It seems to me that churchyards have a curious quality
of being forbidding yet at the same time irresistible. One of the many attractions
of churchyards is their peacefulness. Even when you come across one in the
middle of a busy town, a momentary respite from the noisy traffic, the hustle
and bustle of shops and the heat of a torrid day can surely be found. Many
of them are likened to a fairy grotto where one is inclined to whisper instead
of shout and there is always the cool shade of an old tree to be found.
Charles Dickens described the typical nineteenth-centaury city churchyard
in The Uncommercial traveller thus: 'The illegible tombstones are all lop-sided,
the grave mounds lost their shape in the rains of a hundred years ago. the
Lombardy Poplar or Plane-Tree that was once a dry-salter daughter and several
common-councilmen, has withered like those worthies, and its departed leaves
are dust beneath it. Contagion of slow ruin overhangs the place.' Of course
ruin implies neglect, and it is the very air of neglect that gives churchyards
their serenity Churchyards have defied the influence of so called 'progress',
whatever that may be, and give themselves up for quiet reflection. It is
estimated that the area of land used for burial purposes in England and
Wales is approximately 25,000 acres. This includes cemeteries as well as
churchyards. Nevertheless it is a startling statistic- nearly forty square
miles of ground. In many cases it is probable that a churchyard is considerably
older than the first churches they contained, since the first churches were
made of wood and eventually had to be replaced. The chief population of
churchyards consists of countless legions of forgotten and obscure people
whose monuments can be seen as their little share of immortality. The value
of a grand monument is an illusion It is only by a mans deeds that he is
remembered and the vast majority of us must resign ourselves to oblivion.
It could be said that monuments are for the benefit of the living, not the
dead. Surviving friends and family do not need a monument to help them remember.
Over the coming weeks which will doubtless roll into months I shall be taking
a closer look at the many and varied churches and churchyards in the Romsey
area and recording points of interest
Sign Of The Times
of Romsey and you think of Broadlands. The two of course are synonymous.
The illustrious former home of Lord Mountbatten was once owned by Lord Palmerston
whose statue, the work of Mathew Noble, stands in the town square today.
The old building standing adjacent is nowadays home to the Conservative
Club. In years gone by however it used to be an inn known as The Old Swan
Inn. The name and the inn itself may have long disappeared into the mists
of time but one relic still remains. The enormous wrought iron sign outside.
This iron structure is very long and equally strong. A sinister test of
its strength was accomplished in the 1640's when Lord Fairfax, a general
in the Parliamentarian army during the Civil War, stayed at Romsey. Fairfax,
a man renowned as a no nonsense disciplinarian, lodged at the inn and found
the wrought iron structure to be of great value when it came to hanging
deserters. Not only that but the length of the structure meant that he could
hang two at the same time. Over the years there have been numerous reports
of eerie sights and sounds, perhaps from tortured spirits, from that very
place. Fact or fiction. Who can tell?