26 July 2016
Ocean Village is not somewhere I often walk. In fact it’s been many years since I was last there but today it was the first stop on our second Zany Zebra hunt. Sadly, we didn’t have the blue skies and sunshine we’d had for our first hunt but, climbing the steps to the Itchen Bridge, this didn’t seem too much of a hardship. The grey skies seemed preferable to the muggy sunshine even if it might mean less attractive photos.
From the bridge we made our way to Canute Road and, in what seemed like no time at all, we were wandering in circles around the confusing streets of Ocean Village past fancy modern houses and apartments that all looked the same after a while. We knew the zebras were there somewhere and I had an idea they’d be near the water but every turn we took seemed to be a dead end. Considering how small a place this is it felt as if we were walking miles. Given that this is a marina, we were having a terrible time trying to find the waterfront, even with the help of Google Maps.
Eventually we spotted two huge buoys ahead, one on each corner of the road. When we reached them we saw yacht masts and a curious blue telephone box. We’d finally found the water, now all we had to do was find the zebras. On closer inspection, the blue telephone box turned out to be a book exchange. What a wonderful idea!
Ocean Village wasn’t always filled with fancy abodes, blue phone boxes and yachts, back in the 1840’s it was the first of Southampton’s docks. Of course, the town had been a centre for shipping and trade for hundreds of years. The first recorded quay was Watergate Quay in front of the medieval town walls and it was surrounded by small wharves. Here goods from all over the world arrived and departed.
In 1823, paddle steamers began taking passengers to the Channel Islands and Le Harvre but they could only berth at Watergate Quay at high tide. To solve the problem the Royal Victoria Pier, the the first jetty pier in the town, was opened. Now passengers could embark and disembark whatever the state of the tide. With the imminent arrival of the London and South Western Railway, linking London to Terminus Station, the Southampton Dock Company started work on building a dock to cope with the increased number of ships and passengers. The railway opened in 1840 and, by 1842, the Outer Dock was complete. The first ships to use the dock were the P&O liners Tagus and Liverpool.
By 1851 a second, inner dock had been built, followed by Empress Dock in 1890 and White Star Dock, later renamed Ocean Dock, in 1911. Then, in the 1930’s, four hundred acres of land was reclaimed from the sea, the New Docks, now Western Docks, were built and the little Outer Dock went into a decline. By the mid 1980’s the area was nothing but rundown warehouses and sheds. In 1986 they were torn down to make way for a new £75 million development, Ocean Village. Looking at the area today, crowded with little yachts, it hard to imagine big steamers coming and going.
Of course we weren’t there to see the yachts and it wasn’t long before we spotted our first Zebra. He was on the waterside, just as I’d expected. We’d found Zebastian the Seabra, painted by Tom Joyce and sponsored by the. Are a owners MDL Marinas. He’s absolutely bursting with colourful and rather fantastical sea creatures. What a pity the sky wasn’t as blue as his lovely coat.
We didn’t have far to walk before we found our second zebra of the day, Glitter Fish. He was a deep, dark sea blue, filled with a shoal of mackrell swimming about blowing bubbles and his mane was like breaking waves. Glitter Fish was painted by Denise Hughes and sponsored by The Brooks Shopping Centre in Winchester.
When Ocean Village was built it had a shopping centre, Canute’s Pavilion. In the mid 1990’s we used to come here with the boys to visit Way Out West where there was mini bowling, a play area, Lazer Quest and even a bucking bronco. Usually, before we left, we’d give them a handful of coins to play in the Victorian penny arcade. Outside was the old Calshot Lightship. All are now long gone but there are still some very upmarket shops and restaurants on the waterside. The app told me there were baby zebras about here too. We found Dazzle, Woodlands Community School zebra in one. He was standing in the window of The Ocean Rooms Beauty Parlour. We popped inside to ask if we could take a photo.
Dazzle is the name for a herd of zebra and this little chap, with his broad, monochrome stripes was right at home amongst the glass and mirrors of the swish establishment. I, on the other hand, with my wild, messy hair and no makeup whatsoever, felt rather out of place. The staff looked as if they were itching to get their hands on me. We didn’t stay long.
In complete contrast, the next zebra was a splash of colour in the window of Steak of the Art, an expensive looking restaurant a little further on. The tables outside were empty and the inside was dark through the glass. It looked as if the place might be closed so we took a picture through the window but I knew it would be a disappointing jumble of reflections. Before we left I tried the door, just in case.
The door opened and we stepped into a riot of colour. Almost every surface was brightly patterned. Even the floor was painted with multi hued symbols and numbers and the chairs were covered in vivid fabric. On the wall to our right a gigantic Titanic themed mural, complete with a massive moon and the New York skyline, made us forget all about the zebra for a moment. We stood, open mouthed, picking out details.
It took a while to tear our eyes away from the artwork but, when we did, a member of staff was watching us with an amused glint in her eye. She’s probably used to people staring at the wall for ages.
“Would you like a table?” she asked.
“Actually we popped in to see your zebra. Would you mind if we took photos?”
“Not at all.”
“You don’t serve just coffee do you?” I asked, thinking a coffee would be nice about then and it would give us more time to enjoy all the artwork I could see on the walls.
“We do, but our coffee machine has only just been switched on. It’ll be about half an hour before it’s ready. There’s a gallery upstairs, with artwork for sale, if you want to have a look.”
It would have been easy to spend half an hour wandering around this place looking at the walls and wishing I had the money to buy paintings but we had more zebra to hunt in town.
“We don’t really have time to wait right now,” I said, “but we could come back on our way home. In fact, we will come back on our way home.”
Before we left we took another quick photo of Polka Dot, the St Francis C of E Primary Scool zebra, who’s multi hued stripes and dots suddenly didn’t seem quite as bright inside this kaleidoscope of colour.
Outside, with the grey sky and the gentle clanging of masts, Ocean Village seemed a sleepy place where nothing much happens. It hasn’t always been as quiet though. In May 1919, the Austrailian Flying Corps, fresh from battle on the Western Front and Palestine, left for home from here on the P&O ship Kaiser I Hind. On 6 June 1944, this was where the troops departed for the D-Day landings. More recently, in the 1990’s, the Golbal Challenge yacht races started from here and, in 2011 the Clipper Round the World Yacht Raced sailed from Ocean Village. Sadly, the recession hit the area badly and high rents drove many of the businesses out of Canute’s Pavillion, along with the prestigious yacht races. Eventually Way Out West and the pavillion closed and that was the end of our Saturday morning fun.
Apart from the odd restaurant or cinema visit, I’ve hardly set foot in Ocean Village since those last Saturday morning visits. A great deal has changed. Canute’s Pavilion has been demolished, more shops, offices and houses have sprung up and the place is unrecognisable, at least to me. Of Course, this meant finding our way out was as difficult as finding our way in.
We wandered around the winding streets and walkways once again, this time past hoardings hiding building works and along a narrow alleyway with a massive crane moving above us. More shops, homes and offices are being built in what looks to be another huge tower. It seems the one thing that’s certain about this little corner of the city is change.
Please see my copyright information before you copy or use any of the above words or pictures.