Romsey Abbey

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Romsey Abbey
Romsey war memorial and abbey.JPG
Romsey Abbey
CountryUnited Kingdom
DenominationChurch of England
ChurchmanshipBroad Church
Vicar(s)Rev Thomas Wharton
Curate(s)Rev Nik Gower

Romsey Abbey is a parish church of the Church of England in Romsey, a market town in Hampshire, England. Until the dissolution it was the church of a Benedictine nunnery. It is now the largest parish church in the county, since Christchurch Priory is now in Dorset.


The church was originally built during the 10th century, as part of a Benedictine foundation. The surviving church is the town's outstanding feature, which is all the more remarkable because the abbey, as a nunnery, would have been less well financially endowed than other religious establishments of the time.


The west window of Romsey Abbey.

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

In Norman times a substantial, new stone abbey, primarily designed as a convent, was built on the old Anglo-Saxon foundation (circa 1130 to 1140 AD) by Henry Blois, Bishop of Winchester and Abbot of Glastonbury. Bishop Henry was the younger brother of King Stephen and his structure dominates the town to this day. By 1240 in excess of 100 nuns were living in the community.

The rule of Elizabeth Broke was filled with scandal. A commission was held against her for many charges including allowing poor dress standards for nuns, allowing nuns to go to the towns taverns, poor account keeping and an unhealthy relationship with the Chaplain.[1]

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 and it was finally suppressed by Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539.

Tombs in Romsey Abbey, including that of Earl Mountbatten of Burma.

However the abbey did not suffer the fate of many other religious establishments at this time and was not demolished, although the community itself was forcibly dispersed. This was because it had, in modern terms, become "dual use" containing a church within a church – a substantial section being dedicated to St Lawrence and used solely by the townspeople.

Subsequently, the town purchased the abbey from the Crown for £100 in 1544 and then set about demolishing that very section, set aside as the church of St Lawrence, that had ensured its survival in the first place.

The abbey survives today not least due to the efforts of the Reverend Edward Lyon Berthon during the 19th century who set about restoring it to some of its former glory. It is now the largest parish church in the county and houses the tomb of Lord Mountbatten of Burma and of Sir William Petty FRS, the great English economist, scientist and philosopher. Mountbatten had been granted the lesser title of Baron Romsey in 1947 on being given his Earldom and 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 in the abbey following a full state funeral in Westminster Abbey.

The current vicar is the Reverend Thomas Wharton, who took up the post in September 2018.[3]

List of Abbesses[edit]

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
Incomplete records for about a century [4][5]
Abbes Hadewisa 1130
Abbess Matildis 1150 1155
Abbess Princess Mary 1155 1171 Daughter of King Stephen, left 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.[6]
Abbess Clementcia de Guildford 1307 1314 Was very infirm as Abbess.[7]
Abbess Alicia de Wyntershulle 1314 1315 whose murder was never solved.[8]
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 [9][10]
Abbess Lucy Everard 1396
Abbess Felicia Aas[11] 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 [12]


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.[13] 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]



The choirs are made up of traditional girl choristers, following the Romsey tradition of the singing nuns, boy choristers (a newer addition in 1867) and a back row of adult altos, tenors and basses drawn from the local area. There is a senior girls' choir of the most advanced singers and a consort of voluntary singers. In the past 3 years the choirs have recorded 5 CDs, sung for royalty, enjoyed choir tours to Italy, France and UK Cathedrals and have recently[when?] established 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 Director of Music, since 2015, is George Richford.


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. 1999 saw the construction of a completely new Nave Organ with pipe work located on the South Triforium. This can be played either from a mobile console in the nave or from the main console.[14]

The Choir and organ of Romsey Abbey December 2012

Organist and master of the choristers[edit]

  • S.T. Cromwell ???? – 1849[15]
  • Francis Wellman
  • ??? Beazley
  • W. Mason 1864[16] – 1865[17] (afterwards organist of Trinity Church, South Shields)
  • E.W. Perren 1866[18] – 1867 (afterwards organist of St Thomas Church, Winchester)
  • W. Channon Cornwall 1867[19] – 1876[20]
  • William Cary Bliss 1888 – 1899[21]
  • J. C. Richards ca. 1907
  • R. T. Bevan ca. 1921[22]
  • Charles Tryhorn 1926-1957
  • Charles Piper 1957-1980
  • Anthony Burns-Cox 1980–1990
  • Jeffrey Williams 1990–2004
  • Robert Fielding 2004–2015
  • George Richford 2015–2018 (Director of Music)
  • Canon Peter Gould 2019– (Interim Director of Music)

Assistant organists[edit]

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

Titanic connection[edit]

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[edit]

The village of Crampmoor, to the east of Romsey, is within the ecclesiastical parish of Romsey.[23] 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.[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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).
  2. ^ 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. ^ "New Vicar Appointed". Romsey Abbey. Retrieved 14 April 2019.
  4. ^ Abbess Cristina at Romsey flourished 1086AD, until probably before 1093AD when her nieces were moved to Wilton Abbey.
  5. ^ Abbess Eadgyth at Romsey about 1093AD.
  6. ^ 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).
  7. ^ 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).
  8. ^ 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).
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ Douglas Richardson, Magna Carta Ancestry: A Study in Colonial and Medieval Families, 2nd Edition, (Douglas Richardson, 2011) page 397.
  11. ^ Common Pleas, 1415 Trinity term, “Felicia Aas, abbissa de Romesey”, plaintiff, fourth entry:
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ Perkins, Thomas (1907). A Short Account of Romsey Abbey. Bell’s Cathedral Guides. London: George Bell & Sons. p. 35.
  14. ^ National Pipe Organ Register
  15. ^ Hampshire Advertiser – Saturday 08 August 1868
  16. ^ Musical Standard, Volume II, 1864
  17. ^ Newcastle Journal – Saturday 16 September 1865
  18. ^ Dorset County Chronicle – Thursday 11 January 1866
  19. ^ Salisbury and Winchester Journal – Saturday 23 February 1867
  20. ^ Glasgow Herald – Friday 24 March 1876
  21. ^ Musical Times, 1920
  22. ^ Dictionary of Organs and Organists. Second Edition. 1921
  23. ^ Map of Romsey parish –
  24. ^ St Swithun's, Crampmoor, daughter church of Romsey Abbey

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 50°59′23″N 1°30′5″W / 50.98972°N 1.50139°W / 50.98972; -1.50139