CHAPTER I. WINCHESTER AND CENTRAL HAMPSHIRE
The City Cross is graceful and elegant fifteenth-century work, much restored of course, and in a quaint angle of some old houses that rather detract from its effectiveness. The exact site of the inhuman execution of Mrs. Alicia Lisle in September, 1685, is unknown, but it was probably in the wider part of the High Street. This gentle old lady, nearly eighty years of age, had given shelter to two men in all innocence of their connexion with Sedgemoor, but the infamous Jeffreys ordered her to be burnt; a sentence commuted by James II to beheading.
The City walls were almost intact down to 1760. Now we have but the fine West Gate and the King's Gate, over which is St. Swithun's church. The churches of Winchester are little more than half their former number. St. Maurice has a Norman doorway and St. Michael a Saxon sundial. St. John Baptist and St. Peter, Cheesehill, are of the most general interest. The former has a screen and pulpit over four hundred years old; transitional arches; and an Easter sepulchre. The latter is a square church mostly in Perpendicular style but with some later additions more curious than beautiful. Visitors to St. Lawrence's should read the inscription to Martha Grace (1680). St. Bartholomew's, close to the site of Hyde Abbey, shows some Norman work. In 1652 the Corporation petitioned Parliament to reduce the several city parishes into two, deeming a couple of ministers, one for each church, sufficient for the spiritual requirements of the city. In connexion with this a tract was issued describing the ghastly condition of the churches, one, St. Mary Kalendar being a garbage den for butcher's offal, another, St. Swithun's, Kingsgate, was let by the corporation as a tenement and had a pigsty within it!
The ancient castle and residence of the Kings of England is now represented only by the Great Hall, dating from the early part of the thirteenth century. It is used for county business and is a good specimen of the domestic architecture of the time. The great interest of the hall is the reputed Round Table of King Arthur, placed at its west end. Experts have decided that it cannot be older than 1200. The painted names upon it are those of Arthur's Knights. These were executed in the reign of Henry VIII and replaced earlier inscriptions. The Hospital of St. John Baptist is in Basket Lane. Established by John Deverniche, one of the city fathers, in 1275 for the succour of aged wayfarers, it was suppressed at the Reformation, but reverted to its original purpose in 1829, and is thus one of the oldest living foundations of its kind in the kingdom.
Charles II desired to revive the royal glories of Winton and commissioned the erection of a palace which was unfinished when he died. After being used as a barracks, the fine building was practically destroyed in 1894 by a disastrous fire. This element was almost as great an enemy of old Winchester as the reformers themselves. On one occasion the town was fired by a defender, Savaric de Mauleon, on the approach of a French army under Louis the Dauphin. When the other, and junior, capital was receiving its cleansing by fire in 1666, Winchester was being more than decimated by the plague, which was as direful here as anywhere else.
The city is 1,025 years old as a corporate town. Its staple business in medieval times was the sale of wool or its manufacture into cloth. Standing midway between two great tracts of sheep country, it was the natural mart for this important trade and therefore prospered and became rich. St. Giles' Fair, once famous and of great importance to cattle and sheep farmers, finally expired about the middle of the last century. In its prime it was of such a nature that the jurisdiction of the Mayor and the City Courts was in abeyance for sixteen days from the twelfth of September. It was held on St. Giles' Hill just without the town. The fair was under the patronage of the Bishop, who appointed a "Justice of the Court of Pavilion" during the period of the fair.
The chief excursion that every one takes, and that every one should take, from Winchester is to St. Cross. The beautiful old Norman church and its equally beautiful surrounding buildings almost rival Winchester Close itself in their interest and charm. A short walk southwards through the suburb of Sharkford leads direct in a little over a mile to this goal of the archaeologist. A slightly longer but pleasanter route goes by the banks of the Itchen.
St. Cross is the oldest charity, still living its ancient life, that remains to us. Its charter is dated 1151, but it was founded nearly twenty years earlier by Bishop Henry de Blois. The document set forth that thirteen "poor men, so reduced in strength as to be unable to raise themselves without the assistance of another" should be lodged, clothed and entertained, and that one hundred other poor men of good conduct should dine here daily. The munificent charity of the founder was soon abused and the funds had the common habit of disappearing into the capacious pockets of absentee masters. William of Wykeham and his immediate successor, Beaufort, caused reforms in the administration and added to the foundation, the latter instituting an almshouse of "Noble Poverty," which was partly carried out by Bishop Waynflete in 1486. The brethren of this newer foundation wear a red gown; those of the old, a black gown bearing a silver cross. Even within living memory scandals connected with the administration were perpetuated; an Earl of Guildford taking over L1,000 annually during a period of fifty years for the nominal mastership. This peer was a nephew of Bishop Brownlow North. It was in 1855 that the Hospital was put on its present footing and the charity of the hundred diners finally became the maintenance of fifty poor people of good character in the vicinity.