Social History

Wayfarer’s Dole – 1000 Years of Tradition

WAYFARER’S DOLE, it’s unique and close to a 1000 year tradition. Knock on the heavy wooden door of Porter’s Lodge and ask for the Dole, and you will be handed a wooden board with a small cup of beer and a morsel of bread each.

Originally the cup would have been a horn cup (I have one at home and I am sure it is ancient).
The Hospital of St Cross has the oldest almshouses in England still in use.

1136 AD

It was founded by Henry of Blois, Bishop of Winchester, grandson of William the Conquerer in 1136. The Hospital also served as a waystation for pilgrims on their way to Canterbury or Southampton.

When I say hospital don’t take it in its modern sense – ‘hospital’ originally comes from the Latin noun “hospes”, which stands for “a guest or visitor” and “one who provides lodging or entertainment for a guest or visitor”.

The Wayfarer’s Dole

(Remember not so long back I tracked down and visited the manor of the Knights Hospitaller of St John who owned the village in Dorset).


This Latin noun is also the origin of other English words like hostel, hotel, and hospice. The origin of the word relates to the care of guests or visitors – nothing to do with being unwell or diseases.

The outer gate

One of the ways in which the Hospital met its mandate was to provide a “Wayfarer’s Dole” (bread and ale) to travellers. As we know, The Wayfarer’s Dole is still given to all who request it at the Porters Gate.

The Hospital still provides accommodation for a total of 25 elderly men, known as “The Brothers”, under the care of “The Master”.

The beautiful Almshouses where the Brothers live


They belong to either of two charitable foundations. Those belonging to the Order of the Hospital of St Cross (founded around 1132) wear black trencher hats. Black robes with a silver badge in the shape of a Jerusalem cross. While those belonging to the Order of Noble Poverty (founded in 1445) wear claret trencher hats. Claret robes with a silver cardinal’s badge in memory of Cardinal Beaufort.

They are often referred to as the “Black Brothers” and the “Red Brothers”. Brothers must be single, widowed or divorced, and over 60 years of age. Preference is given to those in most need.

Beaufort Tower and the inner courtyard. Celuici – CC BY-SA 4.0

If you like this article, then please follow us on Facebook, and Instagram

The Brother I spoke with said that Wolf Hall was filmed there with Damian Lewis playing Henry VIII. I said I have never heard of it and he said he has never heard of Damian Lewis until then.

More from us: Jewish Cemetery 1/4 Million Abandoned Gravestones

The church wasn’t open because of Covid but will return as it looks like a mini cathedral and apparently the architecture in side is said to be exceptional.