A centenary of considerable local interest was celebrated at Romsey on Saturday, and was of a campanological character. At 5.30 a.m. all and sundry were somewhat startled by hearing the Abbey bells ring out in a merry manner, and with the exception of those few in the secret, all were wondering at the why and wherefore. Calendars were searched and fruitlessly, for no event of any great interest was noted there. Eventually it was discovered that the ringers were celebrating the centenary of the peal. These bells are eight in number, and ring out a complete musical octave. An old placard in the belfry gives the date of opening, and the names of the ringers who rung the opening changes. It reads as follows:-
“Monday, July 18th, 1791.- These bells were opened by the Society of College Youths, 5,248 ‘Oxford Treble Bobs’ in 3h. 29m. Mr. T. Blakemore, Mr. W. Lyford, Mr. J. Povey, Mr. W. Willson, Mr. J. Holdsworth, Mr. G. Webb, Mr. E. Simmonds, Mr. S. Muggeridge.”
Prior to 1791 there was a peal of six bells, but when they were first brought to the town does not seem to be known. At any rate it seems they were hung in a campanile which stood near to the eastern side of the present churchyard. In reference to this, Dr. Latham, a Romsey historian, says, “About the middle of December, 1624, the bells, which till this time were hanging in the old tower of St. Lawrence’s Church, were removed to their present position in the lanthorn, as it is called, in the Abbey Church. The old belfry tower stood on the west of the present row of houses in Church-street, at the end of the gardens adjoining the present churchyard. The ground of course belongs to the parish. It seems that this belfry must have adjoined the old church of St. Lawrence, plainly showing the situation of the fabric.” That the ancient parish church stood on this spot is now doubted, and this doubt is strengthened by the research of the present vicar, the Rev. E. L. Berthon. Mr. Charles Spence, of the Exeter Diocesan Architectural Society, in his history of the Abbey Church, printed by the late Mr. C. L. Lordan, and dedicated to Mr. Berthon, quotes a communication from the latter on this subject as follows:-
In replying to your last respecting the question of parish church or churches of Romsey, which I think can now be done in a much more satisfactory way than at any modern day prior to last June (1886), I will proceed to show that the church or churches of the parishioners or laity were in or attached to the Abbey Church. It is hard to prove a negative, but I believe there never was a separate church, nor did the belfry-ground, for which the churchwardens receive £1 per annum, ever contain anything besides the campanile.
His reasons for this belief are then set forth. Although the new bells were hung and opened in 1791, the old set of six were not disposed of till the next year, for the record says:-
In 1792, the six ancient bells of the Abbey Church, weighing, in the gross, 81cwt. 3qrs. 21lbs., were sold to Mr. Mears, of Whitechapel, for the sum of £360 10s. 6d., and the present peal of eight, which weigh 101cwt. 2qrs. 8lbs., were put up at a cost to the parish of £673 14s. 10d., the positive outlay, allowing for the deduction of the old bells, being £313 4s. 4d.; a transaction supposing the bells to have belonged to the nunnery, much to be deplored by all who have true love for antiquity at heart.
The present peal have to Romsey people a “language,” and these different ones ring singly or couples or as a whole will quickly tell if it is a call to a fire, a vestry meeting, to prayers or full service, to call the ringers together, to announce the “curfew,” or tell of a death or funeral, or if the death concerns Royalty, ringers, clergymen or churchwardens distinct from others, &c. An interesting fact in connection with this matter is that the present Captain of the bell-ringers, Mr. George Newman, has been identified and connected with the ringers for over 50 years, and although he is over 72 years of age, was able to mount to the belfry several times between 5.30 and 9 p.m., and “call” in a lusty manner the changes rung. Mr. Wheeler and Mr. J. Elcombe have also been ringers too, about 25 and 30 years respectively. The Union Jack floated on the tower all day, and an attempt was made in the same place to take the photos of the men, but the light was hardly sufficient. However, if not successful, it will be done to help make some permanent record of the Centenary of the opening of the Romsey Abbey bells.- Local Paper.
The Bell News No. 487, August 1, 1891, page 219
The members of the Romsey branch of the Winchester Diocesan Guild held their annual social and ringing meeting on Wednesday, January 25th. Invitations were sent out to the following towers: Basingstoke, Christchurch, Fareham, Havant, Hursley, Lockerley, Portsea, Southampton, and Twyford. From these about twenty ringers attended. Ringing commenced about three o’clock, and the bells were kept going in the Plain Bob and Grandsire methods until six o’clock, when the company adjourned to the Market inn, where a meat tea had been provided through the liberality of the local ringers. The vicar, the Rev. Cook Yarborough, presided, supported by the former vicar of Romsey, the Rev. E. L. Berthon, Mr. Moss, Hon. Treasurer, and Mr. J. Alsop, Vestry Clerk, and about thirty ringers. After tea the vicar addressed the meeting, first giving them a very hearty welcome to Romsey, and then said how sorry he was to still have to delay that necessary work, the rehanging of the bells, owing to absolutely necessary repairs to the roof of the abbey, but promised them it should be done at the earliest possible moment.
The Rev. E. L. Berthon then explained the proposed alteration of the abbey tower, which when carried out will make the abbey the finest specimen of Norman building extant.
The usual week evening service being held at 8 o’clock, a 556 of Grandsire Triples was rung, the bells lowered in peal, and the rest of the evening was spent socially with change-ringing and tunes on the handbells. Nearly all the visitors left by the 9.45 train, and as it moved out of the station the local ringers were left on the platform listening to the hearty strains of “For they are jolly good fellows, and so say all of us.”
The Bell News No. 566, February 11, 1891, page 547
THREE BELLS RECAST.
The restoration of the bells at Romsey Abbey has been completed by Messrs. Mears and Stainbank, and the work has been carried out in a most efficient manner. The third, fifth and seventh bells have been recast, and the remainder tuned. A great improvement has been effected, and the mellow tones that have always been associated with Romsey bells have been developed.
The work was made possible by the bequest of a local lady to Romsey Abbey.
The new bells were dedicated, and the peal reopened on December 23rd.
The Rector of Romsey held a short service in the tower, after which the bells were opened by the local band. Following this they were rung in various methods by ringers who were present from Bishopstoke, North Stoneham, King’s Somborne and Winchester. A very welcome visitor was Miss P. Holloway, of Reading. Mr. Alan Macdonald and Mr. J. Tyler represented the bell hangers.
The Ringing World No. 1139, January 20th, 1933, page 40
A large new clock is in course of construction at Messrs. John Smith and Sons, Clock Works, Derby, for Romsey Abbey, Hants. It will chime the “ding-dong” quarters on two bells of the ring of eight in the Abbey tower, and so maintain the traditional chimes which have been in vogue there for many years. The dial - 10ft. in diameter - comprises a massive cast iron frame with a copper sheeting background, and has been designed specially to be in keeping with the unusual tower.
The Ringing World No. 1181, November 10th, 1933, page 712