Vanishing England eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 374 pages of information about Vanishing England.

Almshouses we usually call them now, but our forefathers preferred to call them hospitals, God’s hostels, “God huis,” as the Germans call their beautiful house of pity at Luebeck, where the tired-out and money-less folk might find harbourage.  The older hospitals were often called “bede-houses,” because the inmates were bound to pray for their founder and benefactors.  Some medieval hospitals, memorials of the charity of pre-Reformation Englishmen, remain, but many were suppressed during the age of spoliation; and others have been so rebuilt and restored that there is little left of the early foundation.

We may notice three classes of these foundations.  First, there are the pre-Reformation bede-houses or hospitals; the second group is composed of those which were built during the spacious days of Queen Elizabeth, James I, and Charles I. The Civil War put a stop to the foundation of almshouses.  The principal landowners were impoverished by the war or despoiled by the Puritans, and could not build; the charity of the latter was devoted to other purposes.  With the Restoration of the Church and the Monarchy another era of the building of almshouses set in, and to this period very many of our existing institutions belong.

[Illustration:  Gateway of St. John’s Hospital, Canterbury]

Of the earliest group we have several examples left.  There is the noble hospital of St. Cross at Winchester, founded in the days of anarchy during the contest between Stephen and Matilda for the English throne.  Its hospitable door is still open.  Bishop Henry of Blois was its founder, and he made provision for thirteen poor men to be housed, boarded, and clothed, and for a hundred others to have a meal every day.  He placed the hospital under the care of the Master of the Knights Hospitallers.  Fortunately it was never connected with a monastery.  Hence it escaped pillage and destruction at the dissolution of monastic houses.  Bishop Henry was a great builder, and the church of the hospital is an interesting example of a structure of the Transition Norman period, when the round arch was giving way to the Early English pointed arch.  To this foundation was added in 1443 by Cardinal Beaufort an extension called the “Almshouse of Noble Poverty,” and it is believed that the present domestic buildings were erected by him.[58] The visitor can still obtain the dole of bread and ale at the gate of St. Cross.  Winchester is well provided with old hospitals:  St. John’s was founded in 931 and refounded in 1289; St. Mary Magdalen, by Bishop Toclyve in 1173-88 for nine lepers; and Christ’s Hospital in 1607.

[58] Mr. Nisbett gives a good account of the hospital in Memorials of Old Hampshire, and Mr. Champneys fully describes the buildings in the Architectural Review, October, 1903, and April, 1904.

We will visit some less magnificent foundations.  Some are of a very simple type, resembling a church

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Vanishing England from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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