Thursday, 25 June 2009

Old books and Romsey Abbey

Romsey Abbey, Hampshire

Anyone reading this blog on a regular basis will know of my deep love of books - a passion really, since I would forgo almost anything in order to buy another book I have seen and desire. Some of them cost just pennies at the Car Boot Sale. Some are brand new and full price. Once they are on my bookshelves, I find it very hard to winnow out the ones I can live without. A recent Car Boot Sale acquisition was H V Morton's In Search of England, which cost me all of a pound. I have just turned to the pages where he moves on to Romsey from Winchester (in Hampshire). Romsey is where my mum's parents moved after WW1, and where I still have aunties and many cousins living. This was originally first published in 1927, and he could have been writing about my mum and her sisters when he wrote the following:

"Three small girls in white pinafores were nursing dolls in the graveyard; a butcher's boy in a blue pinafore cycled past with mutton, and down the elm walk there came an elderly man holding a posy of wallflowers in his right hand . . ."


"Romsey, in the magic county of Hampshire, is the ideal small market town. Lord Palmerston, with bronze hair turned green by years of rain, stands importantly on a plinth in the market-place; a policeman in an easier attitude stands near him; there is a full cake-shop opposite; everything is slowed down to a reasonable pace; men in leggings stand on the kerbstone with the expressions of deep thinkers; now and then a man and cow cross the square."

My parents were married in Romsey Abbey. I have visited it many times over the years and here is Mr Morton writing about something I remember very clearly:

"There is in Romsey Abbey, in a locked box, a tress of auburn hair. It was found during excavations in the year 1839 in a leaden coffin of Saxon date under the floor of the south aisle near the abbess's door. The coffin was otherwise empty and the hair had been placed in a box of oak that rested upon a wooden stand. What, I wonder, is the story? How often a mystery like that hangs in the mind when the greatest monuments in a church have faded from remembrance."

As indeed, it has stayed in my mind all these years. I wonder who she was? A Saxon princess? A revered mother or sister or daugther? We will never know . . .


Rowan said...

What wonderful descriptions of Romsey by H V Morton, if only places still looked like this. I'm pretty sure there won't be any cows crossing the square these days! The mystery of the lock of hair is just fascinating - it could easil;y form the basis of a novel....

Morning's Minion said...

My sister and I had pinafores when we were small--ruffles on the hem and on the shoulders, edged with the daintiest of rick rack. They weren't white. They were of a sprigged dimity, one green and white, one red and white--starched and ironed to crackling perfection.
I don't think that little girl's clothes are nearly as pretty today.

Bovey Belle said...

Rowan - that was just my thought too. Romsey is a very busy little town these days. It wasn't just a lock of hair, but a whole HEAD of it, a bit like a wig - made me wonder if it wasn't a Romsey Bog Body, and all but the hair had gone and stained red by the bog . . . Gosh, I feel a story coming on!

MM - my daughters had dresses with pinafores, so I indulged myself when they were little and fully intend to do the same again when their are - hopefully - little grand daughters. Your pinafores sound delightful and much more practical than white!