Southampton’s Old Town

Southampton is a thriving modern city but you don’t have to explore too far to discover its amazing past. Old Town today still contains a wealth of historical attractions – the Bargate, the medieval town walls, Gods House Tower and Tudor House and Garden are some of the many sites worth visiting. You can also walk the Jane Austen trail, the QE2 Mile, take a self guided walk around the Old Town or join one of the regular guided Heritage Walks.

God’s House Tower

Built in 1189 Gods House Tower, named due to its proximity to the nearby God’s House Hospital was used to guard the town from attack by sea. This historic building is now an amazing arts and heritage venue with regular events and exhibitions in the heart of Southampton’s Old Town.

Medieval Merchant’s House

Also a short walk from Tudor House and Garden is the Medieval Merchant’s House owned and managed by English Heritage. This house once stood on one of the busiest streets in medieval Southampton and shows how most of this part of the city would have looked.

Hamtun Street Mural

mural colour

In Hamtun Street, just a few minutes walk from Tudor House and Garden, there’s an eye-catching and fascinating mural depicting Southampton’s history.

Charting Southampton’s history from Roman times to the 20th century, the mural includes reference to the maritime and aeronautical achievements for which the city is justifiably proud.

Stored out of the public gaze for 20 years, the 19 metre long, three metre high concrete and glass mural has recently been repaired, cleaned and re-installed in Hamtun Street.

The mural was created by influential ceramic artists Henry and Joyce Collins in 1978 to decorate the facade of a Sainsbury’s superstore in the Lordshill area of Southampton. See the gallery of photographs below for a picture of mural in its original position.

Collins and Pallot, a husband and wife team of artists from Colchester, Essex, made public art for the Festival of Britain in 1951 and in subsequent years completed many murals on public and commercial buildings.

The mural was removed in 1990 to make way for the redevelopment of the store and donated to Southampton City Council. It was restored in 2010 by ceramic artist, Oliver Budd, following a grant from Heritage Lottery Fund.

Jane Austen Trail

The novelist Jane Austen had close associations with Southampton, and a heritage trail was launched in 2006 to commemorate this.

There are eight plaques each at a location associated with Jane Austen. The plaque at the beginning of the trail at Bargate marks the place where seven year old Jane, her sister and cousin attended a nearby school run by a Mrs Ann Cawley, only to return home again after a few weeks when the school was closed down after an outbreak of typhus. The author spent many holidays in Southampton and subsequently moved to live in the city from 1806 to 1809.

You can download your Jane Austen trail here.

QE2 Mile

A unique timeline that reveals the hidden histories of the Old Town, the QE2 Mile is a pedestrian route that runs through the heart of the city linking parks, the new cultural quarter, high street, Old Town and the waterfront. It encompasses the Cenotaph, Titanic Memorial, Holy Rood Church that was bombed in World War II and Bargate at its centre.

From Bargate to the waterside, a series of cast iron plates are embedded into the paving of the High Street, each inscribed with a quote that tells of the many changes that have shaped Southampton, from early Roman settlement to the present day in the words of contemporary authors.

Monuments & Vaults

Vaults

The principal activity of the medieval town was trade through the port and the Southampton’s stone vaults lay underneath the timber-framed houses of local merchants. These were used for storage, usually for wine which was imported from Bordeaux.
Most of the vaults are in the south and west of the medieval town, as the merchants tried to be close to the quaysides to keep an eye on business, and because the tariff rose steeply for transporting cargo any distance.

Tours and hire of the vaults
Did you know we can arrange group tours of the vaults? These can be combined with a visit to Tudor House, refreshments in our cafe or even other activities at Southampton City Art Gallery or SeaCity Museum! Contact our team on 023 8083 4536 or email museums@southampton.gov.uk to find out more.

The historic medieval vaults offer something rather unique and different to your event. Various vaults can be hired from a minimum of one hour. Choose from 94 High Street Vault, Lankester’s Vault or the Undercroft. Please email jo.bailey@southampton.gov.uk or call 023 8063 4906 to find out more about these interesting and original vaults.

Scheduled Monuments

The City of Southampton has 60 Scheduled Monuments including the town walls, numerous medieval vaults and cellars, the Tudor House Museum and the Roman remains at Bitterne Manor. Most of the Scheduled Monuments are stone buildings dating from the medieval period. For more information on Scheduled Monuments in Southampton click here.

A map showing the location of the Scheduled Monuments is available on Southampton City Council’s MapSouthampton website. The national MAGIC website includes information about Scheduled Monuments, including a map.

Or write to us at Planning Archaeologist, Historic Environment Team, Planning & Sustainability, Southampton City Council, Civic Centre, Southampton, SO14 7LS.

Westgate Hall

th market hall dismantling
Westgate Hall in St Michael’s Square

In medieval times it was not uncommon for a building to be pulled down – or taken apart – and re-erected elsewhere. Westgate Hall is one of the few buildings in Britain for which such a move is documented, and even rarer still, there is some indication of its history prior to its move in 1634.

The date of the original erection of the building in St Michael’s Square, not far from its present position, is unknown and it is quite possible that by the first mention of the building in 1428 it was already 20 or 30 years old. Excavations in St Michael’s Square in July of 1986 suggest that the original position of the building was at an angle to St Michael’s Church, and on land which is now partly covered by later extensions to the church. Some evidence was also found to suggest that three of the open arcades were part of a solid stone wall, with the remaining open structure supported by wooden posts.

It was used as a cloth hall upstairs and an open arcade underneath for the fish market. Until the late 17th century, the whole of St Michael’s Square was called The Fish Market.

All woollen cloth brought into the town by merchants who were not resident in Southampton had to be stored and sold at the cloth hall. The hall was leased out to a townsman who, in return for managing the building, would claim all the dues and payments for the sales and storage. In the early 16th century, the Town Council had difficulties in finding someone to run the hall and so the restrictions on imported cloth were relaxed and the building fell into the possession of the Bakers Guild. By 1552 the restrictions were reintroduced but due to unreliable keepers, the hall began to fall into increasing decay.

The fish market remained in St Michael’s Square until the reign of Elizabeth I, when it spilled over into the High Street. Here it remained, despite objections, until 1770.

By 1632 the cloth hall was in such a state that it would not stand for much longer, so the Town Council decided to sell it to an Alderman on the provision that he would take it down and rebuild it elsewhere. In 1634 the hall was sold to Alderman Edward Exton for 20 marks (£13.33). At the same time Alderman Exton leased an area of land by the Westgate. A condition of the lease was that he had to build a warehouse on the site and it is believed that he ordered the demolition of the cloth hall in St Michael’s Square, and its re-erection as a warehouse at Westgate, with the open arcade filled in to provide a closed hall.

The warehouse stayed in the hands of the Exton family until 1687, when a senior mariner, David Widell, bought the building and adjacent garden plot. By the 18th century the West Key was owned by the town shipwrights and in 1725 the warehouse was bought by a shipwright called George Rowcliff. The building remained under the ownership of shipwrights, but in the hands of the Marot family, until 1890. It is quite possible that during this time the building was used as a cottage.

The council then reclaimed ownership of the building, which acted as a museum store and workshop until 1975 when the hall was taken apart and first renovated, before starting a new lease of life as a public lecture theatre. In 2009 the building was restored as part of the Tudor House and Garden project, funded by the city council, the Friends of Southampton’s Museums, Archives and Gallery, the Heritage Lottery Fund and other donors.

If you want to find out more about local history visit www.southampton.gov.uk.

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