Cattle foot floor

Awoke at 7:30 this morning. Getting closer to the dreaded 6am!! Perhaps by the end of the week I’ll be able to go for a walk.

I’ve heard the weather forecast on the news a number of times this morning and each time we have been bathed in sunlight all day. Looking out the window we are swamped in dark storm clouds and it looks like it may rain at any moment. Not like the BBC weather at all.

After Mirinda’s bath and breaky, we set out for a stroll along the Itchen River. We found an abandoned building which could have once been a lodge except for the lack of access. Mirinda put forward the suggestion that perhaps it was a bath house. I ventured that it was easy to imagine a gay group of Victorian aristocrats frolicking through the woods, towels in hand, wearing their neck to knees and plunging into the now green and grungy pool. Now it would be a great place for filming Midsomer Murders. The Victorian’s would be a group of Midsomer Re-enactors – I can just see Joyce as Florence Nightingale…

Victorian bath house?

Back at Avington we collected Sidney and set off for Romsey. As we travelled along the B3090 I was accused of taking us the wrong and winding way. Fortunately I wasn’t, even though the signs indicating Romsey did vanish.

Arriving perfectly correctly in the small market town of Romsey we parked and paid and went in search of the Abbey. Along the way we found a bakery where we purchased a lunch we could eat under an oak tree.

Knowing very little about it, we assumed the Abbey would be a ruin but it is possibly the largest parish church in England!

Romsey Abbey

Alfred the Great’s son Edgar founded the first nunnery there in 907, though there seems to be some evidence for an earlier building. The existing church is a Norman building which once housed a gregarious bunch of Benedictine nuns. Mirinda read out bits of their history to me and I kept thinking what a good Carry On film it would make. Carry On Up The Abbey, perhaps.

In 1302 the nuns were told not to sit up late drinking and gossiping while in 1387 they were accused of taking rabbits, birds and other frivolous things into church and playing with them instead of doing nunny type things. Hunting hounds would also foul the cloisters!

According to Judy Walker, expert on all things Romsey Abbey, there are also occasional and specific charges of incontinence! They would also often sneak out the parish church door and pop into a nearby tavern to wile the nights away with a few tankards of Best Bitter.

The fortunes of the Abbey took a decidedly downward turn in 1349 following the Black Death. The population was decimated leaving only 18 nuns to carry on the running of the Abbey. It got to a point where the nuns were so inexperienced they couldn’t even understand the Latin sermons and the abbess was far too young and unknowledgeable.

The building itself took about 130 years to construct. It was built around an existing Saxon church, of which little remains. Henry III donated a sizeable number of oaks for the roofing of the church. In recognition his head was placed on the outside of the west front. It then fell off and now sits on a window sill.

Henry III's head

The nave roof that now graces the church was built in the 1860s when oak tie-beams were removed to make it nicely barrel shaped. Typical Victorians! The walls started to splay out with the removal of the beams so in 1971 steel tie rods were used to secure the walls once more.

I also found a Saint Sebastien! There is a 1525 reredos in the St Lawrence chapel depicting, on the bottom, Christ rising from the grave while above him a line of saints stand around looking saintly. Third from the left is the nearly nude figure of the arrow punctured St Sebastien. I tried a number of times to get a good photograph of the screen but was defeated by the light. I cheated and took a picture of the picture in the guide book instead!

St Seb

One of the reasons the Abbey still stands in such great condition (and is now used as the parish church) is because during the Dissolution, when Henry VIII was destroying so many religious houses, the townsfolk of Romsey managed to club together £100 in order to buy it for the town. Henry agreed and his bill of sale is proudly displayed in the church.

There is a sad but sweet memorial near the entrance to Alice Taylor. She died in 1843 of scarlet fever at the age of two years and five months. She holds a broken rosebud in her hand. It is said she fell ill when her father brought her a flower from the garden and was still holding it four days later when she died.

I could go on but I’ll restrain myself. Suffice to say it’s a pretty impressive place and we spent a long time wandering around.

Outside we popped into the Abbey Tavern for some liquid sustenance where I was offered a chicken leg to accompany my Best bitter. We then went in search of King John’s House. It didn’t take long as it’s virtually next door to the pub.

Now this is a very odd place. And I don’t mean the angles with which it seems to defy gravity. It is known that King John built a hunting lodge in Romsey probably around 1206, however it has been proven that this house was built 30 or 40 years after King John died. Still, when a town thinks it has something royal, it tends to cling to it and the house is still called King John’s regardless.

Inside the house is a mishmash of styles and eras. Windows growing and shrinking as fashion and tax dictate, low doors and high ceilings, cut-away floors revealing a bone floor. Yes, bone floor!

Bone floor

Here is something I’ve never heard of. No-one knows when as the bones have been very difficult to date but most scientists believe it dates from late medieval because of the size of the cattle. The floor was made by pressing the long foot bones of cattle and horses into the natural clay and smaller sheep bones to fill in the gaps. This created a type of cobbled affect. It is claimed that it was practical rather than decorative – though it does look pretty cool. Judging by cut marks on the bones, it is presumed the bones came from a tannery – Romsey was famed for its tanneries. And, after all, why not? Has to be better than stones.

Upstairs, taking care on the slippery steeply sloping floor, the walls are etched with graffiti believed to have come from the blades of members of Edward I’s visiting party of 1306. Nice lot! Let them stay in your house and they decorate the walls with their names, arms and crude cartoons of the king. At some point in its history, this graffiti was covered over with a lime wash which, rather than obliterating it, preserved it perfectly.

Surrounding the house is a lovely garden. Not big but very well laid out into a series of garden rooms. It leads you around the house into the tea room garden where we naturally stopped for tea, coffee and cake. It was lovely sitting in the sun sipping except for when I suddenly realised our parking ticket was about to expire and had to high tail it back to the car park to feed the meter some more dosh.

Garden

I do have one unflattering thing to say about Romsey – the Waitrose should be better signposted. We were searching for a supermarket (or shop) to buy orange juice and milk and were told to try up a particular street. I set off along the road for about a mile but no shop. On the way back, Mirinda noticed a small sign pointing up a hoarding lined alley. And there it was. Annoying.

Tonight was my first Locality Studies lecture, so Mirinda dropped me at Winchester station and drove back to Avington Park for a lovely evening alone, while I sweltered in an under cooled classroom back at Surrey U.

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