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Haunts of Ancient Peace


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There principal types of hospitals or almshouses are to be found in England, and of these the first in point of antiquity would seem to be the Leper or Lazar House, of which a typical instance is S. Nicholas' Hospital, Harbledown, founded in the eleventh century by Lanfranc, Archbishop of Canterbury in the reign of William the Conqueror.

A flight of steps leads up to the old timbered gateway, whence a gravelled path brings you to the flower garden in front of the aimshouses. These stretch on either side of what was once the hall or common room of the brethren, now used as a museum for the treasures of the hospital. Here may be seen a Norman chest whose lid is formed of a hollowed tree trunk, a pilgrim's leather flask, and a couple of mazer bowls, in one of which is set a jewel from the shoe of S. Thomas of Canterbury. There is also a noticeable old alms box, formerly used by the lepers for collecting alms. Some links of the chain by which it was attached to a long pole for this charitable purpose are still extant.

Facing the hospital across the flower-beds is the church of S. Nicholas, with its curious sloping pavement whereby the water was run off when the church was cleansed after the attendance of the lepers at Mass. The pews have ancient taper-holes and the fifteenth century font bears the Unity Rose, but many of the pillars date from Norman times.

The second type of English almshouse is the Collegiate foundation, a cluster of buildings round the chapel and common hall, as at St. Cross, Winchester, founded in the twelfth century by Bishop Henry de Blois to shelter thirteen poor old men and provide them with garments, food and drink, a proviso still carried out from the porter's hatch way in the Beaufort Tower. A fifteenth century lattice staircase leads up to the Founder's Room from the Hundred Mennes Hall, formerly the refectory, which is in as perfect a state of preservation as the church. It contains a raised central hearth and musicians' gallery, and the lofty open roof still shows the original beams. Here may be seen such treasures as the cardinal's candlesticks, salt cellars and beaker. Passing under the Beaufort Tower, you reach a wide grassy quadrangle, with a white stone sundial in the centre, and enclosed on the left by a long ambulatory, adjoining the church on the south - an impressive building containing almost every type of architecture from late Norman to debased Renaissance in almost perfect preservation. Above the ambulatory runs a long low gallery, once the infirmary, from which a window used to open into the church, to allow of the sick hearing Mass from their beds. The almshouses themselves are on the right of the quadrangle, their quaint and original chimney stacks rising from buttresses in the ground.

S. Mary's Hospital, Chichester, is an instance of the third type of alms-house, that of the Infirmary and House of Call. It was founded about 1158 by William the Dean, and is almost unique in construction, the only similar one being the Hospice of the Heiligengeist at Lubeck. One's first impression is that of dignified spaciousness. Originally built in four bays, which still exist, the entire length of the wide and lofty edifice is spanned by a single splendid roof. Down the centre runs a stone-paved passage, on either side of which are the little front doors, each with an outhouse attached, now serving as scullery.

As originally planned, the old people were able to hear Mass from their cubicles, the chapel being divided from the hall and its little rooms by no more than a decorated screen. In this chapel there is much of interest, the stalls with their miserere seats, each carved with a different subject, the fine sedilia with canopies and the taper-holes in the pews. Originally intended for a Warden and Brothers and Sisters ministering to the sick and poor, the hospital at one time communicated with the old Priory of the Friars Minor, as a blocked doorway in the garden indicates. Now only the top of the arch remains above ground, and the Priory itself is a heap of ruins, but S. Mary's still flourishes bravely, under altered conditions, providing for eight old women within the precincts and four married couples without, each in receipt of a tiny allowance and a measure of fuel.

The hamlet of Wimborne St. Giles, once known as Upwinborne, lies about eight miles north of Wimborne proper, in the county of Dorset, and contains the cheerful little almshouses founded in the seventeenth century by Sir Anthony Ashley, and still in the gift of the Shaftesbury family. The hospital lies back from the road, looking out on to a spacious green, and its walls are masked with climbing roses and flowering creepers and shrubs. The almshouses comprise ten dwellings, five on each side of a recessed porch. Nine of them are occupied by widows and widowers, the tenth has been used as the parish vestry ever since 1908, when a fire destroyed the interior of the church. The porch, overhung by a gnarled and mighty wisteria, has a fine old carved Tudor door, leading into a disused chapel, and above it, cut in stone, is the motto "Liberasti Me Domine In Maxima Tribu-latione," "Amid Greatest Tribulation, O Lord, Thou has set me free," surmounted by the Shaftesbury arms. A charming paved walk or terrace of old red bricks, enclosed by a mossy wall, runs the length of the building, the wall protecting a wide flower border from the wind. At one end of the terrace is the indispensable pump, at the other the church, in which is the monument to Sir Anthony Ashley, who died in 1607. The present church dates from 1732.

Another almshouse of the same type is that of S. Patrick, Glastonbury, also known as the Royal Almshouses for Women, and yet again, after its founder, the penultimate Abbot of Glastonbury, Abbot Beere's Almshouses. He built them as a refuge for aged women in 1512, and at the Reformation the foundation suffered less than its richer and more powerful neighbours. Tucked away in the rear of old buildings in the High Street, S. Patrick's is approached through an arched gateway surmounted by a crumbling escutcheon displaying a Tudor rose and a cap encircled by a crown, with unrecognizable heraldic beasts on either side. The cottages themselves are modern and comfortable, and of no architectural interest. For the latter we must look at the other foundation attributed to Abbot Beere in Glastonbury - for men this time - a place less easy to find from being hidden away down an inconspicuous alleyway off Magdalene Street. Looking upward we see the chapel belfry, with its weather-beaten effigy of the patron saint in the bell gable. Two rows of low, pointed doorways give access to the dwellings, formerly small monastic cells and at one time transformed by boarding into two-storied houses. This boarding has now been removed, and a more lofty accommodation secured. The chapel has a good arched ceiling, probably of oak, but spoiled, like the wall-beams, by blue and white plaster wash.

Barnstaple is rich in relics of the past, one of the most noteworthy being the Penrose Almshouses in Litchdon Street, founded in 1627 by John Penrose, merchant and one-time mayor of the town. Twenty little houses around a large courtyard gay with flowers, and having as centre-piece an ancient wooden pump under a leaden dome, are occupied by forty tenants, seven men and thirty-three women, each little two-roomed dwelling being shared between two "partners." Their rights are carefully guarded, even to the grates, which are divided down the middle with an oven on either side. The garden, reached from the courtyard through an archway, comprises twenty little plots of vegetables and flowers, shared between the partners. Those who cannot work their plots themselves may lease them to outsiders and divide the rent, whilst in the case of married couples the husband tills the ground and sells the produce.

The arcaded walk of the facade has a penthouse roof, supported by squat stone pillars and bordered with a delightful lead tracery in excellent preservation, the wild rose design symbolising the founder's patronymic. The same device is introduced into the iron handles of the latches to the old doors, to one of which there is a wicket or hatch.

Before leaving Somerset we must notice the old foundation of Bubwith's Almshouses, Wells, erected in 1436 in accordance with the wishes of Bishop Nicholas Bubwith, who died before he could finish his good work. In the setting of sequestered little Chamberlain Street these almshouses seem to enjoy an almost monastic remoteness, and one steps through the ancient porch into another and more peaceful age. The chapel, shut off from a small passage by a beautiful old oak screen, has a most unusual ceiling, on which ornamental circular beams are combined with white plaster.

Upstairs in the west end of the building is the fine old hall, used as a guild hall until 1779 and no part of the original structure. It has lately been divided, one part serving as a committee room, while the other provides extra accommodation for the almshouses It contains the original deed chest required by the statutes of the foundation. Above hangs the portrait of a certain Bishop Still of the seventeenth century, who added to the building a beautiful Cinquecento stone sedilia.

Crossing the border from Somerset to Devon, we come to Wynard's Hospital. Exeter, a fifteenth century foundation of romantic origin. A wealthy citizen and recorder of the city, reading in his Bible the command, " Sell all thou hast and give to the poor," interpreted it literally as addressed to himself, disposed of his property, and with the proceeds built twelve houses for twelve poor men, together with a chapel and chaplain's quarters, endowing each inmate with two shillings weekly. Here he himself finally lived and died amongst the other poor men.

This interesting and beautiful group of buildings is in Magdalen Street. Its cobbled quadrangle, reached through an archway and surrounded by little houses of dark red stone, contains an ancient well and an aged tree, railed in for the sake of public safety. The little chapel is very beautiful, with an early and finely carved stone choir gallery and some old oak stalls under a high arched and timbered roof, with some delightfully worked bosses at the cross beams. The glass is modern, but its brilliant colouring contributes to the gorgeous effect of the whole. On the right wall is an antique wrought-iron stand, brightly painted in gold and red and blue and surmounted by a crown, which serves to hold the swords and maces of ceremony when the Mayor and Corporation make their twice-yearly attendance at divine service in the hospital chapel.

Romance pursues us when we make our way to Warwick, in the Midlands, to visit Leycester's Hospital in Jury Street, where its beamed and plastered frontage, displaying all the amenities of domestic architecture of the Tudor period, contrasts curiously with the stern and rugged Early Norman chapel beside it. The heraldic emblems of the Dudley family enliven.the little hospital with gay splashes of colour, flanking the Dudley motto, "Droit et Loyal," while in the courtyard an added brilliance is given by the flowers on window sill and balcony. The Rose and Thistle of James I jostle the Bear and Ragged Staff, and commemorate the royal visit to this Maison Dieu.

The interior of the building abounds in relics, and the old kitchen has been turned into a museum for such interesting objects as a thousand-year-old Saxon chair, a portion of a curtain embroidered by Amy Robsart, an antique carved wardrobe - the gift of "Leycester" to his Gloriana - and a variety of mugs, goblets and ancient weapons. On the opposite side of the quadrangle is the banqueting hall, with its raftered roof of Spanish chestnut, some vestiges of carved corbels, and a panel setting forth a "Memorandum" of King James I's visit. But baser uses now prevail, and the hall is used for storing coal and housing the community mangle. A master and twelve brethren, some with wives attached, live at the hospital. The chapel dates back to the days of Roger of Newburgh (1123), but was restored in 1863 by. Sir Gilbert Scott.

Coming south to Abingdon, in Berkshire, we find Christ's Hospital, one of a knot of three such habitations nestling round the beautiful old church of S. Helen's. Its exterior is irresistibly alluring, although from across the river it appears merely a line of cloistered dwellings enclosed by an ancient iron railing and a small gate. But once past that gate, a different impression is received. On the right, following an asphalt path, majestic trees screen the old graveyard; on the left, the cloistered gallery of the almshouses shows a symmetrical row of arches, terminating in satisfying perspective at the end of the walk. The sheltering roof is topped by a tall lantern, and below it the entrance porch leads into the hall. Here the Jacobean panelling at once catches the eye, harmonising as it does with the ancient oak tables. The silver badges on the walls once formed part of the livery of the inmates, and among the pictures are portraits of Edward VI and Sir John Mason, who took part in refounding the institution in 1553 as a purely secular charity, after the dissolution of the Guild of the Holy Cross, by whom the original foundation was erected in 1446. This guild was also responsible for the rebuilding of Abingdon bridge in 1416, a fact commemorated in a quaint old picture and a curious poem, both hanging in the hall.

The Hospital of the Blessed Trinity at Guildford is of Tudor design, having been erected by Archbishop George Abbot in 1619. The common hall, thirty feet long and panelled almost to its full height, with fine cornice and carved frieze, still contains the original fittings and a number of old stools, tables and benches, of which the brethren are justly proud. Above is the guest hall, with its quaint old mantelpiece of Elizabethan carved oak, appropriately depicting the main features of a banquet of the period. A distinctive feature of the place is the beautiful lunettes in the form of scallop shells over fine old doors. The master's study, with its beautiful panelling and secret cupboards, a grand staircase of age-blackened oak - exquisitely carved in the jewel-and-pearl design - with fine newel posts, and the "Archbishop's bedroom" lead fitly on to the audience chamber, with its wonderfully carved mantelpiece and its subrosa door, so called because of the observation panel formerly to be found under a beautifully carved Tudor rose.

A spiral stair leads to the Treasury or Muniment Room, where are three chests containing the documents of the foundation. The Duke of Monmouth was housed here for a night after his capture at Sedgemoor. The men's and the women's apartments lie on either side of a spacious quadrangle laid out as a flower garden and approached from the road by a turreted gateway.

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Pictures for Haunts of Ancient Peace

S. MARY'S HOSPITAL, CHICHESTER
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FOURTEENTH CENTURY HOSPITAL AT WARWICK
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GATEWAY OF LEYCESTER'S HOSPITAL UNDER THE BADGE OF THE BEAR AND RAGGED STAFF
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PORCH OF THE CHRIST'S HOSPITAL AT ABINGDON
PORCH OF THE CHRIST'S HOSPITAL AT ABINGDON >>>>
MORETON HAMPSTEAD'S ALMSHOUSE AND THE WHITGIFT HOSPITAL, CROYDON
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ALMSHOUSE OF THE WATERMEN'S COMPANY AT PENGE: WOTTON-UNDER-EDGE
ALMSHOUSE OF THE WATERMEN'S COMPANY AT PENGE: WOTTON-UNDER-EDGE >>>>
JACOBEAN QUADRANGLE OF THE HOSPITAL OF THE HOLY TRINITY AT GUILDFORD
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AT S. CROSS, ONE OF ENGLAND'S FINEST ALMSHOUSES, AND CHADDESLEY CORBETT
AT S. CROSS, ONE OF ENGLAND'S FINEST ALMSHOUSES, AND CHADDESLEY CORBETT >>>>
BROTHERS' DINING HALL AT S. CROSS, WINCHESTER
BROTHERS' DINING HALL AT S. CROSS, WINCHESTER >>>>

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