Romsey Abbey

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Romsey Abbey
Romsey Abbey
Country United Kingdom
Denomination Church of England
Churchmanship Broad Church
Parish Romsey
Diocese Winchester
Province Canterbury
Vicar(s) The Reverend Tim Sledge
Curate(s) The Reverend Jax Machin

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 was originally established at "Rum's Eg"' meaning "the area of Rum surrounded by marshes" in 907 AD by nuns led by Elflaeda, daughter of King Edward the Elder, who was son of Alfred The Great. Later, King Edgar refounded the nunnery, in around 960, as a Benedictine house under the rule of St Ethelflaeda who was sanctified for such acts as the chanting of psalms late at night, whilst standing naked in the freezing water of the nearby River Test.

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 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. 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". in the sense that it contained 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. He had been granted the lesser title of Baron Romsey in 1947 on being given his Earldom and lived locally at Broadlands House. He was murdered in a terrorist bomb explosion in Ireland on 27 August 1979 and was buried in the abbey following a full state funeral in Westminster Abbey.

Still a thriving church where families worship, in October 2007 Revd Tim Sledge was appointed Vicar of Romsey.


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.[1] 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.


Romsey Abbey Choir[edit]

Romsey Abbey maintains a traditional choir of boys and men, who normally sing two services each week during term time, including a full Choral Evensong at least once a month.[2] The choristers are drawn from a variety of local state and private schools, whilst the gentlemen of the choir are all volunteers. The choir is directed by the Abbey Organist and Master of the Choristers, Robert Fielding, and accompanied on the organ by the Assistant Organist, Adrian Taylor.

A separate Girls' Choir was formed in 1996 by Diane Williams, wife of the then Organist and Master of the Choristers, Jeffrey Williams, to sing at the less formal 'first Sunday' morning service. The girls choir, directed by Diane Williams again since September 2011, now sings both the services on the first Sunday of the month and regularly joins with the boys and men for major services such as Christmas and Easter.

The choirs are supported by the Friends of Romsey Abbey Choir (known as FORAC), whose mandate is to assist the work of the choirs through fundraising, social activities and organization of trips, often including an annual residence at a Cathedral, chaired by Harriet Lindsey.

The organs[edit]

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.[3]

The Choir and organ of Romsey Abbey December 2012

Organist & Master of the Choristers[edit]

  • S.T. Cromwell ???? - 1849[4]
  • Francis Wellman
  • ??? Beazley
  • W. Mason 1864[5] – 1865[6] (afterwards organist of Trinity Church, South Shields)
  • E.W. Perren 1866[7] - 1867 (afterwards organist of St Thomas' Church, Winchester)
  • W. Channon Cornwall 1867[8] - 1876[9]
  • William Cary Bliss 1888 – 1899[10]
  • J. C. Richards ca. 1907
  • R. T. Bevan ca. 1921[11]
  • Charles Tryhorn
  • Charles Piper
  • Anthony Burns-Cox 1980–1990
  • Jeffrey Williams 1990–2004
  • Robert Fielding 2004–present

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

St Swithun's, Crampmoor[edit]

The village of Crampmoor, to the east of Romsey, is within the ecclesiastical parish of Romsey.[12] 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.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Perkins, Thomas (1907). A Short Account of Romsey Abbey. Bell’s Cathedral Guides. London: George Bell & Sons. p. 35. 
  2. ^ Romsey Abbey Choir website.
  3. ^ National Pipe Organ Register
  4. ^ Hampshire Advertiser - Saturday 08 August 1868
  5. ^ Musical Standard, Volume II, 1864
  6. ^ Newcastle Journal - Saturday 16 September 1865
  7. ^ Dorset County Chronicle - Thursday 11 January 1866
  8. ^ Salisbury and Winchester Journal - Saturday 23 February 1867
  9. ^ Glasgow Herald - Friday 24 March 1876
  10. ^ Musical Times, 1920
  11. ^ Dictionary of Organs and Organists. Second Edition. 1921
  12. ^ Map of Romsey parish –
  13. ^ 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