Sunday, 27 July 2014
St. Cross Hospital
From up on St. Catherine's Hill, near Winchester, you can see the Hospital of St. Cross in the valley below, a squat tower in the meadows along the Itchen, looking rather like a small castle. In the winter it's shut to visitors on Sundays, so we'd never got around to visiting it until last week, our ascents of the hill tending to happen both in winter and on Sunday afternoons.
What an extraordinary place: it's as if an Oxbridge college has been teleported into a Hampshire water meadow, although in fact it is rather older than any college, and the influence is, of course, the other way round: that enclosed, cloistered layout is of ecclesiastical, not scholastic origin. The proximity of the words "Plague Pits" on the Ordnance Survey map give a hint as to one of its mediaeval functions, but it is now a rather tastefully maintained -- and by the looks of it undervisited -- haven of peace.
There is still a curious tradition: if you ask for it (and I mean ask for it by name, not politely enquire whether it's true that such a tradition exists*) you can get a free cup of beer and a 1.5 inch square of bread, the so-called Wayfarer's Dole. Not ideal if you're driving on a hot afternoon, of course. The beer is not brewed in the Hospital, but is a pleasant 4.5% beer rebadged as "Wayfarer's Ale", with a George Gale cap and supplied by Fuller's. I expect someone out there may know what it really is...
* Very reminiscent of claiming Supplementary Benefits -- a.k.a. The Dole -- back in the 1970s, where you had to ask explicitly for your entitlements.