The Wayfarer's Dole
There may be no such thing as a free lunch but I can testify that there is such a thing as a free beer.
For this you have to thank the administrators of one of England’s best-preserved religious sanctuaries.
The Hospital of St Cross (and Almshouses of Noble Poverty, to give it its full title) dates back to the 12th century, when it was founded by Henry de Blois, Bishop of Winchester.
This is a hospital in the historic sense of the word; in other words a place of hospitality and welcome.
It is Britain’s oldest charitable institution, its charter making provision for 13 men ‘feeble and so reduced in strength that they can scarcely, or not at all, support themselves without other aid’ to live on the site and be fed and clothed. There are rooms for 25 ‘Brothers’ today.
In the beautifully-maintained grounds is a stunning Norman church, for which construction began in 1135. Almost a mini-cathedral, it warrants a visit in itself, but you can also tour the Brothers’ ancient dining hall, the Georgian kitchen and the flower gardens.
To make the tour, there is a small charge. However, anyone who calls into the porter’s lodge will be given free hospitality in the shape of a square of bread and a goblet of ale.
In days of yore, such sustenance was very welcome for travelling pilgrims and merchants.
Today, the Wayfarer’s Dole, as it is known, is a cheeky indulgence for most of us but serves to draw in the tourist trade that helps keep the Hospital on its feet.
The beer currently served is Fuller’s London Pride, drawn from a bag in a box kindly donated by the Chiswick brewery, and you are cheerfully served a good measure.
It is indeed totally free of charge, but you may well wish to make a small purchase from the attached gift shop to return the favour and support such a welcoming establishment.
The Hospital of St Cross can be found alongside the banks of the River Itchen, about a mile south of Winchester city centre. This feature expands on an entry in CAMRA’s Book of Beer Knowledge.