IN 1839 when digging a new grave under the floor in the South aisle of the Abbey Church in Romsey the sexton came across a lead coffin.

At the time they thought it was probably Roman.

It was decided to open it to see if there were any human remains inside.

The sexton told the story: “I thrusted my hand to the head of the coffin to find the scull.

“I found no bones but a scalp of Feameal haire as bright as any living ladies haire I ever seen.”

All that survived within the coffin was the head of hair and a pillow made of oak and a finger bone which immediately crumbled to dust.

The hair and pillow have been on display in the Abbey ever since.

The lead coffin was eventually sold for scrap and the wooden coffin is said to have been cut up and used a souvenirs.

In 2017 Jamie Cameron, an Oxford University archaeology graduate suggested that the hair could be dates using Carbon 14 technique.

With the support of Frank Green, archaeological advisor to Romsey Abbey and to the Winchester Diocesan Advisory Committee the, hair was analysed in the archaeological laboratories in Oxford.

The date determined was 895-1095AD which means that it dates from Saxon times.

The lead coffin shows that this was the burial was of someone important but the wide time window does not allow the identification of the individual.

We do not even know for sure whether the individual was male or female.

It has been suggested that it might be one of the early abbesses, St Merwenna or St Ethelflaeda but it is even possible that it might be the remains of Prince Edmund, son and heir of King Edgar who dies aged about eight years old and is known to have been buried at Romsey.

Is it possible that someone among the Romsey Advertiser readers still has one of the pieces of souvenir wood from the coffin?

If so, is it possible that this too could be dated and perhaps narrow down the date of the burial.

Carbon 14 dating needs only a tiny amount of the original material to give a date.

Dendrochronology requires at least 30 tree rings so a souvenir piece is very unlikely to contain enough.

Anyone who thinks they have one of these souvenirs and is willing to have it dated should contact Romsey Local History Society .