The central streets are lined with modest brick buildings, with the occasional timber-framing on view. Behind some of the brick facades, however, are hidden other timber-framed properties, many of which existed in 1607. Low proportions and uneven rooflines are clues to such hidden treasures. The Charter Year Town Trail details some of the properties to look for. (See page 20 and the fold-out map inside the back cover).
It is 8 miles (13 km) north-west of Southampton and 11 miles (18 km) south-west of Winchester. Just over 18,000 people live in Romsey, which has an area of about 4.93 square kilometres.
Romsey lies on the River Test, which is famous for trout fishing. It is one of the principal towns in the Test Valley Borough. A large Norman abbey dominates the centre of the town.
Romsey was home of the late Lord Mountbatten of Burma, the 19th century British prime minister Lord Palmerston, and the 17th century philosopher and economist William Petty.
Romsey's MP has been Sandra Gidley of the Liberal Democrats since a by-election in 2000 after the previous Conservative MP Michael Colvin died with his wife in a house fire. Gidley's majority was cut to 125 votes in the 2005 General Election, partly because the Countryside Alliance targeted her as she opposes fox hunting.
The Abbey Church of St Mary and St Ethelflaeda can trace its origins back to 907 AD, the year in which King Edward the Elder, son of the Saxon King Alfred the Great, first settled some nuns here under the charge of his daughter Elflaeda. King Edgar refounded the nunnery circa 960 under the rule of St. Benedict. Ethelflaeda, whose reputed acts of sanctity included chanting Psalms whilst standing naked in the River Test at night, was the second Abbess.
The first stone church and nunnery were built c. 1000 AD and flourished as a place of education for the daughters of kings and noblemen. Work began on the present building c. 1120-1140 with the Choir, Transepts, a Lady Chapel at the East end and first three bays of the Nave, a fourth being added in 1150-1180. The last three arches, in the Early English style, at the West end of the Nave were added in 1230-1240, at which time over 100 nuns belonged to the foundation.
In 1349, however, the Black Death decimated the population at large and, at the Abbey, the number of nuns declined to just 19. Its dark shadow had receded by the turn of the Fifteen Century, during which a second aisle on the North side of the Abbey was built to accommodate a church, dedicated to St. Lawrence, for the townspeople.
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