Southampton – A Perfect Place for the History Enthusiast

I’ve been struggling for a few days to think of anything to write for the blog, and can only describe this lull as some kind of writers block. There are book reviews to be written and shared but if I’m honest I wasn’t sure if my readers would want to read about me going a little crazy about the latest amazing book I’ve read on the Medici family. So I’ll save that for another time. Instead as I was sat on my lunch break today I realised that I live in a city surrounded by history, so maybe it was time for me to write a little something about the city where I live. Southampton – everywhere you walk there is something historical associated with it, and I love it for that sheer reason. So below are the interesting places in and around the city, with a bit of history too!
Image and video hosting by TinyPic
Tudor House – this house, pictured above, is probably one of my favourite places in Southampton and I had the honour of taking part in some archaeological work in their gardens as the house was undergoing it’s recent massive renovation work. It is one of the oldest buildings in Southampton, with over 800 years of history. Built in around 1495, the site originally belonged to John Whytegod, a wealthy merchant who owned part of the building known as King John’s Palace as well as other properties in the area. And Blue Anchor Lane, which runs alongside Tudor House, was at that point known as Whytegod Lane. The house went through a number of owners. It was John Dawtrey who joined the three buildings on the original site together to make one massive house – John was an important man following the victory of Henry VII at the Battle of Bosworth, becoming Overseer of the Port of Southampton and Collector of the Kings Customs. Dawtrey also worked for Henry VIII, working to provide money for the navy whilst at sea and oversaw the building of many ships in the area including the famous Mary Rose. Following the death of Dawtrey, the house passed into the hands of the Lyster family – a wealthy Tudor family who often entertained regally. There is a wonderful rumour that Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn stayed at Tudor House, and that a lost love letter between the couple lies somewhere in the house. Could this have been when the Lyster family owned the house? Richard Lyster himself worked closely with the court, and took part in many of the famous and important events that have come to us through history including the trials of Bishop Fisher and Sir Thomas More; and he took part in Anne Boleyn’s Coronation Procession in 1533. Today a monument to Richard can be seen in St Michael’s church opposite Tudor House, which his wife Lady Elizabeth had erected following his death.
The Bargate – The Bargate is one of the city’s most prominent monuments, and I always make a point of walking through it if I pass through town on the way home from work. I don’t know why I love doing this, probably because when it’s quiet in town and there’s no one else around I imagine the thousands of feet that have trudged through that huge stone archway, imagine the swish of ladies skirts as they walk through it, the trundle of carts as they’re ridden through on the way to town, the sounds of beggars asking for coins. That’s probably me just romanticising things a little too much but I really do love the Bargate. The gate itself is very old and as you walk through and look up, right in the centre you can see the oldest part. The stonework is much, much different than everything surrounding it. The original gate was built in around 1180AD, with additional stonework being added as the years went on, and it was the main gate into the City for many hundreds of years. Despite what we see in these modern days, with the town being on the street known as “Above Bar”, Southampton actually used to be “Below Bar” – the area that has today’s town was actually an area rife with crime, and lined with taverns. What is today known as “Below Bar” was in fact the main town. The second floor was added much later and used for many different reasons including the town’s guildhall in the 1700’s and a prison in the 1800’s.
Medieval Merchant’s House – this little beauty is really hidden away, and I have never yet seen it open and been able to have a look around it. I remember a discussion with some archaeology colleagues about this little house and talks of the spooky goings on. As I’ve never been, I can’t comment on that, but it is certainly a quirky little building tucked away in the back streets of Southampton. The house was built by John Fortin in around 1290 and it served as both a residence and a place of business. It was fronted by a shop, and in its cellar was housed wine and merchandise. According to the English Heritage website (who own this house), behind the shop was a two storied hall which lead to the principle living room as well as a first floor gallery and bedrooms. This is one of the earliest examples of a surviving medieval merchants house and always takes my breath away when I walk past it. I cannot wait to visit it, and really must make the effort to get myself down there when it’s next open.
West Quay Shopping Centre – now then, I know the picture above doesn’t look very historical but believe me when I say it is. This massive shopping centre is built upon the remains of part of the Saxon settlement of Hamwic, which later became Hamtun (see what’s happening with the names here?), and there was an absolutely massive archaeological excavation on the site a few years back. Sadly this was long before I joined the local unit as it was apparently an absolutely fascinating dig which found a heck of a lot of stuff. You would never know it these days, but as the citizens of Southampton go about their shopping, they are rushing about on top of the remains of the original town. And sometimes it makes me feel a little sad.
Image and video hosting by TinyPic
The Red Lion – the pub in the picture above is probably one of the most historically important buildings in Southampton. I know it doesn’t look it, with its faux Medieval frontage. But inside it is breathtaking, despite its bar it retains a lot of its 15th Century building works including a rickety staircase and low ceilings. The building itself is particularly important in the history leading up to the famous battle of Agincourt. Men due to fight at the battle joined up in Southampton, but that is only a part of the story. The Red Lion saw a trial which even now chills my bones to read. There is a room in the pub known as “Henry V’s Court Room” which was used for the trials of Richard Earl of Cambridge, Lord Scrope of Masham and Sir Thomas Grey of Heton; men who conspired against the life and throne of Henry V right before he left for Agincourt. The trial is a huge landmark in English History, even being mentioned in Shakespeare’s “Henry V” – the men were all found guilty of high treason and sentenced to death. Richard, Earl of Cambridge was sentenced to beheading due to his royal blood, Thomas Grey was beheaded due to him being a Knight of the Garter and Lord Scrope was hung, drawn and quartered. The heads of Richard and Thomas were gruesomely presented to Henry V at the Bargate prior to his departure for Agincourt. Now I’m not going to lie, this building is probably one of the most chilling I have ever stepped foot in and I was afraid to go up to the toilets on my own. I don’t know whether this was because of knowing the history of the building or not, but it certainly does give out an air of creepiness as you walk towards the eerily quiet toilets. Still, it has an exceptionally interesting history and almost always makes me smile as I walk past it on the way to work knowing that such a massive historical event took place within its walls.
This is only a very brief post on the history of Southampton, but I hope I have shown just how much history this humble city has to offer. Not only does it have what I have spoken about above, but it also has the fact that the Titanic sailed from its docks as well as historical landmarks close by including the city of Winchester, and Netley Abbey (a building which I have recently read about in Scard’s biography of William Paulet and had a huge part to play in Tudor history). Hampshire honestly has an abundance of history about it, and I couldn’t think of anywhere better to live! If any of my readers ever get the chance to visit the county of Hampshire and have a look around some of our historical cities and towns then I would definitely recommend it as it is certainly worth doing! You don’t even really have to step foot into any of the big towns before you come across something historical!
Tudor House Museum 2001, (accessed 17th Feb 2011)
British Archaeology, Great Sites: Hamwic, 2002, (accessed 17th Feb 2012)
disclaimer – much of the information in this post comes from my own knowledge and lectures on the history of Southampton from my Uni days. Thus it is information from my mind, and alas I cannot quite remember citations for them. I had a quick nosey through my lecture notes whilst writing this piece – if anything is incorrect please do not hesitate to let me know and I will amend quick sharp11

1 thought on “Southampton – A Perfect Place for the History Enthusiast

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s