One of the joys of living in rural England is the sound of church bells floating across the landscape, whether on practice nights or as a call to worship and Romsey is no exception.

Romsey Abbey bells now hang in the church tower and their sound issues forth from the wooden lantern that sits atop it.

This was not always the case. Until 1624 they were hung in a separate bell tower that stood in Church Lane, roughly where Test Valley council car park is situated.

In 1791 the inscriptions on the bells were listed. The Great Bell bore the words ‘I’ Blake from Ashes now am turn’d, Like Phoenix new and old is burned.

Nicholas Payne, Richard Newlands, churchwardens F.F. 1664’. This suggests that the bell had suffered from fire damage, but there is no account of such an event.

The other five bells were inscribed ‘If with my Fellows I agree, Harken to our Harmonie W.S. 1630 w’; ‘IHC Nazarenus Rex Judeorum, Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews’; ‘Give God the Glory B.1603’; ‘In God is my Hope 1691’ and ‘Cast by William Tosier 1727’.

Tosier was a bellfounder who was based in Salisbury.

In 1792 these six bells were taken down and recast as eight bells, five of which are still in use, the other three being recast and re-hung in 1932.

Recently an instruction about the bells of Romsey has been found in the Papal Records.

In 1457 the parishioners were given permission to appoint a chaplain but they were also ordered to augment the bells of the church or make larger ones than currently existed because the existing bells could not be heard all over the large parish.

The parish was also instructed to have a clock ‘to tell the hours’.

In addition, they were given permission to ‘go in procession through the fields and other common places at the Ember seasons along with the said vicar and chaplain’.

Ember Days are the days decreed by the church to usher in each new season.

It seems likely that the role of the new chaplain was to say masses for the souls of the departed.

He was additional to the vicar, the first of which had been appointed back in 1321. In the mid-15th century, the town set up a religious guild dedicated to St George, and it was probably from the funds of this guild that the salary of the chaplain was found. It is thought that the upper room of the Tudor Rose inn was the original guild meeting room.