Councillor Ian Tait has suggested that the Brothers of Winchester's historic almshouse, the Hospital of St Cross, should be turfed out and the Hospital turned into "an upmarket hotel". He wants the Brothers moved into "modern purpose-built accommodation". Bevis Hillier, a Brother of the Hospital, retaliates.

I HAVE been a Brother of the Hospital of St Cross for the last 17 years. So, as you will imagine, the opinion of Cllr Ian Tait that the Brothers should be expelled so it can be turned into a swanky hotel does not, in my case, fall on sympathetic ears.

It would be repugnant to hear such a philistine view from some money-grubbing property mogul. It is outrageous - it beggars belief - to hear it from a Winchester city councillor who is a Trustee (authors's italics) of the Hospital of St Cross.

The Hospital was founded about 1132 for old men in straitened circumstances. Its founder was William the Conqueror's grandson, Henry de Blois, Bishop of Winchester. It is one of the few institutions in the country (the monarchy and Bart's Hospital are others) that is still doing the job it was founded to do centuries ago.

It had always occurred to me that some smart alec might come up with the despicable idea of converting the brothers' flats into bijou residences in this haven of architectural beauty and tranquillity, for profit. What I never dreamed conceivable was that a Trustee of the Hospital would have the gall to suggest the disruption of historical continuity, humane shelter for non-rich old men, and, in addition a major draw for tourists in Winchester.

For a start we have a Constitution that I think Cllr Tait would find it hard to override. What has the Bishop of Winchester to say? (His is the crucial voice in the appointment of a Master of St Cross.) And how would the Charity Commissioners react?

The Hospital of St Cross is a Grade I listed building. The drastic changes needed to change it into a glitzy hotel would never be allowed.

In a television series called the The ABC of Churches, Sir John Betjeman, whose authorised biography I wrote, made the Church of the Hospital of St Cross his 'X'. I tremble to think what he would have had to say about Cllr Tait's insolent proposal.

By the way, I suggest that "The Hospital of St Cross" would not seem a "sexy" enough name for Cllr Tait's projected hotel. Maybe something like "Lady GaGa Towers" would appeal?

In the 19th century we had a Master - the Earl of Guilford - who embezzled £250,000 of the Hospital's income. He was got rid of; Anthony Trollope adapted the scandal in his 1855 novel The Warden. Of course, I do not accuse Cllr Tait of any such peculation; but I believe that if his idea were acted upon, it would cause a comparable scandal.

I think Cllr Tait should consider his position, not just as a Trustee of St Cross, but also as a city councillor, since he has shown himself as nothing less than an arch-enemy of one of Winchester's most beloved tourist attractions.

And what on earth does he mean when he says the hospital is "no longer fit for purpose"? Our flats - put up by Cardinal Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester, in 1445 - are not palatial, but they are comfortable, well administered and conveniently placed on bus routes.

Our thick medieval walls help to keep us cool in summer, warm in winter. The Hospital has magnificent gardens that would not disgrace a stately home, a lake with fountains and an expert gardener. When Cllr Tait shunts the brothers into "purpose-built accommodation", does he intend to transfer all these rich amenities? I suspect not. "Purpose-built" - for what purpose? The only purpose I can see is to drive us Brothers out to free a prime commercial site for speculators. It will be Robin Hood in reverse - hitting the poor to benefit the rich. The very opposite of what our founder charitably intended. To put it candidly, all Cllr Tait cares about are profits; he doesn't give a monkey's about the Brothers. Some Trustee! Some trust!

Did the councillor think to ask any of the Brothers whether they find their accommodation unsuitable? Let me assure him, we are not turkeys voting for Christmas! And I certainly know someone I won't be voting for at the next election...

For the time being, all I want to say to this snake in the grass is: "How dare you? You call yourself a Conservative. Try a bit of conserving, not destroying an ancient almshouse, still dutiful, still true to its founder's altruistic aims - not a milch cow for some greedy property developer.

Bevis Hillier, 77, was formerly a reporter on The Times, editor of The Connoisseur magazine and of The Times' colour magazine; and a columnist on the Los Angeles Times.

He is author of 33 books, including the first book in English on Art Deco (1968) and the authorised biography of John Betjeman (three volumes now abridged into a single paperback). He is a Brother of the Order of Noble Poverty at the Hospital of St Cross.