Installation of Internal Swift Nest Boxes at the Hospital of St Cross, Winchester
The Hospital of St Cross is thought to be one of England’s oldest charitable institutions and has been described by Simon Jenkins as ‘England’s most perfect almshouse’. The Order of the Hospital of St Cross was founded by Bishop Henry of Blois in around 1132 to support 13 poor men. In 1445, Cardinal Henry Beaufort founded the Order of Noble Poverty, adding the Almshouse to the existing hospital buildings.
The appearance of the Hospital has changed little since then. Several of the Brothers who live at the Hospital remember summers when large numbers of swifts could be seen and heard over the Hospital, but they report that there are now far fewer than there used to be.
With the enthusiastic support of Catriona Morley, the Clerk of the Trustees at the Hospital of St Cross, Hampshire Swifts have completed the first stage of a project to increase the Swift population at the Hospital. In May Tim Norriss and Catharine Gale of Hampshire Swifts were invited with Tim Walker to visit the Hospital and see the huge lofts that run the length of the Brothers’ Almhouse and over the Old Kitchen Wing. Catriona was keen to find out whether it would be possible to install internal nest boxes for swifts in these lofts.
After careful examination, it was decided that eight internal nest boxes would be installed in the loft over the Old Kitchen Wing. This loft had been recently converted so was fully floored which made the installation much easier.
As the buildings at the Hospital are Grade I listed, it was essential to construct the boxes in such a way that they were not fastened to the ancient beams against which they would be resting. Detailed measurements of each of the gaps between the beams and the eaves were needed to ensure that the new boxes, designed specifically for Swifts, would fit snugly and allow the birds to fly straight into the entrance of the box via gaps under the eaves.
Over the summer, Roger Maynard constructed eight swift nest boxes, complete with concaves, ready for the return of Swifts in 2019. Sheep’s wool was used to fill in any gap between the entrance to the box and the beams to make sure swifts could only access the nest box, not the loft itself.
Thanks are due to Catharine Gale for kindly supporting the costs of this project and to Roger Maynard for his expertise in installing the boxes.