Master's Garden, The Hospital of St Cross

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HCC Site ID: 1604 Parish: Winchester
Designations: CA Area: Small
Access: Public Access – see link below Ownership: The Hospital of St Cross

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Location and Site

The ancient Hospital lies on the St Cross Road, a mile from Winchester City Centre. It is situated within the complex of St Cross Hospital. It stands in the water meadows below St Catherine’s Hill.

Historic Description

The Hospital was founded in 1132 by Henry de Blois, Bishop of Winchester, for 13 poor men, with 100 others provided with dinner daily. It was under the Hospitallars until 1185 and had by 1185 increased to 200. By the mid 13th C the hospital had fallen into decay. The buildings were repaired by degrees and the Hospital recovered.
1445 The buildings were enlarged with Almshouse of Noble Poverty built by Cardinal Beaufort. Throughout its history St Cross seems to have been noted for its gardens and it would not be surprising for the Masters to maintain fine gardens for themselves. Dr Markland, master from 1694-1728, took a great interest and converted the area to the south of the hospital into a fine formal garden adorned with a canal and evergreen shrubs. At least one ‘canal’ can be recognised, as an earthwork along the west boundary of the medieval precinct. It is more likely that Markland used what was there than created water from nothing.
The OS Field Investigator (6) 1961 reports that there are traces in St Cross Park, to the south of the present buildings which are almost certainly those of the original 12th C buildings. 100m2 is bounded on the W and S sides by a dry ditch with fragmentary river bank and on the E and part of the N sides by a stream. These features presumably marked the precincts of the hospital. In the NE corner of enclosed area is an L-shaped platform almost certainly representing a range of building foundations although no stone/brickwork is visible. Within the angle of the range a vague platform probably represents another building.
The archiologist, Chris Currie, suggested that there might have been a moat round an area which would not have had buildings within it, therefore could possibly have been a garden. A visitor in 1722-23 is quoted as saying that the Master ‘…hath a very good apartment, with fine gardens adorned with a canal and evergreens’… There appears to have been a complete circuit of ditches and water courses suggesting that the site was adapted from an earlier moated garden. It seems to have contained an orchard when a survey of the hospital was undertaken in 1401. The survey also records a number of other gardens within the precinct, including a vegetable garden, the Porter’s garden and the Home garden. The total area was in excess of 3.6 hectares. Humbert (1857) reports that an Act of Elizabeth 1 forbade the master from leasing ‘the orchards, gardens…lying within the precincts of the Hospital of St Cross’.

On the site of the present Master’s house was the ‘Northgardyn’ then an orchard. Surveys taken in the mid-1850s show that the boundary followed the outer edge of the ditches on the west and south side of the field known as St Cross Park. Parkland trees can be seen today.
A project was launched in the mid-1980s by the Winchester Conservation Society and the Hampshire Gardens Trust to restore part of the Master’s Garden. It was officially opened by the Queen Mother in 1986 after she had opened Queen Eleanor’s Garden. Victoria Wakefield designed the garden, named the Compton Garden, to incorporate plants from the New World similar to those that had been imported into England during the time of the Bishop of London, the Reverend Henry Compton (1632-1713). Henry Compton was a keen gardener and by 1681 his garden in the Bishop’s Palace at Fulham was notable, the work being supervised from the start by George London. In 1686, the gardener of William Penn in Pennsylvania hoped to make an arrangement with George London to supply him with trees, shrubs, flowers and seeds in exchange for the products of Pennsylvania
Compton continued to encourage the importation of exotics which his position as head of the Church for the American Colonies enabled him to do.

Current Description

The gardens of St Cross remain a peaceful retreat with a very peaceful large walled garden within which is  a fishpond as well as large trees, and colourful herbaceous borders in the summer. The Compton Garden lies as a separate entity within the whole garden.


Founded in the 1130s by Henry de Blois for poor men, St Cross Hospital has a walled garden with a fishpond and the Compton Garden created in the late 1980s with plants associated with the New World. It stands in water meadows below St Catherine’s Hill.

Information: 2004


The Hospital of St Cross and Almshouses of Noble PovertyCrook J, 2011
Archive at Hampshire County Council

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