Having lived in Southampton for almost three years, I feel a bit like I’ve been kept in a cocoon. Once a year I venture all the way out to Winchester for the Christmas market, and I headed to Bournemouth beach once, but apart from that, I largely find myself stuck in a home-campus-Sainsbury’s-Jesters cycle which is hard to break free from. But what if there really is more to Southampton, we just haven’t found it yet? Well, last weekend I decided that, seeing as I’ve only got a few months left in this city, I should probably make the most of it, and have a bit of a look around.
While the Common is lovely on a rare sunny day, it largely gets a bad press due to the number of sexual assaults that occur there. However, over the weekend, the sun made an appearance, and I decided to go on a bit of an exploration. After walking past The Cowherds pub, I came across what I thought was a small graveyard. I’ve always had a strange fascination with gravestones and the serene yet melancholy ambience of a graveyard, but what can be found at this patch at the bottom of the Common, is far more than your average set of illegible stones.
Southampton Old Cemetery (Ranked the 10th best attraction in Southampton on TripAdvisor…) is situated just south of the Common, and was bigger than I first thought, occupied by over 110,000 graves. Opening on 7th May 1846, it was one of the earliest municipal cemeteries in England, and has a rich and varied history, with three different chapels constructed there. Unfortunately these buildings are no longer in use for worship, but the cemetery itself is open to the public.
One of the most intriguing things about the Old Cemetery is that it houses 45 graves of those who died in the Titanic disaster, although none of these bodies were ever recovered (these graves are marked by blue pegs). On the noticeboards at the entrances to the cemetery, a map shows where victims of the disaster lived around Southampton, and the sheer number of people from our city who were killed on one boat 101 years ago is chilling. Tours of the Titanic graves will take place in April.
But of course, Titanic aside, it is an area drenched in history, with each stone having a story to tell. Victims from both world wars along with the Battle of Waterloo, the Indian Mutiny and Boer War all lie here. It is Southampton’s maritime history which is most evident in the cemetery though, with a variety of exquisitely sculpted stones, with several in the shape of anchors and boats.
If, unlike me, you’re not such a fan of the history on offer, the Old Cemetery still has more to offer, with flora and fauna which is protected by the City Council. A range of rare insects and small mammals live in the cemetery, creating a richly diverse area for plant and animal species alike. If nothing else, the plant life and butterflies will be enough to persuade you that perhaps Southampton does have more to offer than you first thought. It might not be the most rock n roll, crazy YOLO experience of your life, but it’s definitely somewhere to visit before you leave Southampton.
To find out more, check out the Friends of Southampton Old Cemetery’s rather impressive website, or better yet, go down and take a look for yourself.