I know many people think history is irrelevant, after all, it’s in the past and what significance does that hold for us now? As a history student myself, I am here to rebuff the nay-sayers and prove that history is in fact interesting, especially in Southampton. This is a massive factor in our livelihoods as students here which perhaps goes unnoticed and unappreciated at times.
One of the city’s major attractions is the Bargate and the surrounding city walls – these cannot be missed. Henry II started the process of defending Southampton through constructing the Bargate around the late twelfth century. This decision was prompted by several factors; firstly Southampton had gained major significance in this era because of its prominent role as one of Stephen’s bases in the south-east during an English Civil War between him and his rival to the throne, Matilda. Secondly, because of its ever increasing importance as a trading port, therefore an additional structure was needed to allow more goods to pass through the city.
The Bargate still holds it’s position as a massively significant site in the city, even to this day as it has done. This is proven by the fact that the gate is displayed on the city’s badge and that plans to demolish the structure in the early twentieth century were rigorously fought. Other leaders, especially in the Medieval era, helped to further signify the Bargate;
- For instance, the West Gate was the setting for Edward’s III return to England after the famous victory he achieved at the Battle of Crecy in 1346.
- Henry V departed via the Bargate for his campaign in France, which reached a climax in the famous Battle of Agincourt in 1415.
- Jane Austen, arguably one of the finest English authors of all time, has a plaque dedicated to her on the Bargate structure demonstrating her strong links to the city.
The coming of the railway proved vital for the development of Southampton’s identity. A parliamentary act in 1834 decided that a rail infrastructure was desperately needed for this region. The works were mostly completed from London Waterloo to Southampton Central in 1840, resulting in a majestic looking train station with a grand clock tower at its north entrance. However even at this time, there was still a need to get a horse drawn coach in order to cover the eighteen mile journey from Basingstoke to Winchester – not the smoothest of transports. The station was then used during World War One to transport German prisoners of war captured after battles, from Britain’s most important Military Embarkation Port to the mainland.
At the turn of the twentieth century, there was a significant investment into the railway, in order to accommodate an ever increasing amount of trade passing through the three dry docks. Due to this, dock companies owned around ten miles worth of track which connected the docks to the main London and South Western railway grid. By 1925 there were approximately a hundred movements of freight and passenger trains per day- an impressive and highly successful operation.
The High Street also tell the story of Southampton’s war-time history, during World War Two this area was completely flattened, namely due to a German air raid with incendiary bombs in 1940, the twelfth century All Saints Church was completely ruined. Sad events such as these mean that this area of the city has now unfortunately lost its once strong reputation as one of the most beautiful High Streets in England before World War II.
The Avenue/Southampton Common:
The prominent, modern day tree-lined Avenue around Southampton Common was originally created in 1744-45 in order to commemorate the battle of Culloden (1745). In order to preserve the Common, a parliamentary act in the eighteenth century stipulated that no one could ever build on this site. The churches around the Avenue played their part in World War One, as the nineteenth century St. Avenue Congregational Church, now know as St Andrew Church today, offered assistance to troops stationed on the Common before they went off into the trenches.
The infamous student area of today that we all know and love, use to be a woodland area but in the twentieth century became a social spotlight. Below are the history of some sites that you hopefully will recognize;
- Sainsbury’s in Portswood used to be the site of an old Palladium Cinema (1913 – 1958)
- The Brook music venue was originally a hotel at the beginning of the 20th century and was known as the Brook Inn.
- Many of the buildings on Portswood, such as the Public Library remain entirely the same since the early twentieth century.
- Bevois Valley: the area of the night club Jesters, use to be the site of small local businesses such as the Mount Hotel and cobblers. You could say there is still some necessity for a local shoe store for all those last minute demands for Jesters’ shoes…
- It is hard to believe that up until just before WWII, Portswood was once home to an impressive tram network where carriages were maintained and they operated up and down the entire stretch, even to as far as Bargate.