Monuments, Memorials & 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.
This vault is thought to have been built during the late 13th century. It connects with the house above through a door and spiral staircase from the north wall.
Many properties with wine vaults beneath them became pubs, as the vault could be used to store beer. Quilters ended up beneath the Royal George Hotel, which also took up the plot to the south, where there is another vault. In the 18th century the Royal George housed the assembly rooms for the spa town. The vault takes its name from Eliza Quilter, a 19th century landlady, who it is said kept order in the pub with a big stick she kept behind the bar, and never needed the police to intervene.
94 High Street
Experts say this vault is dated about 1400, based on door and windows, but these may not be original and it’s probably much earlier, perhaps 1350. It had thick iron bars to stop thieves sneaking in and stealing the wine. It also has a fireplace, unusual in a wine vault, where you would wish to keep it cool, and it shows no sign of soot. Perhaps a charcoal brazier stood here when important customers came to taste the wine in winter time.
This vault ended up as the coal cellar for May’s sweet shop which stood above it. In 1939 the vault and 93 High Street were converted into an air-raid shelter. A bomb destroyed the house above, blocking the exits and fracturing the water main in the High Street. The vault filled with water and a number of people drowned.
Castle Vault is the biggest vault in Southampton. It was built around 1180 when the Kings of England invented a new tax called the ‘King’s Prise’ which applied to wine. As Southampton was an important place in the wine trade it made sense to have a storage point here, under the castle, where the king’s butlers could keep an eye on it.
The wine casks would have been brought in and out by boat to a wooden or stone quay, as the water came right up to the walls outside.
During the Second World War this was a large air-raid shelter. You can still see traces of the blast walls that spanned the vault and the foundations for the entrance and toilets can be seen.
This is the fanciest of the surviving vaults, with an elaborate vaulted ceiling and carvings around the walls. It is thought to be dated around 1300-1325.
The vault has a huge fireplace which would have made it unbearably hot. Perhaps a charcoal brazier stood here when important customers came to taste the wine in winter time.
This vault was an air-raid shelter during the Second World War. The large hole in the north wall lead to the emergency exit, and bunks were built against the walls. It is said to have been a popular shelter as the Donnarumma trio, who played in a local night club, used to take their instruments with them when there was a raid and would play to hide the sounds of the horrors outside.
Tours 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 [email protected] to find out more. Also, keep an eye on our events calendar for regular tours.
Hire an historic vault for your event
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 Castle Vault, 94 High Street Vault, Quilters Vault and many more. Please note that only some vaults may be available for hire. Please email [email protected] or call 023 8063 4906 to find out more about these interesting and original vaults.
There are also a great many memorials relating to the Titanic in Southampton, including the magnificent Engineers’ Memorial (1914), East Park; a crew memorial (1915), now in Holyrood Church; and a number of crew members’ graves, for example the grave of lookout Frederick Fleet in Hollybrook Cemetery.
The photo shows the panel ‘Honour and Glory Crowning Time’ currently on display at SeaCity Museum. An almost identical panel was made for the Titanic’s main staircase and a reproduction of this panel featured in major scenes from the 1998 ‘Titanic’ film.
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.
For further information about Scheduled Monuments contact us at: [email protected]
Tel: 023 8083 2242.
Or write to us at Planning Archaeologist, Historic Environment Team, Planning & Sustainability, Southampton City Council, Civic Centre, Southampton, SO14 7LS