13 January 2016
Standing in front of the last mural on Orchard Lane, feeling slightly disappointed that my quest had been so easily completed, I debated whether to walk up into town for a coffee or just go home and have one there. It was still quite chilly so I decided on the latter and, rather than retrace my steps, I thought I’d walk over Northam Bridge. When I turned towards Threefield Lane though I spotted something on the side of the block across Orchard Lane. It looked suspiciously like another mural.
How could this be? I was certain I’d already taken photos of seven murals. Just to be sure I checked back through the pictures on my phone and, sure enough, there were seven murals there. Puzzled, I walked towards the block and, sure enough, it was an eighth mural called Holyrood Wildlife. In fact it was my favourite so far, filled with flowers, a butterfly, a bee, an ant and a ladybird along with leaves, trees, a swallow, a sparrow, a pigeon and a magpie.
Of course, this posed a bit of a problem. If my information was wrong or out of date, how many murals were there and how would I know if I found them all? It looked like I was going to have to walk around every single block just in case there were even more. Suddenly the hunt was on again. On the next block I found yet another mural, this one called Holyrood 1600. It showed a woman picking apples.
The area the Holyrood Estate stands on wasn’t always filled with flats or houses and street names like Orchard Lane, Threefield Lane and Canal Walk give an idea of its previous existence. Until the beginning of the nineteenth century this whole area, just outside the old walled town, was agricultural land. It made me smile to think that the children on the estate had a chance to see a little of the history around their home. Perhaps it would lead them to take an interest in the history of their city. In fact this particular block turned out to be a veritable treasure trove. There were two more historical murals.
The next, Holyrood 1930, showed the area as it would have been when it was filled with terraced houses and brick built blocks of flats, built on the agricultural land in the first half of the ninteenth century. Back then the streets would have been narrow with doors opening directly onto them, the houses densely packed. They lasted until World War II, when the blitz put paid to most of them.
Finally, there was Holyrood Estate 1960’s, a much more familiar sight with buildings much as they look today and even the people in the mural wouldn’t look out of place in 2016. The only thing that would stand out was the old fashioned pram, I’m pretty sure I was pushed around in one just like it.
Near these new murals was another of Bill and Peach’s lovely metal sculptures, The Merchant Sailor. This is actually my favourite, a bearded sailor in a small sail boat with sheep peeking over the side. Those sheep really make me smile. As I was taking photos of the sculpture it occurred to me that I’d walked past this spot many times, not least when I first saw the sculpture, and I had never seen the murals. Admittedly I have been known to be unobservant at times but I was sure I’d have seen them if they were there so I guess they must be new.
Wondering if I’d found all there was to find I carried on towards Threefield Lane and walked around all the flats there. There were no murals. Perhaps that was it, I’d found eleven when I’d thought there were only seven after all. Still it seemed silly to stop looking now, just in case there were others lurking somewhere, so I turned back into the estate and, sure enough, in no time I’d found another one. This one was called The Legend of King Canute and, unsurprisingly, it had a picture of the great King attempting to hold back the waves on the Southampton shore line. The story of Canute was written on the tile, meaning the children on the estate could read and learn.
By now I was very close to the first metal sculpture I ever found, the Agincourt Archer. He is a reminder that Henry V’s troops set sail for the battle of Agincourt from Southampton in 1415. In fact, the Southampton Plot, concocted by Richard, Earl of Cambridge, Henry Scrope and Thomas Grey to kill Henry and replace him with Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March, was discovered in Southampton less than two weeks before Henry left for Agincourt. All three plotters were beheaded in front of the Bargate.
Still hunting for murals I headed to the end of King Street and up Lime Street past the one remaining block of ninteenth century flats on the estate. Why King’s House was saved is a mystery but they do give an idea of what some of the buildings in the area looked like, although today they were covered in scaffolding so I couldn’t get a decent picture. Obviously I will have to come back another day and write a post about the pockets of old buildings on the edges of the estate.
There were no murals along Bell Street so I turned back towards Orchard Lane where I knew there was one more sculpture. This was the wealthy Merchant Claramunda who, in around 1200, traded from her house in the area. Because of the position of the sun I couldn’t get a clear picture of her but seeing her reminded me that the first mural I’d seen, way back when I was hunting for sculptures, was about her too. I hadn’t found it yet and I was sure it was nearby.
It didn’t take long to find. Directly across the road on the wall of Queen’s House, was The Merchant Claramunda mural. She stands in front of the Bargate looking rather stern in my opinion. If I’d remembered this mural earlier I’d have known there were more than seven when I was at the other end of Orchard Lane in front of the a Titanic Stevedore.
Just around the corner I found two more. The first was The Holyrood Air Raid Shelter, showing a family sitting in an air raid shelter, complete with gas mask boxes and father smoking a pipe. There were some interesting pictures of the city after the blitz and lots of information about the World War II air raids. Apparently, Holyrood had its own shelter and it was right next to Kings House. It’s hard to imagine life like that now but it’s good that the children can see what it must have been like for their grandparents or great grandparents.
Beside this was another flower filled mural, Community Gardening in the City. It had a huge sunflower, runner bean flowers, a watering can, wheelbarrow and a little sparrow in the bottom left hand corner. There was no text on this one but I think it probably refers to the Dig for Victory campaign set up in World War II by the Ministry of Agriculture. People were encouraged to grow their own food to supplement the harsh rationing. Little allotments sprang up everywhere in parks and open spaces for those who didn’t have gardens and I imagine there was one in the Holyrood area back then.
By this time I’d totally lost count of how many murals I had found so I wandered around each block wondering how many more there were. My next find was less colourful than the other murals and I almost missed it. Called The Changing Face of Holyrood, it was one of the most interesting though. There were four maps of the area from 1611 when Holyrood was nothing but fields, 1865 when the old estate with the cramped housing could clearly be seen and 1970 and 2012 with the modern estate. It really gave a feel for just how the area and the city has changed over the years.
The next mural turned out to be the last as far as I could tell and I did walk around every single block looking for them. Fittingly it was about Holyrood, the church that gave the estate it’s name. Entitled, The Sailor’s Church it told the story of Holyrood, how sailors placed models of ships in the church to protect their own ships from pirates and storms and how the ruins have been preserved as a Merchant Navy memorial. The picture showed the church tower, the anchor that stands in the courtyard and the seagulls that grace the wrought iron gates,
So, my search had come to an end. All in all I found eighteen murals and I rediscovered all five metal sculptures. There was just one more thing to do before I left the Holyrood Estate. At the junction of Orchard Lane and King Street there’s a notice board made from a photograph of the doorway to Holyrood Church. Many times I’ve passed it and many times I’ve meant to take a picture. This was the day I finally did.
As I made my way back through St Mary’s, past the mother church of the city, I couldn’t help thinking how nice it would be if all the other council estates in the city had interesting displays like the ones I’d just seen. Holyrood Estate is one of the best kept in the city and, unlike some, I feel perfectly at ease wandering around it. Maybe giving people a sense of the history of the place they live and some attractive things to look at that might just brighten a bad day, gives them a sense of pride in their surroundings. What ever the council spent on the murals, the sculptures and the carved planters was worth every penny. They will surely reap the rewards in lower crime rates, less vandalism and a happy population.
It may not have been a walk in the woods or along the river but it had been interesting, with plenty to make me smile. On I went, over the stadium bridge, with a look at the back of the old houses in Northam Road and another at the stadium itself, thinking about other road walking adventures I could have while the footpaths and trails are too muddy. It seems to me there a lot of places worth exploring.