17 February 2016
Since Christmas the arch through the Bargate has been blocked off. It began around the time Santa was flying over the city. Most people thought this was the reason for the barriers but Christmas came and went, Santa and the German Market packed up and the barriers stayed. Maybe they’d forgotten to take them down? When the arch was still blocked in February, it seemed something more sinister might be going on. Last week I discovered exactly what and thought I’d go and take some photos before our city landmark changed for ever.
It turns out our magnificent Bargate is crumbling. Water has been seeping through the battlements of the eight hundred year old building and getting inside the walls dissolving the ancient lime mortar. The problem began in the 1930’s when Portland cement was used to rebuild the parapet and repair the front face. The cement is too hard and the water gets trapped, now the ancient stones themselves are starting to decay.
Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, renowned architectural historian, described our Bargate as ‘probably the finest town gateway in Britain ,’ so it all sounded pretty scary, especially for the people of Southampton. Thankfully, there is a solution. The council have arranged for Chichester Stoneworks, who are experts in restoring ancient monuments and have even worked on Buckingham Palace, to come and make repairs. Starting in mid March they will cut out the offending pointing and mortar, waterproof the building and replace the Portland cement with lime mortar to match the original structure.
Despite rather lacklustre weather I decided to walk to town to take some before pictures while I had the chance. When CJ said he’d come along to take his own pictures I suggested we also go to find the ancient boundary stones near the Common. He’s been wanting to see them for a long time. It sounded like a plan.
It wasn’t long before we were looking up at the medieval gate trying to see if we could spot any damage. The stones of the arch did look a little crumbly but it was hard to tell if this was something new or not. More telling were the pieces of mortar and stone littering the flagstones behind the barrier. We took pictures of these and the faded stone shields above the arch. These will be repaired and repainted once the work is done. In the meantime they’re going to fit temporary shields so we wanted to capture them before that happened.
“Do you think it will look different when it’s done?” CJ asked.
“I hope not. They’re meant to be restoring it not changing it, although the shields will probably look nicer,” I said. “I guess we’ll find out in July when they’ve finished.”
With the first part of our mission accomplished we headed off through the parks towards London Road. Given how many spring flowers are blooming everywhere else in the city the parks were surprisingly bare but there were still things to see. The new Cultural Quarter opposite Guildhall Square looks to be almost finished. Once this was one of my favourite shops, Tyrrell and Green. When WestQuay opened they relocated there and rebranded as John Lewis but the old store had a far larger fabric and haberdashery department and I loved going there. In fact, when I was pregnant with Philo I remember buying the fabric for his Moses basket.
The shop that had been open since 1898, despite being destroyed by the blitz and operating from temporary premises for fifteen years, finally closed in September 2000. Soon a new chapter will begin on the Above Bar site. There will be apartments, restaurants, retail units, a gallery, performing arts centre and dance studio. People are bound to complain about the new building, they always do, but the post war building wasn’t exactly pretty and I think the new one looks interesting with its fawn blocks and flashes of creamy white. I can’t wait to take a look inside.
We left the parks near the Cenotaph and set off along London Road towards the Common. Before World War II this was a thriving area filled with grand old buildings but the blitz left it in ruins. Now estate agents and banks hold sway in the main. A few of the old buildings did survive and today I noticed a sign on one of the chimneys.
“Do you think that might once have been a dairy?” I asked CJ, looking up at the red brick building with its unusual pedimented attic window and flashes of decorative white stone.
“Probably, seeing as it says dairy on the chimney,” he laughed. “You’ll have to Google it later and see what you can find out.”
It turns out the dairy opened in the early 1900’s in what had been a cycle shop. It was a branch of Maypole Dairy, a countrywide chain started in Birmingham as a family business in the early 1800’s. In the late 1800’s the company developed a new product they were going to call butterine until legal action made them change the name to margarine. Maypole was soon a household name, known for high quality products and, by 1926, had opened their thousandth shop.
We carried on towards the Avenue talking about the strange phenomena of suddenly spotting something new, like the dairy sign, in a place you know very well.
“It happens so often you’d think there’d be a name for it like deja vu or jamias vu but I don’t think there is,” I said.
“What’s French for never noticed?” CJ asked, “seeing as all the names for these things seem to be French.”
“Jamais remarqué, I think.”
A few moments later we experienced another example of the newly named jamais remarqué phenomenon when I noticed a sign on the side of a large house on the Avenue. It had the date 1895, a red cross and two scrolls saying presbytery and St Edmunds, which I knew was the church next door. No prizes for guessing what the house was or when it was built then. It seemed rather impressive for a priest to live in with large bay windows, an attic room and a long, glazed porch. Perhaps I’ve never spotted it before because I’ve been too busy looking at the lovely rose window on the church.
Close to the bottom end of the Common was a gate post with some half hidden graffiti I knew would interest CJ.
“I’ve seen it a few times but they were mending the wall and I couldn’t get close enough to take a picture,” I told him. “It’s very Banksyesque but I don’t think it’s actually a Banksy.”
“Probably not,” he agreed, giving it a close inspection. “Southampton doesn’t have a very good track record with Banksy’s. The matey in Bevois Valley must have kicked himself when he realised he’d whitewashed thousands of pounds worth of artwork off his wall.”
It was certainly well executed and quite haunting, a beautiful woman with long flowing hair and a dark, sinister looking man behind her. We were pretty sure it wasn’t Bansky but liked it all the same. With the workmen gone I discovered the gatepost belongs to the Quaker Burial Ground. Until then I hadn’t been aware there was a Quaker burial ground in Southampton. In fact the land, once known as the ‘cabbidge plot,’ was left as a legacy by one of the earliest Southampton Quakers, George Embree, and has been in use since 1662.
It turns out this is the only private burial ground in the city so I had to content myself with a peek through the locked gate and a photo. The perfectly straight rows of gravestones were all identical and looked very small. This, I later discovered, is because they’re actually foot stones and the regimentation is a symbol of the Quaker belief in equality and simplicity.
We walked on, little knowing we were about to stumble upon another example of jamais remarqué. Approaching Cemetary Road I noticed a small stone at the edge of the path. Despite countless walks up and down this road I’d never seen it before. In fairness the stone was little more than a foot high and would have been easily overlooked had it not been for my recent obsession with boundary stones. It was inscribed, ‘site of the first Common gate.’ CJ spotted a matching one on the opposite side of the road. Obviously this was where the Common once began and there must have been gates at one time.
It hadn’t been the most promising weather from the outset but, as we walked across the Common, the sky seemed to be getting darker by the minute. After my last hunt for a boundary stone on the Common, albeit a modern one with very vague directions, I was more confident of getting wet than finding the two ancient stones we’d walked so far to see.
The Burgess Road stone was the one I was most worried about. Research told me exactly where to look but I’d spent a long time on Google Street View with no success so I wasn’t convinced it was really there. As we rounded the corner of Hill Lane I tried to prepare CJ for disappointment.
“It may be hidden in the undergrowth,” I told him. “If it is it might be impossible to find. I’m pretty sure the other one will be easy though.”
As it was, we found it quickly. Right where I’d been told, there was a gap in the shrubbery. For a moment I thought there was no stone but, as we drew level with it, there it was a few feet back from the path. Somehow I’d thought it would be right on the road side.
This was the Rosemary Stone on the northern boundary of the town, marking an angle in the line of the medieval boundary called Rosemary Cross. How long the stone has been there is anyone’s guess but it was marked on the 1791 map. The meaning of the name is also a bit of a mystery but it may derive from the Celtic words Rhos, meaning moor or heath and marian, meaning boundary. We crunched through the leaves to get a close look at it.
So it was one down and one to go. We crossed the road and headed up past the roundabout towards the top part of Hill Lane. The boundaries were decided in 1254 and the stone we were looking for was the Hode Cross Stone in what was once the village of Hill. This western boundary was disputed for centuries until finally, in 1835, the matter was settled and the disputed area, now Shirley, Freemantle and Bannister, left out. The Hode Stone marks the north West Point.
Although I’d never walked along the part of Hill Lane above the Common I had looked at it closely on Google Street View and seen the stone. Near the corner we stopped to admire what I think is another of the Lucy boxes, used to control the old trams. This one was larger than those on the Avenue but remnants of the green paint and the rusty town emblem marked it out as the same thing. It was a pleasant surprise, if totally overgrown with ivy.
It didn’t take long to find the Hode Stone, standing beside a garden wall looking very incongruous on a quiet city street in front of a modern house. A metal sign attached to the wall told us the stone had actually been moved from across the road for some reason. We took our photos and crossed to see if we could find the stud marking the original position. If it is there it must be well hidden because we didn’t see it.
Our mission completed, we walked back towards the Avenue. CJ, who’d grown tired of walking, left me there and went off to visit a friend in town. Almost as soon as we parted it began to rain. Originally I’d thought about exploring Highfield and Portswood on my way home but the rain got harder and harder so I abandoned that idea. Instead, I put my head down and just walked, thinking about the ancient stones, where they came from and where all the others disappeared to.
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