We hope you enjoyed last week’s post on the poetry of local man John Henry Todd of Winchester. The second blog in our series on the History of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight for Local and Community History Month puts the spotlight on the Hampshire market town of Romsey and its delightful Abbey.
The abbey church at Romsey dates from the Norman era. Until the Dissolution of the Monasteries it was the church of a Benedictine nunnery. One of the oldest items in the Hartley Library strongrooms is a charter for Romsey Abbey dating from 1392. The abbey buildings were not demolished when the community of nuns was forcibly dispersed because the abbey church served as a place of worship for the townspeople. However, in 1544 the town purchased the Abbey buildings from the Crown and much was destroyed at that point: the lead and building materials had significant sale value. During the English Civil War the building suffered further material damage at the hands of Parliamentarian troops, including destruction of the organ.
The Broadlands Archives, held in the Special Collections, include varies records relating to the Abbey. This post will focus on correspondence with Henry Temple, third Viscount Palmerston (1784-1865); William Cowper Temple, first Baron Mount Temple (1811-88) and Colonel Wilfred Ashley, Baron Mount Temple (1867-1939). These records detail, not a full history of the Abbey Church but snippets of the extended family’s involvement.
A significant proportion of the papers relate to refurbishments: mainly, in fact, raising funds for refurbishments. They can be used to help to track specific changes to the architecture of the Church. Obviously as an older building it would naturally require continual upkeep. Looking through the papers, one gets a feeling of never-ending repairs!
This series of correspondence begins in 1823 with Henry John Temple, third Viscount Palmerston, Foreign Secretary and later Prime Minister during the reign of Queen Victoria. The first transaction we have recorded is a subscription for “re-pewing the church”. In 1840 he was sent acknowledgment of his “liberal subscription towards warming our Abbey Church”. A further subscription was established by Revd Gerard Noel in 1844 for “preservation and restoration” of the Abbey Church: “if stripped of modern incumbrancers and restored to its ancient proportions, it would form one of the most magnificent interiors in the Kingdom”. This work was substantial in nature and took over two decades to complete.
An undated letter, but circa 1850, congratulates “the subscribers upon the acquisition of the splendid organ” – as we know, the original instrument was destroyed in 1643: “the Committee feel confident that the subscribers generally will cordially approve the increased outlay occasioned by the addition of the Choir Organ.” Lord Palmerston died in 1865 and Broadlands House passed to his stepson, William Cowper Temple, first Baron Mount Temple.
In 1867 major aspects of the work started in 1844 by Revd Gerard Noel were completed and the parish celebrated the re-opening of the Chancel. A document marking this achievement also circulated a list of new work required: “of contemplated improvements it is perhaps premature to speak; yet there are some things which cannot long be delayed…” There was a development of the Eastern front of the Church in 1878: “the fine Eastern front of the Church would be effectively developed and the site above-mentioned be again restored to the precincts of the ancient Abbey and thrown open to the public”. In 1887 money was yet again required for improvements and as a local memorial of the 50th year of Queen Victoria’s reign:
At the present time this Church is disfigured by unsightly Galleries in North and South Transepts…and by hideous pews, blocking the centre of the Nave, which are placed with little regard to regularity, or economy of space.MS62/BR/130/12
The cost for the work was estimated at £1600. It is possible that these were the pews paid for by Palmerston back in 1823?
Lord Mount Temple died aged 76 at his Broadlands home in October 1888. The following year, the Lord Mount Temple memorial fund paid for a stained glass window in the south transept. The files include letters from some of the subscribers. This is one of several memorials relative to the extended family that can be found in the Church.
The proposed addition of a porch to the north west door of Romsey Abbey was approved in 1908. This was deemed necessary to protect the dogtooth work, the worshipers from draught and persons attending weddings and funerals. Some Romsey residents protested on architectural and aesthetic grounds.
More money was required in October 1917 when the appeal for the Romsey Parochial Fund encouraged people to make a regular subscription which would be a general fund for current expenses. At that time the parish of Romsey required £650 per year to run: £250 was received by collections and £165 by subscriptions leaving an addition £235 to be raised.
By 1926, the Romsey Parochial Church Council was corresponding with Colonel Wilfred Ashley, William Cowper Temple’s great nephew and heir:
How splendid! & splendidly generous of you. Many years now it is since your family connection with Romsey Abbey began, many and munificent have been their gifts to the Abbey that was the parish church of their home. You, now, carry on the tradition with a munificence that can only be deemed princely.Letter from Revd W.B.Corban to Colonel Ashley, 26 Jan 1826 [MS62/BR/130/25/2]
He had generously provided £165 for a cornice on the south (choir) side of the North screen.
In 1927-8 Wilfred Ashley funded an addition to the choir screen, the chancel paving and seating in the ground south of the abbey, previously donated to the Church: “the ground would make a delightful place for Romsey folk to rest in”, comments Revd Corban.
Further documents relate to the “Broadlands pew” and Colonel Ashley’s gift of Churchwarden’s staves in 1928. Plenty more details for a second blog post about the fascinating history of the abbey church! In the meantime, please join us next week for our third blog in our series for Local and Community History Month.