Romescye (x cent.); Romesy (xi cent.); Romesie (xiii cent.); Romeseye (xiv cent.).
The scattered parish of Romsey includes Romsey Infra, almost coterminous with the municipal borough, and Romsey Extra, extending on all sides of Romsey Infra. The whole parish covers an area of 10,216 acres, sloping towards the town, which lies low near the middle of the parish, near Romsey station on the London and South Western Railway. The River Test runs past the town on its west side, dividing into two main streams at Greatbridge and re-uniting above Middle Bridge. The Abbey Church of St. Mary and St. Elfleda is necessarily the centre of architectural interest in the town. The old Town Hall at the west end of the Abbey Church was built in 1820 and is now used only for lectures and concerts. The modern Town Hall at the corner of Bell Street was built in 1866. It is of red brick with Bath stone facings. In the principal of the two marketplaces is a bronze statue of the late Lord Palmerston erected by public subscription in 1867, while between the two market-places is the Corn Exchange, in front of which is a drinking fountain given to the town by the late Lord Mount Temple in 1886.
Romsey has great natural advantages and had at one time a flourishing trade, which has now decreased. Its prosperity now depends mainly on the rich agricultural country of Romsey Extra, in which, just south of the municipal boundary, lie the Broadlands house and estate, formerly the residence of Lord Palmerston. The estate is bounded on the west by the River Test, famous for its trout fishing. Broadlands was visited by James I in 1607, his host being the then lord of the manor, Edward St. Barbe. To the west is Pauncefoot Hill, now part of the Broadlands estate, but once a separate manor. South-west of Broadlands on the other side of the river is Moorcourt, opposite to which across the Test are Lee, Skidmore Farm and Toothill. North-west of the town is Stanbridge Hall and south of it is Sparsholt. Ashfield, Cupernham, Woodley, Crampmoor and Ridge are also in Romsey Extra. There are 3,122¾ acres of arable land, 3,470¼ acres of permanent grass and 819½ acres of woods and plantations in Romsey Extra and 51 acres of arable land, 195 acres of permanent grass in Romsey Infra. The common fields of Romsey Extra, Abbotts Wood and Common, Carter's Common or the Warren and Parkridge Wood were inclosed in 1808 under an award of that date, authorized by an Act of 1804.
The following place-names occur: —Bradebrigg, Rugge (xiii cent.), Prestlond, Haredale, Asshefeld, Cupernam, Haltreworth, Whytenharpe, Wopbury (xiv cent.), Rok, Gaterygges Place (xv cent.), Stonyffrythe, Combes Wood, Combes Hatte, Julyans Will alias Filcis Will, Maggottes Corner, Shittelhams, Abbess Wood, Ostrey and Holborne Woods, Tappesham, Langley Meade, Colemede, Clerkes House, Gatehouse, Conygarth, Bycroft, Shortstiche, Cowbeares, Sisters Gardens, Rockclose, Steward Land, Fox Mills, Monckton Meade, Horshedd, Le Pastury, Buryemede, Blanchampy, Stretmede, Basilmede, Banystrett-in-Whitnapp, Milbride, Spyttelstrete, Churchstrete, Northgarston, Style, Oxlease, Magna and Parva Lushborow, Julilushborow, Northemore, Marland, Strode, Walding, Owre-at-Owrebridge (xvi cent.), Sutt Garden (xvii cent.), Marke Field, Belle Mead (xviii cent.).
Romsey was a mesne borough and followed the same descent as the manor of Romsey Infra (q.v.). It was from an early date a town of some importance, due partly to the presence of the famous abbey in its midst and partly to its happy situation on the River Test at the junction of the main roads from Salisbury, Winchester and Stockbridge. Henry I granted the abbess and convent a full market each Sunday and a four days' fair at the Feast of St. Elfleda the Virgin and the king's firm peace to all coming and going. This grant was confirmed by Henry II and in 1268 by Henry III. In 1272 Henry III further granted a four days' fair at the Feast of St. Philip and St. James; so it may be assumed that Romsey was then in a flourishing condition. However, in 1526 it was visited by the plague, and in 1586 there was great dearth and want of work there, causing 'unlawful assemblie of the common people.'
In 1544 Henry VIII granted to the inhabitants to be one body corporate in perpetuity and as such to hold the abbey church there. Romsey was not regularly incorporated, however, until 1607, in which year the citizens obtained a charter from James I,) which was confirmed by William III in 1698. By the terms of the charter of 1607 the corporation, which was to have a common seal, was to consist of a mayor, six aldermen, and twelve capital burgesses, the mayor to be elected by the aldermen from among themselves, the officers of the corporation to be a recorder and a town clerk. The mayor held office for one year, the aldermen and capital burgesses for life. A bye-law of 1743 regulated that the mayor was to be elected by the aldermen and capital burgesses from two aldermen nominated by their colleagues, while the aldermen were to be elected from capital burgesses only. Freedom, as appears from the returns of the Parliamentary Commission in 1835, was acquired by election by the corporation. In addition to the recorder and town clerk, there were in 1835 a lord high steward, whose office was merely honorary, and two serjeants-at-mace, one of whom acted as town-crier and the other as gaoler. The mayor, recorder and aldermen had power to hold a court of record every Thursday and a court of pie powder granted by the charter of 1607, which, however, was never held. The mayor, late mayor, recorder and two senior aldermen were justices of the peace, the mayor presiding at quarter sessions and acting as cleric of the market and justice of the peace for the year following his year of office. Petty sessions were held once a week. The borough was reformed in 1835, and is now governed by a mayor, four aldermen and twelve burgesses.
The two fairs with the weekly market were included in the grant of the manor of Romsey Infra to John Foster, but were subsequently acquired by the lord of Broadlands, who was returned in 1891 as owner of the market, which he leased for a yearly rent of £20 to the corporation. A third fair, to be held on the Monday and Tuesday following Easter, was granted to the town in 1607. In 1891 the fairs were held on Easter Tuesday, 26 August and in winter. The fair days are at present Easter Tuesday, 26 August and 8 November. The market day, originally Sunday, was subsequently changed to Saturday, but since 1826 the market has been held on Thursday.
Romsey has tanyards, breweries, corn-mills, iron works, jam makers' works and leather-board and paper mills, and had at one time a flourishing trade in shalloons. Berthon collapsible boats are also extensively manufactured, their inventor, the Rev. Edward Lyon Berthon, having been formerly vicar of Romsey. In 1835 the inhabitants complained that while the population was increasing trade was decreasing.
The borough was never represented in Parliament, although in 1689 it petitioned for the privilege in the case of Stockbridge being disfranchised.
Several distinguished men have been natives of Romsey, among whom are Sir William Petty, the political economist and one of the founders of the Royal Society; Giles Jacob, the compiler of the Law Dictionary; Samuel Sharp, geologist and antiquary, and Sir J. Russell Reynolds, physician in ordinary to the queen's household. Dr. John Latham, ornithologist and archaeologist, spent a good part of his life at Romsey, and collected material for a history of the town, which, however, remains in manuscript.
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