Saturday, 14 December 2013

A Walk Round Romsey and Some Puppy Pics (of course)

Romsey is our local market town. It has a population of around 18000 now but it started life as a small settlement that grew up outside the walls of the Saxon Abbey. The Abbey was founded in the early 900s by the Grand-daughter of Alfred the Great, although rumour has it it was built on the much older site of some sacred Celtic springs. The name is thought to come from the Old English 'Rum's Eg' meaning Rum's area surrounded by marsh.

The Abbey was burnt down by the Vikings in 993 and the town decimated by plague during the Black Death of 1348-9 when half its 1000 inhabitants died. It recovered, and became prosperous again thanks to the wool trade. The Abbey, which was re-built in stone by the Normans in 1000, was saved from Cromwell's purge of Catholic houses in 1539 because part of it was a parish church that served the townsfolk. The town purchased the Abbey from the crown in 1544 for £100.

Lord Palmerston (Prime Minister twice during the 1800's) and Lord Louis Mountbatten (blown up by the IRA in the 1970's) both called Romsey home, and there is a statue to Palmerston in the market square. Mountbatten's home, Broadlands, is a grand stately home on one side of the town. It is a very masculine building with heavy, hard lines and not my cup of tea at all. The current Lord buggered off to the Bahamas with his girlfriend a while ago leaving his wife to run the estate.

It's funny how taking a camera round a place you think you know well in order to record it and tell other people about it changes your view of it. You see details for one thing. Thus I walked round town this afternoon, being looked at curiously by fellow townsfolk as I was snapping rather than shopping.

The weather was not ideal for photography so I will take you round Romsey again in the summer (when I will also have more time- I was conscious today that I was only supposed to be out for 5 mins while M got J's new mobile from the shop. I eventually returned to a slightly fed-up husband who'd been waiting patiently in the car for a bit longer than that).

Anyway, here are some key buildings so you can get a sense of the place......

Romsey's Norman Abbey

A gargoyle high-up on the Abbey walls
I wonder what these two have got to look so smug about?
Beautiful detail on a door arch leading into the abbey

A blocked up window perchance?

One can only imagine that at some time in its interesting 1100 year history Romsey Abbey had a very tall fat Abbot and a very short thin prior who both needed to get inside the building at the same time.

I rather liked this sheepy gargoyle (very appropriate as we've been to see them today)

Romsey town - you can just about make out Palmerston on his plinth in the middle

More town centre shots

Romsey town

The small door behind which a passage runs leading to the Fishlake stream is the one on the right, in case you were wondering (and believe me, it is small- I couldn't get in without bending my head down)

Romsey was both Roundhead and Cavalier during the civil war, although ultimately the Cavaliers succeeded in holding the town for the King. This plaque commemorates two Cavalier soldiers who were hanged in the town in 1642

And here is the bracket they were hanged from. Now boasting a swan
The building with the black and white beams is the one the soldiers were executed from. It always gives me the shivers and a pause for thought whenever I walk past it. There is a building in Winchester (the Eclipse pub) that performed a similar grizzly duty by being the place outside which Lady Alice Lisle of the New Forest was hanged for hiding Cavalier soldiers.
On one of the back streets leading to the library there is this very interesting building which is currently a dental shop (whatever that is- does it sell teeth I wonder? How fabulous if it did. On the other hand if it just sells toothpaste and dental floss I'd be massively disappointed). I say it's interesting, because these can be seen on the outside...

Here's the shop

And this is what is has for decoration....

12th century? At a guess.....?

And this curious creature which is Quite Extraordinary.
So I've done a cursory search on the internet which has yielded nothing. Our local history group is my next port of call. The carving above leaks into the house next door, so he's obviously old and has been intentionally preserved. I am now Very Curious Indeed....

There is another real gem tucked away in Romsey whose history is better documented. King John's House. 


Dating from the 13th Century, King John's House was once the main building in a major medieval complex and early features have survived including the roof timbers, graffiti cut into the medieval plaster and a rare bone floor.
History records that Edward I visited Romsey in 1306  with his court. Some members of the king's court must have stayed at King John's House as the upstairs chamber shows 14th century graffiti on the walls, including a rather unflattering likeness of the king himself scratched into the plaster. There are several heraldic shields incised into the walls, probably with the point of a dagger.

At some point over the next two centuries the house passed into the ownership of the abbey, as when the abbey was dissolved in 1539 the house was included in its list of properties. John Foster, a chaplain and one of the last abbey stewards, bought the house along with other abbey property. He also married one of the former nuns (how does that work exactly?). A metal plaque bearing Foster's coat of arms has been found outside the house and is now on display. Foster, or one of his immediate successors as owner, pulled down the external stair and added Tudor Cottage, the attractive timber framed building you can see in the pic above.

There is a tea shop at St Johns, so if you ever find yourself in Romsey, walk the extra 3 mins past Costas and go here instead. 

Another old building at the King John's complex. This is part of a really pretty public garden- I always choose to walk this way into Romsey. It is peaceful whatever the time of year

I hope you enjoyed our little tour. I will do a more sunshine selection when the weather improves and the year has turned. 

I'll leave you with some doggy pics (how could I not?). Pops continues well. This week she has learnt to come to the whistle and not to go upstairs, and as of Thurs, there have been no stray poos in the house either! A miracle, one feels...

Sharing the fire Quite Happily these days...

'Phew! At last! A Whole Entire Bed to Myself.'
'Oh God! You close your eyes for a second and Look What Happens!!!!'
Hope you're all having a Truly Lovely Weekend (and thanks so much for all your kind words and get well wishes after my last post. Normal service has more or less been resumed- well, certainly enough to justify a glass of wine or three this weekend at any rate- that's got to be a good sign!).

CT :-)


  1. I'm so glad you're feeling better CT :)

    A great post - I really enjoyed reading all about the history of Romsey and seeing the photos. The stone carvings on the dental shop are fascinating - I do hope you find out their history - would love to know too :)

    Cute photos of the dogs :)

    1. Thanks Caroline :-)

      Walking round town with the camera has piqued my interest to discover more. With such a long history there are bound to be oodles of interesting tales attached to the town.

  2. I'm glad to hear you're much better now, CT.
    I loved this post; I find local history fascinating. So many stories. The gargoyles/grotesques are wonderful; as always I wonder who some of the faces are modelled on. Love all the old buildings, too, but I'm not sure I could admire the local craftsmanship of the iron bracket (as the plaque suggests) without being haunted by the image of those soldiers.
    I had to smile at Poppy sharing Ted's bed when he's asleep - but will she get away with it when she gets bigger?!

    1. I always think the same about gargoyles too. Strange things but oddly compelling. And I agree wholeheartedly about the bracket- such a strange thing to have written on the plaque, given what happened there. Presumably the person who wrote it wasn't a fan of royalty! :-)

  3. Love all that stonework-how interesting it makes the buildings-sheep one is my favourite. Good to hear Poppy is training well.

    1. I agree- the carvings are great. I love coming upon such ancient things so unexpectedly and in everyday surroundings like on the dental shop.

  4. I am glad I got to see Romsey through your eyes. My hubbie's brother lived there for many years (it's a complicated story) and all I ever heard about was the grimness of it all. Put me right off visiting. I went to Hampshire quite a bit when I was a child - to Petersfield mostly - and I remember the Bird World at Farnham very well.

    1. I guess personal happiness/ unhappiness can shape your view of a place. I've always liked Romsey and its environs- it's an old market town and as such has heaps of history to explore, which is right up my street x


Thank you for leaving a comment. I always enjoy reading them. CT.