By Phoebe Merrick

CAR parks are necessary if modern towns are to function, but most of us regard them as boring and not worth a second thought. In fact each of the Romsey car parks has its own history.

For example the Abbey Walk car park, beside the post office, can trace its history back to the middle ages.

At that time, the land north of the post office, lying between Church Street and the Holbrook stream, belonged to the manor of South Wells, which was on the border of Romsey Extra and Nursling.

Grove Place and Skidmore were both part of that estate and the land we know as Abbey Walk and the adjoining car park were South Wells’ town holding. It was common for manors around Romsey to have a holding within the town, in the same way as nowadays the wealthy have a flat in London as well as a country estate. The manor of South Wells was given to the Chapel of St George in Windsor by Ricard III. Much of the ‘paperwork’ of the estate has survived and is to be found in the royal archives in Windsor.

In 1781, the property in Church Street was let as three tenements, to John Chilver, William King, and John Middleton. The land between these houses and the stream was occupied by Messrs Comley and Middleton. The property was remodelled to form two dwellings and outhouses were built behind which included kitchen, washhouse, stable and coachhouse and was rented by Philip Hibbs and Josiah George and the back lands became attached so that the grounds ran across to the Holbrook.

In 1859 John Frederick Osborne rented the whole site. He established a very successful boys’ school, part day school, part boarding, to which most of the leading tradesmen in the town sent their sons. For a few years, Mrs Osborne ran a girls’ school there too. Osborne bought the house and grounds, probably in 1877, by which time the South Wells estate belonged to Lord Palmerston. Osborne was an elder of the Congregational Church for many years. He died in 1897, and his widow, Harriet, lived on in the house until her death in 1902 after which their furniture was auctioned.

Meanwhile, William Summers had established a successful boys’ school at Beauchamp House in the Hundred. When Osborne House became vacant he moved there from the Hundred and his school continued until his death in October 1941 when he was 79. Both Osborne and Summers served as mayors of Romsey.

Osborne House was then taken over by Hampshire County Council and used as class rooms for older children in the town which were very unsatisfactory in the eyes of government inspectors. Once the Romsey School was opened in 1956, there was no further need for this accommodation. Osborne House was pulled down and the space used as a car park with access from Church Street.

Finally Abbey Walk was built and the car park was then made accessible from Latimer Street, and that is what we see today.