Getting back to the city walls.
Cast your mind back to 1450 for a moment, and imagine that you were approaching Southampton by pigeon or seagull or UFO, and this is what you would be looking at (more or less). Use this image as a reference when trying to understand this post.
Surprisingly a lot of the old walls still survive in the city, although it is a hit and miss thing because age, progress, bombers, politicians and n’er-do-wells have all left their marks on the remains. In some places there are ruins that are identified as being a specific feature of the walls and in this post I am going to try to make some sort of coherent exploration of the the town walls. A lot of of time has passed since I was last in Southampton so I do not really remember too much. However, the map below may be of use to somebody interested in them. I have had to split this post into two separate pages as it has grown quite a lot since I started trying to create a coherent record of what I saw. This page deals with the western half from the Bargate to the High Street
Key to image above:
1 – Bargate, 2 – John Le Fleming, 3 – Arundel Tower, 4 – Catchcold Tower, 5 – Castle East Gate, 6 – Medieval Boat Building, 7 – Westgate, 8 – Pilgrim Fathers and Stella Memorial, 9 – Yacht Club, 10 – The Wool House, 11 – Watergate, 12 – God’s House Tower 13 – Round Tower, 14 – Friary Gate, 15 – Polymond Tower, 16 – York Gate,
The most obvious remnant of the walls is the Bargate.
The Bargate (North side)
The Bargate sits plumb in the middle of High Street that originates (or terminates) at the shoreline, and at one point the road ran through the main gateway and it is quite odd to see images of a bus poking its nose out of there. Eventually the roads were diverted to either side of it but that meant that portions of the city walls were removed. Nowadays the area around it is pedestrianised but there were not too many viable businesses left in the shops around it.
The other side of the Bargate (South side)
“During the 12th century the northern entrance to the medieval town was a single round archway. In the 13th century two round towers were added and early in the 15th century the North Front was extended. The Guildhall was formerly the town’s administrative centre and used for public functions and for performances by companies of strolling players” (text from a plaque on the Bargate).
The building has seen use as a prison, Guildhall, police station, museum, storeroom and probably other things that I do not know about. Unfortunately when I was in Southampton no part of it was accessible, which was really quite disappointing.
1- Bargate, 2 – John Le Fleming, 3 – Arundel Tower
Looking at the map above, to the left of the Bargate is a feature of one of the of walls that I covered in a previous blogpost called “Someone is watching you”
That someone is John Le Fleming, former Mayor of Southampton from 1295 till 1336, and I suspect he may be looking with distaste at the consumerism that happens at the nearby West Quay. The Bargate is in line with this set of walls and and you can see one of the lions outside it just behind the lamp post. If you turned around and walked away from John Le Fleming you will cross a bridge and this is the view you get after the bridge and you can see the Bargate in the distance.
The next major structure in the chain of wall is called “Arundel Tower”
Arundel Tower and old city walls heading south (1500 x 646)
“Arundel Tower may be named after the magical horse of Sir Bevois, one of the founders of Southampton. Legend has it that Arundel was so fast he could outfly swallows. When Sir Bevois died the horse flung himself from the tower in sorrow.
Sir John Arundel, a knight and keeper of Southampton in 1377, could also be the Tower’s namesake.
In 1400 you could have looked out from the tower and heard the lapping of the water below. The Tower’s open back design prevented attackers from laying siege, while the wall, running south along the shore of the River Test, protected the town from sea raids”
Arundel Tower and Orchard Street)
The above text and image comes from an information board at the tower.
In the image below, the tower is on the left and it matches up reasonably well with the painting above, although at the time I took this the area was a car park. Apparently the round tower to the right of Arundel and in front of the office building was called Catchcold Tower. It is always possible the men standing guard there coined the phrase because of their exposed position.
The view from Catchcold Tower looking South is very different now to what it must have been so long ago. The high building in the image may be the one mentioned in the information plaque for the Castle East Gate as standing on the site of the former Southampton Castle.
The Castle East Gate
It provided access into the town from the Castle’s Inner Bailey and while no longer connected to the wall it is surviving portion of the original Southampton Castle.
Unfortunately I did not photograph the information plaque, but the transcription reads:
“The remains of the drum towers flanking the principle gateway to Southampton’s Medieval Castle were discovered through archaeological excavations in 1961. the castle itself formerly stood on the site now occupied by a 20th century block of 12 storey flats. the twin drum towers, now partially restored, were added to the defensive bailey wall of the Royal Caste during the late 14th century and were originally over 20 ft high.”
Blue Anchor Lane
One of the gaps in the walls is at Blue Anchor Lane. “It was used to take imported goods from the Quayside into the medieval town and the Market at St Michael’s Square. The stone arch forms part of the town walls. The Portcullis slot is still visible. In the 1330’s Blue Anmchor Lane was known as Wytegods Lane after John Wytegod, the owner of the property now known as King John’s Palace which stands to the south..” (Information board transcription)
The Arcades, West Gate and West Quay
I did not take many photographs of these, which is a pity because I believe they are quite rare. They arcades closed off access to West Quay other than through the newly built Westgate. I will be honest though, I do not really understand how this area comes together because it has an inside and an outside aspect to it. The original West Quay jutted out into the water near here.
The image below is the back of the Westgate (town side). On the image above this gate would be on the right hand side of the white building (“The Pig”)
The information plaque on the outside wall reads:
“This important west gate led directly to the West Quay which for many centuries was the only commercial quay that the town possessed. The grooves of the portcullis gate and the apertures through which the defenders of the town could harass attackers may still be seen. Through the archway marched some of the army of Henry V on their way to Agincourt in 1416.
The Pilgrim Fathers embarked here from the West Quay on the Mayflower August 15th 1620.”
On the inside wall there is a somewhat mysterious plaque that really needs some research on.
Medieval boat building
If you followed this wall southwards along the Western Esplanade you will come across an area set up to display the long lost art of Medieval boat building, and the information plate credited the display as being funded by the Southampton International Boatshow. Personally I liked the display, but sadly it was being vandalised by the time I left the city at the end of 2013. I only photographed it twice when I was there, which with hindsight is a pity.
There was a general information board that covers various aspects of ship (or boat) building the old fashioned way, and I am reproducing it here, unfortunately it will not really be legible as it is a large board on a small screen.
The arched area that you can see in the image above is called “The Arcades” but I did not photograph it. The White building is “The Pig” and the Westgate is the arched doorway next to it (closest to the camera)
The boat above is a replica medieval cargo vessel and it would have been used in the 14th century to export wool and import wine and other goods. This boat suffered the most vandalism as some bright spark made a fire inside it (or possibly tried to set fire to it). That is why people can’t have good stuff!
You really have to view these items as part of a much bigger picture of Southampton so many years ago as opposed to the glitzy West Quay development nearby. As I mentioned before the city was walled and very different then to what it is now. The current Western Docks required the reclamation of 400 acres of mudflats between Western Esplanade and Millbrook shore. It was the largest reclamation scheme ever undertaken in the country at that time and the work started in 1928 and was completed by 1934. Way back in the 14 century the shoreline was in a totally different place, even lapping at the quays that may have existed in front of these self same walls.
Western Docks (1500×402)
Further down from the boat building and just before the Stella and Pilgrim Fathers Memorial are another short series of arcades.
The image below was taken from the battlements of this structure and you can see the Pilgrim Fathers Memorial behind the tree.
The arcades are really the last stretch of high walls on this western side of the city, from here onwards the wall is quite low and interrupted by the very beautiful former Yacht Club building that was standing empty during my time in the city.
While the building next door to it was the site of the former Maritime Museum before that moved to the Civic Centre Complex (and became a Titanic Museum and not a Maritime Museum). The building is actually called “The Wool House”
These two properties are prime real estate because they face onto the waterfront (actually the Red Funnel Ferry Terminal) and the length of street in front of them is a very busy one. Just after the old museum there is a grassed open area and the walls do not exist as a contiguous structure. The area around Porter Lane has ruins as opposed to walls.
The only real part of the wall that exists in this area is known as “The Round Tower” and it is indicated by the red arrow below. This area is the southern entrance to the city and is also known as the South Gate.
||and in front.
There is also a Jane Austen plaque affixed to the stonework. Like so many places Southampton, tries to grasp at straws from her life, and frankly I do not really see the connection too much. I will however allow you to make your own decision. As I have said before, the city I was seeing was very different to the one that was around in 1912 when the Titanic sank, or during the Victorian era and the Middle Ages.
The Watergate (not related to Richard Nixon) was in this area. Although logically the land has been extended outwards from this point because the current Town Quay is no longer butting onto the edge of the city. As far as I can see the period quays were really where the Town Quay Road is today.
Customs House and Town Quay
This area also has one of the main roads (High Street) into the city and the bus from Town Quay travels up this road to get to the station. If you follow the road on foot you will end up walking into the back of the Bargate.
Town Quay from High Street
That concludes the walls on the western side of the city, we will cross High Street on the next page. Use the arrow to turn the page.
There are probably much better sites out there that can give a more coherent picture of the walls, and one of these is CastlesFortsBattles.co.uk that has a whole page dedicated to the ancient fortifications of the city.
Wikipedia has a few pages dedicated to various parts of the wall, the Town Walls Page is a good place to start
Don’t panic! The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Earth Edition has a good write up on the walls too.
Sotonopedia has a searchable index that is quite helpful too
There is a very nice PDF available for download at at discoversouthampton.co.uk
The Southampton City Council also has an 1870 Ordnance Survey Map of the city available
Much of the information here is from the numerous information boards and plaques provided by the Southampton City Counceil that relate to specific places in the walls, and they are a mine of information as well as useful images. I do not know who did the original artwork that I have used and would love to credit them accordingly.
DRW ©2013-2018. Created retrospectively 11-16/05/2018