13 January 2016
A council estate in the centre of Southampton might not seem like a very interesting place to visit but bear with me because this particular council estate has quite a lot to offer. Besides, my recent attempts at woodland walks have been thwarted by mud and this walk involved no mud whatsoever, which could only be a bonus. What it did involve, along with being the place singer Craig David grew up, was history and art, two things I’m quite fond of. Plus there would be a nice walk over the Itchen Bridge and almost certainly a coffee. If I couldn’t have woods this was the next best thing.
The morning was a great deal colder than it has been of late, almost the sort of crisp cold winter morning we should have been having for the last two months. Hat and gloves came out for the first time this year and I set off on a quick march up the Little Hill to warm up. Even so, there were pink camellias flowering in a garden in Peartree Avenue and gorse along Sea Road. There were also more daffodils than I could count but, if I’d stopped for photos of those, I’d never have got to town,
Half way down Sea Road I met two elderly gentlemen walking small dogs.
“Where’s your dog?” one asked.
“I don’t have a dog,” I smiled and he looked at me strangely. Obviously without the essential walking accoutrement of a canine friend on a lead I look like a mad woman. Still, I was the one enjoying the views of the city across the green and the River Itchen, while they were too busy watching their dogs.
Climbing the slope onto the bridge I passed hypericum in flower. Is there no end to the number of things flowering out of season this winter? It was colder up on the bridge with no buildings to shelter me from the wind but the blue sky and water gently rippled by the breeze more than made up for the discomfort of a cold, red nose. Spotting landmarks like the civic centre clock and St Mary’s Church spire made the eighth of a mile walk pass quickly and I was soon on the other side enjoying the blackthorn flowers near the underpass.
When I approached Chantry Bridge I was surprised to see ice on a large puddle, the first ice I’ve seen this winter. It was such a novelty I had to stop to take a photo. Then it was over the bridge, along Marsh Lane and across Threefield Lane. Chantry Hall has finally emerged from the scaffolding that has been hiding it for months so I stopped for a picture of that too. It looks exactly the same to me as it did before work started so I have no idea what took so long to do.
Now I’d reached the Holyrood Estate, designed in the 1950’s and 60’s by Lyons Israel Ellis who is famed for his brutalist style buildings, and named after nearby Holyrood Church. Most of the housing consists of low blocks of brick and concrete but, as these kinds of estates go, they seem quite pleasant and well looked after and there are plenty of green spaces. It wasn’t the houses I’d come to see though. When I was working neaby a few years ago I stumbled upon some interesting metal sculptures that kept me amused for a few days. In passing I noticed there were also tiled murals on some of the buildings and I always meant to investigate them further.
A little Googling last night told me the murals were commissioned by Southampton City Council and produced by arts organisation Media Workshop with a great deal of input from local residents. There were seven of them. My challenge for the day was to find them all. It seemed the best way to approach the task was to be methodical so I walked along Lime Street to the northwest corner, facing Queensway, aiming to make a full circuit beginning with the side of the estate closest to the medieval town walls. It wasn’t long before I found my first mural, the modern blocks of the estate framed in one of the arched windows of Holyrood Church with the words Welcome To Holyrood in the bottom left hand corner. One down, six to go then.
Almost at once I came upon the next mural, entitled Southampton at War. In sepia tones this depicted a woman of the land army, a soldier and a Spitfire. This theme seemed quite apt. The modern estate is a result of slum clearance after the old mid ninteenth century terraces and flats were bombed out during the Southampton blitz. In fact, Commando Senior lived in the old flats during the war both in Queens Walk, Lime Street and in Threefield House. Sadly, neither building survived.
Carrying on along Queensway I spotted one of the five sculptures I found on my previous Holyrood adventure. This one was the Sailor’s Angel, a reminder of Southampton’s maritime history and the supperstitious tradition of placing models of sailing ships inside churches. In fact the bombed out shell of Holyrood Church has been dedicated as a monument to merchant sailors. These beautiful metal sculptures were created by Bill and Peach Shaw who have created other similar works in the city. Both live in Northam and Bill was once an apprentice metalworker at Vosper Thorneycroft but left to study at West Surrey College of Art and Design where he met Peach. The quirkiness of the sculptures amuses me and I couldn’t resist a picture.
Having found two murals along Queensway I wasn’t expecting to find another until I turned onto Bernard Street but almost at once I came to the next one. At this rate my hunt was going to be over almost as soon as it began. This third mural was Southampton, ‘Gateway to the World,’ showing two clasped hands above Southampton’s Pier Gate with a world map in the background. This is obviously a reference to Southampton’s port and the thriving cruise industry.
When I did turn onto Bernard Street the next three murals were right in front of me. All three were ship themed. The first, Southampton’s Great Liners, showed the Queen Mary, a ship who once called Southampton her home port. Next was Sailing in Southampton, filled with the sailing boats you can still see on the water today. Finally came The Mayflower 1620, with a picture of the ship that left our city filled with pilgrims bound for America, along with the Mayflower Memorial that stands in front of the medieval walls on Town Quay.
With just one mural left to find it all felt a little too easy and I was a touch disappointed that my self imposed quest hadn’t been more difficult. It seemed to me they could have hidden them a little better but then I suppose the idea wasn’t for mad women like me to hunt for them. A little further along the road I came to another interesting piece of Holyrood artwork, although it wasn’t exactly new to me. In front of the flats on the corner of Orchard Lane there are three large brick planters. I’d walked past them many times before I noticed the artwork, mostly because I was usually going somewhere else at the time and not paying attention, but each has a design carved into it.
The planters were created by Andrew Maccallum and are inspired by the three funnels of the Queen Mary and the images are of workers at Southampton Docks. They are understated but beautifully carved, just the kind of thing I’d have on my own front wall if I could. For a while I stood looking at them wondering if they were built and then carved or if the carving came first and they were then put together like a giant jigsaw puzzle. My instinct tells me the former but you never know. When the flowers inside them are out they will look beautiful. The way things are going this could be sooner than expected.
Behind the planters is another of Bill and Peach’s metal sculptures, The Titanic Stevedore paying tribute to the men who loaded and unloaded the ships. He’s a handsome mustachioed fellow carrying a boathook and he has a model of the Titanic on his head like a hat. If you ever need something to make you smile this is the place to go.
The Bernard Street part of the new estate ends on the corner of Orchard Lane and I wasn’t sure whether to carry on towards Threefield Lane or walk along Orchard Lane through the middle. In the end I decided Orchard Lane was the way forward and I was right. Almost as soon as I’d turned the corner I found the seventh mural. This left me with mixed feelings. Obviously, I was happy to have found it but I wished it had been a little harder. Like the sculpture nearby this mural was The Titanic Stevedore and I will let it speak for itself.
So, that was it. There was nothing left for me to do but head towards home with my seven photos of the murals, plus a few more. Perhaps I’d walk through the subway made famous by Craig David in his song Seven Days. After all, he almost certainly sat in a bedroom in one of the flats I’d been walking past writing that song.