstrels' gallery at the west end. It is now only used as a dining-hall on great occasions. The master's house is thought to be the old "Hundred Mennes Hall," but is now furnished with modern windows. The cloister on the east side is of sixteenth-century work, paved with large red tiles; "the roof is red-tiled," says a recent observer, "the long blank wall faced with rough-cast of a warm yellowish tinge, and supported on a range of broad and low timber arcading, which is, in its turn, supported by a dwarf wall some three feet in height." The main feature of the cloister is a red-brick oriel window; "reared upon two brick arches, supported midway by an octangular pillar of the same material, and flanked by splayed buttresses with stone quoins, the window-opening occupies a comparatively small space, and is filled with stone mullions and tracery of a Tudor character; the whole design proclaimed by a stone tablet, let into the brickwork, to be the work of Bishop Compton." Above the cloister is the infirmary, which opens into the church so as to allow the sick to hear the service. The church, though considered by many the finest existing example of Late and Transitional Norman, also exhibits architecture of all periods down to Late Decorated. Commenced by Bishop de Blois in 1171, it was not completed until the end of the thirteenth century. From east to west it measures 125 feet, its ordinary breadth is 54 feet, while at the transepts it is 115. Woodward thinks from the appearance of the exterior that the body of the church was widened at some period after its first erection. The windows are various in style. In the nave they are Transition Norman and Early English, and in the clerestory Decorated; in the choir aisles Late Norman. The western doorway is Early English with dogtooth ornament, while the large window above with its geometrical tracery is "fully developed Decorated." The most striking feature of the exterior, however, is at the south-east exterior angle of the south transept, a fine triple arch with chevron and billet moulding, which was probably once a doorway into a cloister no longer existing. Within the three-bay nave one is in the midst of Early English and Transition Norman work. The bases and caps of the Norman pillars are very rich, and, as has been pointed out, furnish a great contrast to such Norman work as is seen on the transept pillars at Winchester itself. The south walls are very plain, and were probably connected with De Blois' buildings originally. In the choir above the pier-arches is a triforium of intersecting arches (to which Milner attributed the origin of the Pointed style), and there is a second passage beneath the clerestory windows. The floor-brass of John de Camden (1382) lies in the choir. When the church was restored by Butterfield the choir was painted in imitation of the old colouring. It cannot be said that the effect is at all pleasing. The new floor tiles bear the letters Z.O. to commemorate the anonymous donor of the money for this restoration. The old encaustic tiles bear the motto "Have Mynde." In the chancel the Renaissance carving dates from about Henry VII., while the Henry VIII. stalls have been removed to the morning chapel in the south aisle. The transepts are a good example of the transition to Early English style. In the northern arm can be seen the window opening out of the infirmary, already mentioned above.

[Illustration: THE CITY CROSS, WINCHESTER. From an Old Print.]

[Illustration: TOMBSTONE IN THE CHURCHYARD. _A. Pumphrey, Photo._]

Of other points of interest in or near Winchester it would be out of place to speak here at any length, but among the various objects that are worth seeing in the town itself mention may be made of the City Cross, erected by the Fraternity of the Holy Cross during the reign of Henry VI. The chief figures represent William of Wykeham, Florence de Anne, Mayor of Winchester, Alfred the Great, and S. Laurence, the latter being the only old figure. Britton, in 1807, said: "The present building is called the Butter Cross, because the retail dealers in that article usually assemble round it." He complained of the injury done to it by "boys and childish men." S. Laurence was the only figure in his day, and it was then "generally said to be an effigy of S. John the Evangelist."

In the County Hall, which includes the remains of the ancient castle of William the Conqueror's days, is "King Arthur's Round Table." This is mentioned as being here by the chronicler John Harding (1378-1465), so that its antiquity is undoubted. Its present painted design, however, can not be earlier than the beginning of the sixteenth century, but since Henry VIII.'s time the same design has been adhered to. The illustration which appears here comes from an old print of the County Hall. Milner, in his "History and Survey of Winchester" in the last century, remarked that the Round Table "was evidently an eating table for the knights who used to meet here to perform feats of chivalry, which kind of meetings, from this circumstance, was anciently called _The Round Table_. These, however, were not so much as known in England, until the reign of King Stephen, 600 years after the reign of Arthur.

There is great reason to believe that the said Stephen was the real author of the present table. The figures and characters now painted on it were certainly first executed in the reign of Henry VIII."

[Illustration: THE WEST GATE, WINCHESTER. _Photochrom Co. Ltd., Photo._]

The last illustration represents the oldest of the city gates at Winchester, parts of it being ascribed to the reign of Stephen. The town now, of course, extends considerably beyond its original bounds.


Total length (external) 556 feet.

Total length (internal) 526 "

Length of Nave (internal) 262 "

Width of Nave " 83 "

Width of Choir " 88 "

Length of Transept " 209 "

Height of Vault 78 "

TOTAL AREA 53,480 sq. feet.

Altar Screen {43 ft. 9 in. high.

{39 ft. 6 in. wide.


[Illustration: THE CRYPTS. From Britton's "Winchester" (1817).]

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