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The history of Romsey’s King John’s House

PUBLISHED: 11:52 02 April 2015 | UPDATED: 11:52 02 April 2015

Archant

Ever wondered about the history surrounding Romsey’s King John’s House? Claire Pitcher pays a visit to this little known treasure to find out more

Barbara BurbridgeBarbara Burbridge

‘What I would save in a fire…’

Trustee Barbara Burbridge tells us about her favourite piece. “The Trust has thousands of artefacts, all relating in some way to the history of Romsey and the surrounding district. None is of great monetary value, but all are of considerable significance in the context of the local area. Amongst the many are a few that it would really hurt to lose, but if I had to choose one it would be the 1571 Bargain & Sale that is displayed downstairs in King John’s House. This document records the sale of three properties -including King John’s House - that then occupied the site.

The Bargain & Sale recites the history of the ownership of the property back to the Dissolution of Romsey Abbey in 1539, when it had belonged to the Benedictine nunnery. It gives us our earliest glimpse of the ordinary folk who owned and occupied the premises. At intervals from this time onwards, there are other documents that give us further insights into the story of King John’s House but this 1571 deed is the first written evidence that we have.

There is further importance to this deed for in 1918 King John’s House came into the ownership of the Moody family. Charles Moody was a gunsmith and cutler who, in 1875, bought and rebuilt the gunshop that fronted onto Church Street with a good view of the east end of the Abbey. In 1918 he bought the entire property back to the Holbrook Stream. Some of the properties were demolished in 1938 leaving just King John’s House and Tudor Cottage.

When Charles Moody died in 1927, his eldest surviving daughter examined the deeds and began to realise what an ancient building was hidden behind crumbling external rendering and internal Victorian décor. It was Miss Moody who contacted experts who researched the building and identified it, rather too hopefully, as the hunting lodge known to have been built in Romsey by King John c1206. Miss Moody promptly named the medieval building King John’s House and opened it to the public.

Miss Moody survived her brother and sisters, none of whom married. She donated King John’s House to the townspeople of Romsey, and enabled the Trust to welcome visitors to this historic building. The Trust now also runs the old gunshop, which was her home and where a tableau of their life and work can be seen. The 1571 Bargain & Sale played a key role in this story and as such is worthy of being saved. But…given that the 1571 document would be the one thing that I would grab to save from a fire; my main priority would be the saving of King John’s House itself. This is the one great artefact, and I would sacrifice all its content to saving the fabric of this 13th-century stone building and the adjoining timber-framed cottage.”

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750 years of history

Run by King John’s House and Tudor Cottage Trust, at Romsey’s Heritage Centre you can see three buildings that span 750 years. The first, King John’s House, dates from the 13th century (you can still see the medieval plaster work and old roof timbers).

Then there is The Tudor cottage, a late Tudor/early Jacobean timber-framed house. Go upstairs and you can experience the period, or enjoy a cuppa in the now Tudor Tea Room named after Miss Moody…who used to run a tea room here in the 30s.

Thirdly, The Victorian museum contains aspects of Romsey life during Victorian and Edwardian times. Even the ‘old gunshop’ has been reconstructed upstairs.

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Is it King John’s House?

The age of King John’s House was a mystery until it was ‘discovered’ in 1927 by a local historian who thought he had found King John’s hunting lodge (c1206 - known from royal records). Sadly, specialists now believe it dates from the mid-13th century. The origins of the house are unknown, but it has been used for a variety of things since then. Downstairs there are remains of a floor made from animal bones that date from before the 18th century, when the House was a local workhouse.

Who was King John?

King John lived from 24 December, 1166 to 19 October, 1216. He was King of England from 6 April, 1199 until he died. Historians have differing opinions on the King, some saying he was ‘a hard working administrator, an able man and general’. However others describe him as having ‘distasteful, even dangerous personality traits’ like spitefulness and cruelty. This is probably why he was portrayed as a villain in the Robin Hood legends.

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Gardens of the era

Go along to the glorious garden at King John’s House in the spring to see many trees, shrubs and plants that would have been grown from medieval to Victorian times. It is divided in two by a high brick wall - all that remains of the Queen Ann cottages that once stood there.

The north side of the garden has a spring meadow planted with apple trees, a summer meadow and is bounded on one side by a stream. There is also a stone paved courtyard with a quince and a pentice, lovely for sheltering from the sun.

The south side of the garden has many parts: a medieval-style herber, then a series of beds well stocked with flowers of the period, such as lavender, old roses and clematis. Follow the path and it takes you to a fountain courtyard, then to the tearoom in the Victorian garden.

The Friends of King John’s Garden, a group of volunteers, meet once a week on Thursday mornings to tend to the garden. King John’s Garden is open every day except Sundays, from 10am – 4pm. Entry to the garden is free with admission to the house and museum.

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Pay a visit

King John’s House and Heritage Centre, Church Street, Romsey SO51 8BT. Tel. 01794 512200. 
See www.kingjohnshouse.org.uk

Admission costs £4 for adults, £3 concessions and accompanied children £1.

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At the house in 2015

• Death at the White Horse & other Old Romsey Wills - Until 26 April - Leaving someone your ‘second best bed’ in Tudor times was not such an unusual request, as a good quality bed with no fleas or vermin was a highly prized – and very expensive – thing! Discover other weird and wonderful items left in the town’s wills.

• King John: Runnymede and Romsey - 2 May – 31 July - This exhibition celebrates the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta and looks in to whether King John really did live in the House.

• Battle Centenaries: Waterloo & Agincourt - 7 August – 27 October - A look at the battles and how Romsey played its part in them.

• WW1 - Romsey Boys and their part in the Great War - 2 November – 30 January 2016

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READ ON

Best things about living in Romsey - Emma Caulton tells why low-key Romsey should be on your property-buying radar.

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