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Romsey Abbey
Abbey Church of St Mary and St Ethelflaeda
Romsey war memorial and abbey.JPG
Romsey Abbey
Romsey Abbey is located in Hampshire
Romsey Abbey
Romsey Abbey
Romsey Abbey is located in England
Romsey Abbey
Romsey Abbey
Romsey Abbey is located in the United Kingdom
Romsey Abbey
Romsey Abbey
50°59′23″N 1°30′5″W / 50.98972°N 1.50139°W / 50.98972; -1.50139
OS grid referenceSU3499121325
LocationRomsey, Hampshire
DenominationChurch of England
ChurchmanshipBroad Church
DedicationVirgin Mary
St Ethelflaeda of Romsey
Functional statusParish church
Vicar(s)Thomas Wharton
Curate(s)Nik Gower

Romsey Abbey is the name currently given to a parish church of the Church of England in Romsey, a market town in Hampshire, England. Until the Dissolution of the Monasteries it was the church of a Benedictine nunnery. The surviving Norman-era church is the town's outstanding feature and is now the largest parish church in the county of Hampshire since changes in county boundaries led to the larger Christchurch Priory being now included in Dorset. The current vicar is the Reverend Thomas Wharton, who took up the post in September 2018.[1]

Monastic history

The church was originally built during the 10th century, as part of a monastic foundation of Benedictine women. Its imposing nature is all the more remarkable because as a nunnery the abbey would have been less well financially endowed than other, male, monasteries of the time.[citation needed]

The religious community continued to grow and a village grew around it. Both suffered already in the 10th century, when Viking raiders sacked the village and burnt down the original church in 993. However, the abbey was rebuilt in stone in around 1000 and the village quickly recovered. The abbey and its community of nuns flourished and was renowned as a seat of learning – especially for the children of the nobility.

In Norman times a substantial, new stone abbey was built on the old Anglo-Saxon foundation (circa 1130 to 1140 AD) by Henry Blois, Bishop of Winchester and Abbot of Glastonbury, younger brother of King Stephen. In this general period, the community prospered and by 1240 the nuns numbered more than 100.

It was in this period that the dramatic case arose of Princess Marie (1136- 1182), youngest daughter of Stephen of England. Marie had become a novice at the Priory of Lillechurch in Kent, but transferred to Romsey in the years 1148–1155, being elected Abbess in 1155, the year following her father's death. In 1159, the death of her brother William left her as the suo jure Countess of Boulogne and the following year prompted Matthew of Alsace to abduct her from her abbey and force her to marry him despite of her religious vows, so that he became jure uxoris Count of Boulogne and co-ruler. Though couple had two daughters, the marriage was annulled in 1170 and Marie returned to life as a Benedictine nun at the Abbey of Sainte-Austreberthe at Montreuil, where she died in 1182, aged about 46.

West window of Romsey Abbey
West window of Romsey Abbey

Despite the faithful service in prayer of many of the nuns over many centuries, there are scattered traces of irregularities in the conduct of the house, of which the evidence would merit impartial investigation with modern historiographical methods, rather than stale prejudice. Some sources accuse the abbess Elizabeth Broke (1472-1502) of ruling over a period of scandal, including allowing poor dress standards for nuns, allowing nuns to go to the towns taverns, poor account keeping and an unhealthy relationships with the Chaplain.[2]

The abbey continued to grow and prosper until the Black Death struck the town in 1348–9. While it is thought that as much as half of the population of the town – which was then about 1,000 – died as a result, the number of nuns fell by over 80% to 19. 72 nuns died including Abbess Johanna. After the plague there were never more than 26 nuns in the Abbey.[2]

This so affected the area that the overall prosperity of the abbey dwindled, though it remained an important local institution and continued its traditional functions of prayer and charity towards the local people.

List of Abbesses of Romsey

Name year appointed year resigned/died Notes
Abbey founded 907
Abbess Ælflæda 907 Daughter of Edward the Elder, Abbey was built for her.
Abbess Merwinna 966
Abbess Elwina 992
Abbess Æthelflæda 1003
Abbess Wulfynn 1016
Abbess Ælfgyfu 1042
Abbess Cristina 1093 Daughter of Edward the Exile
Incomplete records for about a century [3][4]
Abbes Hadewisa 1130
Abbess Matildis 1150 1155
Abbess Princess Mary 1155 1171 Daughter of King Stephen, abducted and forced to marry.
Abbess Juliana 1171 1174
Abbess Matilad Patric 1218 1219
Abbess matilda 1218 1230
Abbess Matilasa de Barbfle 1230 1231
Abbess Isabel de Nevil 1237
Abbess Cecilia 1238 1247
Abbess Constancia 1247 1261
Abess Amicia de Sulhere 1261 1268
Abbess Alicia Walerand 1269
Abbess Phillipa de Stokes 1296 1307 was very infirm as Abbess.[2]
Abbess Clementcia de Guildford 1307 1314 Was very infirm as Abbess.[2]
Abbess Alicia de Wyntershulle 1314 1315 whose murder was never solved.[2]
Abbess Sybil Carbonel 1315
Abbess Johanna Icthe 1333
Bubonic plague 1349 80% of the nuns died.
Abbess Johanna Gerney 1349 1351
Abbess Isabella de Camoys 1352 [5][6]
Abbess Lucy Everard 1396
Abbess Felicia Aas[7] 1405 1417
Abess Matilda Lovell 1417
Abbess Johanna Brydduys 1462 1472
Abbess Elizabeth Broke 1472 1502 Her tenure was tainted by scandal.
Abbess Joyce Rowse 1502 1515
Abbess Ann Westbroke 1515 1523
Abbess Elizabeth Ryprose 1523 1524
Dissolution of the Abbey 1539 [8]

Post-Reformation parish

Although the community of nuns itself was forcibly dispersed in the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the abbey buildings escaped the general fate of other religious and charitable establishments at this time and were not demolished. This was because the abbey church had a substantial section dedicated to St Lawrence which served as a place of worship for the townspeople. This arrangement, found also elsewhere in various forms, was designed to preserve the particular life of the nuns, with its heavy schedule of church services, from encroachment by the needs of the people. The latter were catered for, however, by celebrations of the liturgy ensured by the nuns' chaplains.

Subsequently, the town purchased the abbey buildings from the Crown for £100 in 1544. The operation presumably aimed, under the cloak of public service, at furthering private interests, since the town's magnates then soon set about demolishing that very section, set aside as the church of St Lawrence, that had ensured the survival of buildings in the first place. All over the country, the demolition of religious buildings brought for private enterprise a rich harvest of lead and building materials.

During the English Civil War the building suffered further material damage at the hands of Parliamentarian troops in 1643, including destruction of the organ.

What survives of the abbey buildings today, though limited to a remodelled and restored form of the former abbey church, is arguably due especially to the efforts of a 19th-century incumbent, the Reverend Edward Lyon Berthon. It is now forms the largest Church of England parish church in the county of Hampshire.


The church's bells were once housed in a detached campanile. After its demolition in 1625, the set of six bells was transferred to a wooden belfry on top of the central tower. They were replaced by a new set of eight in 1791; the heaviest, the tenor, weighing 26 cwt.[9] Three of the bells were recast in 1932. The bells and their eighteenth century bell frame were restored in 2007, when removing the crown reduced the weight of the tenor to 22 cwt. The bells are now known across the region for being one of the finest rings of 8 bells.[citation needed]



Romsey Abbey has a traditional choir of boy choristers and a back row of adult altos, tenors and basses drawn from the local area. They also have a choir of girls, a senior girls choir, a training choir of youngsters and a consort of voluntary singers and members of the congregation who sing when the choirs are on holiday. Over the years the choirs have recorded multiple CDs, sung for royalty, enjoyed choir tours to numerous UK Cathedrals, Belgium, Italy and France and have a twinning relationship with a German choir from Mülheim an der Ruhr. They have appeared numerous times on BBC Songs of Praise as well as featuring in a BBC Documentary in 2018. The current director of music is Martin Seymour.


Romsey Abbey has two organs. The main instrument was built by J W Walker & Sons in 1858 and replaced an earlier instrument by Henry Coster. The Walker Organ was rebuilt in its present position and enlarged in 1888. Major restoration work was carried out by J. W. Walker & Sons Ltd in 1995/96 under the supervision of the abbey's organist, Jeffrey Williams, restoring the mechanical actions and overhauling all of the pipe work. In 1999 a completely new nave organ was constructed with its pipe work located on the south triforium. This can be played either from a mobile console in the nave or from the main console.[10]

The Choir and organ of Romsey Abbey December 2012
The Choir and organ of Romsey Abbey December 2012

Organist and master of the choristers

  • S.T. Cromwell ???? – 1849[11]
  • Francis Wellman
  • ??? Beazley
  • W. Mason 1864[12] – 1865[13] (afterwards organist of Trinity Church, South Shields)
  • E.W. Perren 1866[14] – 1867 (afterwards organist of St Thomas Church, Winchester)
  • W. Channon Cornwall 1867[15] – 1876[16]
  • William Cary Bliss 1888 – 1899[17]
  • J. C. Richards ca. 1907
  • R. T. Bevan ca. 1921[18]
  • Charles Tryhorn 1926-1957
  • Charles Piper 1957-1980
  • Anthony Burns-Cox 1980–1990
  • Jeffrey Williams 1990–2004
  • Robert Fielding 2004–2015[19]
  • George Richford 2015–2018
  • Canon Peter Gould 2019–2019 (Interim Director of Music)
  • Martin Seymour 2019 - (Director of Music)[20]

Assistant organists

  • Jeffrey Williams 1982–1990
  • Paul Isted 1991–1996
  • Timothy Rogerson 1996–2005
  • David Coram 2005–2008
  • James Eaton 2008–2010
  • Adrian Taylor 2011–present

Notable burials

Tombs of John and Grissell St Barbe and that of Earl Mountbatten of Burma.
Tombs of John and Grissell St Barbe and that of Earl Mountbatten of Burma.

Among the tombs housed in the present church are:

Reportedly, that of Prince Edmund Atheling (c. 966 – c. 970), the eldest son of Edgar the Peaceful, King of Northumbria and Mercia, by his third wife, Ælfthryth, the elder brother of King Æthelred the Unready (c. 968–1016) who died in infancy and was buried in the old Romsey Abbey.

John and Grissell St Barbe, both died in 1658. The family acquired the abbey estate shortly after the dissolution and held it until 1723.[21]

William Petty (1623-1687), in his day a noted English economist, scientist, philosopher, Fellow of the Royal Society and politician. He first came to prominence serving Oliver Cromwell and the Commonwealth in Ireland and, like many others, later served under King Charles II and King James II. Knighted in 1661, he became the great-grandfather of Prime Minister William Petty Fitzmaurice, 2nd Earl of Shelburne and 1st Marquess of Lansdowne.

John Latham (1740-1837), English physician, naturalist and ornithologist, one of the first to examine scientifically birds discovered in Australia. He was elected to the Royal Society in 1775, took part in the creation of the Linnean Society, and in 1812, he was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

The Earl Mountbatten of Burma (1900–1979). On being given his Earldom in 1947, Mountbatten had been granted the lesser title of Baron Romsey and he lived locally at Broadlands House. On 27 August 1979, Mountbatten, his grandson Nicholas, and two others were assassinated by a bomb set by members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, hidden aboard his fishing boat in Mullaghmore, County Sligo, Ireland. He was buried here following a Ceremonial Funeral in Westminster Abbey. By request, his grave is aligned north–south, rather than the conventional east–west, so that he faces the sea where his wife, Edwina's, ashes were scattered.[21]

Buried in the churchyard is Major General Sir Richard Harman Luce (1867-1952), an English surgeon, British Army officer and politician, who served for a time as MP for Derby in 1924 and later as Mayor of Romsey.

Titanic connection

Titanic memorial to Arthur Ward
Titanic memorial to Arthur Ward

One of the Titanic's engineering officers, Arthur (Bob) Ward, who died in the sinking, is commemorated in the Abbey with a plaque in one of the chapels.

St Swithun's, Crampmoor

The village of Crampmoor, to the east of Romsey, is within the ecclesiastical parish of Romsey.[22] St Swithun's, Crampmoor, is Romsey Abbey's daughter church. It was built in the nineteenth century to serve a rural community as both a church and a school. There were originally two other such combined use buildings in the parish; the school moved out from St Swithun's in 1927.[23]

See also


  1. ^ "New Vicar Appointed". Romsey Abbey. Retrieved 14 April 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d e Rev. Thomas Perkins, Bell's Cathedrals: A Short Account of Romsey Abbey, A Description of the Fabric and Notes on the History of the Convent of Ss. Mary & Ethelfleda (Library of Alexandria).
  3. ^ Abbess Cristina at Romsey flourished 1086AD, until probably before 1093AD when her nieces were moved to Wilton Abbey.
  4. ^ Abbess Eadgyth at Romsey about 1093AD.
  5. ^ Born 1396AD, Abbess Isabella was the daughter of Ralph de Camoys, Governor of Windsor and his wife Joan, the daughter of Hugh le Despenser, Earl of Winchester. She was sister of Thomas de Camoys, 2nd Baron Camoys. She was appointed Abbess of Romsey 25 November 1352. She appears in the 1366 Will of the Bishop of Edyndon, and several deeds to the Abbey. She died 1396.
  6. ^ Douglas Richardson, Magna Carta Ancestry: A Study in Colonial and Medieval Families, 2nd Edition, (Douglas Richardson, 2011) page 397.
  7. ^ Common Pleas, 1415 Trinity term, "Felicia Aas, abbissa de Romesey", plaintiff, fourth entry:
  8. ^ Henry G. D. Liveing, M.A. Records of Romsey Abbey: An account of the Benidictine House of Nunies with Notes on the Parish Church and town.(A.D. 907—1558). Compiled from Manuscript and Printed Records (WARREN AND SON, LTD., 85, HIGH STREET. 1912) page IIX-X.
  9. ^ Perkins, Thomas (1907). A Short Account of Romsey Abbey. Bell’s Cathedral Guides. London: George Bell & Sons. p. 35.
  10. ^ "NPOR N11434". National Pipe Organ Register. British Institute of Organ Studies. Retrieved 8 July 2020.
  11. ^ Hampshire Advertiser – Saturday 8 August 1868
  12. ^ Musical Standard, Volume II, 1864
  13. ^ Newcastle Journal – Saturday 16 September 1865
  14. ^ Dorset County Chronicle – Thursday 11 January 1866
  15. ^ Salisbury and Winchester Journal – Saturday 23 February 1867
  16. ^ Glasgow Herald – Friday 24 March 1876
  17. ^ Musical Times, 1920
  18. ^ Dictionary of Organs and Organists. Second Edition. 1921
  19. ^ Romsey Abbey News, 16 July 2015 "Robert Fielding". Romsey Abbey. Romsey Abbey.
  20. ^ Romsey Abbey News April 2019 Martin, Seymour. "Martin Seymour New Director of Music at Romsey Abbey". Romsey Abbey. Romsey Abbey.
  21. ^ a b Sledge, Tim (2011). Romsey Abbey. Pitkin. p. 6. ISBN 978-1-84165-357-0.
  22. ^ Map of Romsey parish –
  23. ^ St Swithun's, Crampmoor, daughter church of Romsey Abbey

External links

This page was last edited on 3 February 2021, at 16:59
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