19 July 2016
Our first zebra hunt was going well, despite the heat and we’d found almost all the zebras within the old town walls. The app on my phone told me there was another at the bottom of Blue Anchor Lane on Western Esplanade. When we walked through the arch though we were shocked to find an empty plinth criss crossed with red and white tape. Snappy, the Deplan zebra had been vandalised.
It saddens me that, just days after this wonderful trail has begun, mindless vandals have been at work. Why anyone would want to destroy a thing of beauty designed to bring a little happiness to the city is beyond me but I’d like to find them and have a quiet word in their ear. In fact I’d like to bring back the stocks to take care of them. A few rotten tomatoes and a little public humiliation might make them think better of doing it again and deter others of a like mind.
Feeling bitterly disappointed we walked towards the water. Just past the ship in the street two ladies having a drink outside Pig in the Wall said good morning. We stopped for a chat. It turned out they were on a day out and had come to Southampton by chance because of traffic on the motorway. They’d seen the zebra on the corner and were wondering what it was all about. We directed them to other zebras nearby and explained a little about the old walls before setting off on our way again.
“I’m so glad we ended up here,” one lady said. “We had no idea the city was so interesting.”
We left the ladies to their drinks and carried on towards the corner. We spotted the next zebra as we passed Westgate. We’d found Zozy, a zebra whose stripes take the form of a brightly coloured wooly jumper. Closer inspection showed the jumper was a kind of A to Z of endangered animals. He also has a colourful tail made from strands of marine rope. Zozy was sponsored by Co-operative Food and painted by Alison Bates of PingSweetie Design and Illustration.
Once upon a time Zozy wasn’t the only odd sight along Western Esplanade. In Victorian times this corner was dominated by a very strange house. Westgate House was built in 1760 by the Marett Family who owned a boat building business nearby. Two houses, one on either side of the medieval wall were turned into a mansion with the wall forming part of the inner structure. Two of the arches of the arcades were actually used as an alcove in the drawing room and parts were demolished to provide a doorway between both halves of the house.
The house was a testament to how little regard the people of the town had for the historic walls. When Charles Marett died in 1870, the house passed to his son Charles who allowed Hannah, his youngest sister, to live there. Hannah had been married to Frenchman Joseph Maes, but was widowed. The house soon became know as Madame Maes’ House. In 1897, when Hannah died, the council bought the house and demolished it to provide a better road link between Royal Pier and Southampton Station and the old walls were uncovered again.
Our next zebra was in Cuckoo Lane in what would have once been Mrs Maes’ kitchen garden. Once a mulberry tree grew here, thought to have been three hundred years old, it was incorporated into the kitchen garden but, sadly, did not survive the demolition of the house. The zebra we found was King Zalfred, sponsored, unsurprisingly, by View Winchester and inspired by Winchester’s King Alfred the Great. Also painted by Alison Bates, he has a wonderful cloak, shield and golden sword, along with a crown around his neck. Behind him we could just spy the next zebra on our list.
Ziggy Zebra all at sea is sponsored by Williams Shipping and stands in the quiet little square behind Westgate Hall. This would once have been inside Mrs Maes’ House and the hall itself, ancient as it looks, was not always here and was not always called Westgate Hall. Originally the building stood in St Michael’s Square, right in front of the church. It was used as a fish market and to store woolen cloth. It seems to me the two don’t go together very well and I’m sure the cloth didn’t smell too nice being stored on the first floor above all the fish. In around 1634 the hall was sold to Alderman Exton, moved piece by piece to its present site and used as a warehouse.
In 1687, mariner David Widell bought the building and the garden plot beside it and eventually it fell into the hands of Charles Marot. From what I can make out, it stood beside Mrs Maes’ strange house rather than being part of it and may have been used as a gatehouse or annex. Either way, the council bought it when they bought the house and used it as a museum store and workshop. These days it is used by community groups and schools and can be rented as a wedding venue.
As this area was once owned by shipwrights and the sea came right up to the wall here, it seems fitting that Ziggy Zebra is covered with ships of every kind. In fact we spent quite a while looking at them all and, the more we did, the more familiar things we spotted. There was Popeye the Sailor, the Owl and the Pussycat, the Beatles and their yellow submarine, SpongeBob and a boat filled with celebrities who are no longer with us, including David Bowie. We could probably have spotted more if we’d had more time. Painted by John Tellett, this has to be one of the most detailed zebras on the trail and I like him a lot.
With zebras still to find and walls to walk it was time to get back on the trail so we retraced our steps to Cuckoo Lane and King Zalfred. Behind him we stopped for a moment to look up at the Mayflower Memorial. With the aid of the fancy camera I got my best shot yet of the copper ship at the top of the column, a replica of the Mayflower that set sail with the Pilgrim Fathers from almost this spot back on 5 August 1620.
As we crossed Bugle Street and passed the Woolhouse, we spotted our next zebra standing in front of the low section of ruined wall on Town Quay. This was Southern Gold, another nautical zebra painted with colourful sailboats by artist Ellie Fane for Crest Nicholson. She has a beautifully golden mane, tail and hooves. They seemed to sparkle in the bright sun.
Looking at the app the next two zebras appeared to be in Town Quay Park somewhere. Until recently, I’ve always thought of this park as the French Garden because there is a small garden here dedicated to the Huguenots who came to Southampton to escape religious persecution in the 1500’s. The garden is planted with French plants and it’s a joy to walk through in spring and summer.
Town Quay began as a rich area but its fortunes declined. By the twentieth century it had become an area crowded with narrow streets and alleys, mostly inhabited by the crews of ships and liners and poorer families. During the Southampton blitz people sheltered in the vaults here but, sadly, they suffered a direct hit with the loss of many lives, some due to a burst water main that flooded one of the vaults and drowned those trapped within.
The resulting bomb site became a playground for a generation of post war children and the park was eventually created in 1964. Then, in early 2010, the council announced plans to sell the park to a developer who wanted to build flats. Thankfully, local residents set up The Friends of Town Quay Park and the council relented. In 2014, the park was finally given a reprieve and saved for future generations. I, for one, am very glad about that, I’ve spend many happy lunch times sitting there.
It was no hardship at all to stroll through the lovely little gardens and soon enough we’d spotted our next target hiding behind Canute’s Palace. This was Zebra Crossings, sponsored by Lorica Insurance Brokers and painted by Caroline Rackham. He’s a bright mixture of black and white zebra crossing stripes and yellow Belisha beacons.
From our spot beside Zebra Crossings we soon spotted our next zebra, Biff, standing at the High Street entrance to the park. Sponsored by Biffa and painted by Nina Fraser, he reminded me a little of the lovely Seymour, the first rhino I saw on the Go Rhino’s trail back in 2013. It was the high vis outfit and hard hat that did it but, given all the vandalism poor Seymour suffered, it is probably a good thing that Biff’s hat and high vis suit are painted on.
With just two zebras left on our list for the day we regretfully left the park and headed towards Town Quay itself. The next zebra seemed to be somewhere near the drum tower that was once part of Watergate, the main entrance to the old town by sea. We had a quick look inside the tower but there were no zebras hiding there.
On the street side of the Watergate Tower we had better luck. ZZ Top, sponsored by Coffin Mew and painted by Jenny Leonard, was standing in front of the tower close to the two red phone boxes looking every inch the rock star in his sunglasses and colourful mane. His stripes are piano keys and he has musical notes hidden about his person. What a cool character.
There was one more zebra we wanted to see before we headed for home and he was somewhere near God’s House Tower so we crossed the road and set off down Winkle Street. This narrow lane behind Town Quay is another of those places that makes me feel as if I’ve stepped back in time. One side is dominated by the tall red brick walls of buildings that look as if they were once warehouses and the other by the French church, St Julien’s.
The church was founded in around 1197 as the chapel of the Hospital of St Julien, or God’s House, and was used by French Protestants in the sixteenth century.
“Apparently, the Earl of Cambridge was buried inside after he was executed for his part in the Southampton plot,” I told CJ. “Unlike Grey and Scrope, the other men who plotted to kill Henry V in the run up to the battle of Agincourt, Cambridge was buried with his head. Gray’s head was sent to Newcastle and Scropes to York as a warning to others of what might happen if they had any idea of plotting against the king. There’s a monument inside too, the Leper’s Squint Stoup Monument, commemorating the 1415 plot.”
“I wish we could go inside and have a look,” he said with a regretful look at the locked gateway.
“Me too, but it’s not open to the public any more so, unless we become Catholic and attend the service they hold once a year, I think we’re out of luck.”
What we could see though, was a zebra, through the arch of God’s House Tower, looking out towards the huge cruise ship in dock there. This would be our final sculpture of the day and a very regal one he was too. Reggie is sponsored by the Hamshire Cultural Trust and was painted by Caroline Fairbairn as a Saxon King. His ermine tipped cape and his crown mark him out as a very special zebra and around his neck is a chain bearing the faces of some iconic kings and queens.
Now it was time to go home and get out of the oppressive heat. With one last look back along Winkle Street we set off for home. The rest of the zebras would have to wait for another day. Hopefully it won’t be quite as hot next time.
Please see my copyright information before you copy or use any of the above words or pictures.