HAMPSHIRE: Romsey

Romsey lrRums Eg lr
L-R: The market town of Romsey and Rum's Eg
 
By Tim Saunders
 
Rum’s Eg is an ancient, old English version of the name for Romsey and was also chosen as a catchy, unusual name for the town’s art and craft gallery and creative centre when it opened at 27 Bell Street. Founded by Siriol Sherlock in 2012 it promotes the work of local artists.
There’s a lovely welcoming feel to the town, which comprises architecture ranging from the 16th to the 18th century. Plaza Theatre is a fine art deco building where there are numerous productions throughout the year. After a stroll, a cup of tea and a slice of cake can be enjoyed in the café at Rum’s Eg. It’s certainly popular with my wife and children. Home to a selection of art and craft, sourced from selected professional artists within a 70-mile radius, there is a great deal of choice from ceramics and jewellery to paintings and even sculpture. “We showcase some excellent work by Hampshire based artists as well as some from Dorset, Wiltshire, Sussex and Surrey,” says Siriol.
Many of Britain’s characterless high streets are in the doldrums as national retailers report sliding sales. Romsey is home to a number of independent businesses such as Rum’s Eg and this together with its historical backdrop provides tourists and shoppers with a destination to find unique gifts.  
Rum’s Eg refers to the Rum's area surrounded by marsh and is thought to be abbreviated form of a personal name like Rumwald, meaning glorious leader. Rumwald itself has a number of alternative spellings such as Runwald, Rumbald and Rumbold. Rumwald was actually a medieval infant saint in England, said to have lived for three days in 662. He is said to have been miraculously full of Christian piety despite his young age, and able to speak from the moment of his birth, professing his faith, requesting baptism, and delivering a sermon prior to his early death. Several churches were dedicated to him.
Even today there is a fairly strong religious feeling to the town thanks to its Abbey, founded in 907 with nuns founding a community in the small village. The church was burnt down by the Vikings in 993 and rebuilt in stone. It was the Normans, between 1120 and 1140, who built the current abbey that dominates the town on the site of the original Saxon church. A hundred years later some 100 nuns lived in the convent.
The town’s first charter was granted by King Henry I which allowed a market to be held every Sunday, and a four-day annual fair in May.
During the Middle Ages the lucrative woollen industry powered Romsey's growth and survived until the mid 18th century where it was beaten by competition from the north of England. Romsey continued to grow and prosper until plague struck the town in 1348, which is thought to have killed about 500 people here.
Focus turned away from wool production to new fast-growing enterprises including brewing, papermaking and sackmaking; all reliant upon the abundant waters of the Test.
By 1794 a canal connected Romsey to Redbridge. On the outskirts of the town Lord Palmerston, the 19th century Prime Minister was born and lived at Broadlands, the large country estate. His statue stands in the Market Place outside the town hall. Broadlands later became the home of Lord Mountbatten of Burma who is buried in Romsey Abbey. He was killed by an IRA bomb explosion in Ireland in 1979. Later, the Prince and Princess of Wales spent the first night of their honeymoon at Broadlands.
Romsey makes for a good day out and can cater for a variety of interests from history to art and theatre.
 
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