King John's House & Garden

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HCC Site ID: 1767 Parish: Romsey
Designations: Conservation Area, SAM Area: small
Access: Public Access Ownership: Test Valley Borough Council –
Managed by Friends Group

Location and Site

King John’s House is situated just to the north of Romsey Town Centre, almost directly opposite the Abbey, across Church Street. It is linked to the Tudor Cottage that is now the Tourist Office and small museum.  The garden surrounds the house on three sides with Holbrook Stream forming its eastern boundary. The Post Office and depot are to the north and shops to the south of the complex.

Historic Development

The title King John’s House was first used in 1927. The then owner, Miss Mabel Moody, asked a local antiquarian, Mr Walter Andrew, to study the property deeds and investigate the roof space. Crumbling plaster work was removed to reveal medieval heraldic graffiti. The building was identified as 13th-century in origin. Records showed that King John (1196-1216) had a hunting lodge in Romsey towards the middle of his reign. His daughter Joan, who later married Alexander 11 of Scotland, lived there while a pupil at the nearby Romsey Abbey, then still a nunnery and a leading educational establishment for royal and aristocratic daughters. The desire to link the house with King John seemed reasonable at the time, and King John’s House came into common usage.

The central tie beam was analysed by dendro-chronology in 1995, when it was ascertained that it came from a tree felled in the spring of 1256, some 40 years after King John’s death. This fits into the views of other experts who have placed the house in the mid 13th century. The roof timbers proved inadequate for their task and over the centuries two extra tie beams were added plus a longitudinal beam with vertical supports. Edward 1 was in the Romsey area in 1306; perhaps some of his supporters stopped in King John’s overnight. The heraldic coats of arms could be those of Edward’s nobility.

Throughout its 750 years the building has seen many changes and additions. Floor levels have been changed and doors interchanged with windows. In medieval times, those working on the ground floor could only reach the superior upper floor via an external stone staircase. The present fireplaces on both floors were added after 1539. The building was originally all stone built, using similar stone to that used for Romsey Abbey c1120-1250. The remainder is a mixture of rubble infill, and knapped flint. The internal timber-framed partition wall, infilled with wattle and daub, is contemporary with Tudor Cottage, the late-16th-century addition to the west. Later, Queen Anne Cottages continued the line eastwards. Together with some facing cottages the area was known as Church Court. It is believed that some 100 people lived there. Sanitation was basic and mains sewage was not introduced until the 1930s. [All the cottages, except Tudor Cottage, were demolished c1938 only the rear spine wall remaining today as a garden feature.]

The upper floor was long used for accommodation, the ground floor for a multiplicity of trades, which included brewing and metal working in the 17th century. The bone floor probably dates prior to 1700 as farm animals increased in size after that date. Over the years the house became run down and at the end of the 18th century became a workhouse. The larger windows may have been introduced to provide more light for the weavers there.

Current Description

Miss Moody presented King John’s House to the townspeople of Romsey in 1969. Tudor Cottage was bought for the Trust in 1979. A Trust was established to run both buildings. In 1992, Test Valley BC bought the land at the rear from Miss Moody and this has been laid out as  a garden to compliment the period of the properties. More recently Test Valley purchased the Victorian property at 13 Church Street, which is a heritage museum run by the Trust.

The creation of the gardens dates from 1990 when the land was compulsorily purchased by Test Valley BC. Gilly Drummond, President of Hampshire Garden Trust had a very active role in its creation. After five years of hard work by a team of designers, fund raising and site clearing and planting by a dedicated team of volunteers the first part of the gardens were officially opened in 1995.

It was decided not to reproduce a period garden but that the planting should be confined to pre 1700 introductions. This area included a shelter near the bridge funded largely by Hampshire Gardens Trust. Since then the gardens have been extended and now include a pentice added in 2000 which provides cover for wind and rain; the South Garden a year later which has a Victorian flavour followed in 2001. In 2002 the entrance from Church Street was resurfaced and Medwell Court was created which included a fountain and restored iron gates. The gardens are maintained through the efforts of the Friends and a dedicated team of volunteers.

Information: December 2006  (with permisson of Trustees)

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