Overlooked Historical Sites in Southampton

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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.

The Bargate:

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.

Bargate in all its glory on a summers evening Credit: Mark Marsden
Bargate in all its glory on a summers evening
Credit: Mark Marsden

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 Railway

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.

An old road marker on Avenue Common used to mark distances in the age of horse and carriage. Credit: Mark Marsden
An old road marker on Avenue Common used in the age of horse and carriage, before the advent of the railways.
Credit: Mark Marsden

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.

High Street:

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 tree-lined Avenue road today, in beautiful autumnal glory. Credit: Mark Marsden
The tree-lined Avenue road today in beautiful autumnal glory.
Credit: Mark Marsden
St Andrew's Church on the Common Credit: Mark Marsden
The modern St Andrew’s Church on the Common
Credit: Mark Marsden

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Portswood:

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.

 

 

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I mainly focus on news and travel, in my Wessex Scene writing. I am a third year History student at the University, who has a passion of learning more about the world around me and visiting new places when I can. I also enjoy doing many different societies at university, including: Wessex Scene!

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