17 August 2016
Our disappointment in the parks wasn’t quite the end of our zebra hunting. It’s quite possible my feet would have taken me on the next part of today’s walk without my brain even noticing. For more than six years my walk to work took almost the same route we’d walked so far. When I planed out this zebra hunt it hadn’t even occurred to me but now, the sights and sounds, the place we crossed the road, suddenly brought it all back.
Standing at the top of Commercial Road looking down towards the Mayflower Theatre I had a vivid memory of the morning the MD caught up with me on this corner.
“I followed you across the parks,” he said. “You were going so fast I couldn’t catch you until you stopped to cross the road. I’ve never seen anyone walk so fast in my life.”
As soon as we turned the corner we could see our next zebra, Frederic, standing near the entrance to the Mayflower Theatre. He was painted by Tony Hitchcock and sponsored by the theatre. He’s a very theatrical looking chap after all, a pirate with a jaunty tricorn hat, an eye patch and a peg leg, very Captain Jack Sparrow.
He was looking across the road towards Condiut House, the odd little stone building I used to walk past every day. The little house, like a miniature cottage, was built in the early 1300’s to collect water for the public supply from wells and springs near Hill Lane. Back in November 2014 I went in search of the Conduit Head with limited success. Originally the water supply belonged to the Francescan Friars but they granted the use of it to the town in 1311. In 1420, the council took control of the water supply, one of the first councils to ever do so, but Condiut House still supplied a grid of public water houses throughout the town. For over five hundred years this little building was the main source of water for Southampton. You wouldn’t think so to look at it today.
The water house stands at the end of the path to St Peter’s Church. The church was built in 1845 by O B Carter in the neo-Norman style, possibly as a copy of the church at Sompting in Sussex. These days it’s no longer used as a church. It closed in the 1970’s and became a nightclub for a while. When the Dream Factory office moved to Commercial Road it had been turned into a pub and restaurant. We often took important visitors, hoteliers or the heads of airlines and travel consortia, there for lunch.
On pay day Alfie and I would go there for our own lunch or for a cup of hot chocolate. One of the staff had his eye on Alfie and she played up to it shamelessly so we always got extra marshmallows and chocolate flakes. Looking over at the building I could almost taste that hot chocolate and I was half tempted to cross the road and buy one for CJ. Seeing my old office building right next door changed my mind. The name is still there above the door although the fluttering flag and the business itself has long gone. Bittersweet memories.
Instead we walked past the Mayflower Theatre towards our next baby zebras. A peek through the window of the shop where we used to buy sweets and drinks was irresistible.
“I wonder if Karen still works there?” I said.
“Who’s Karen?” CJ asked.
“She worked in there way back when I had my very first job in Overline House above the railway station. When Dream Factory moved across the road she was still there, only she was the manager by then. I haven’t been inside for years, not since 2008 when I got made redundant.”
“You could go inside and see,” he said.
“I’d rather not. It would be too depressing if she was still there just the same as ever and it would be even more depressing if she wasn’t.”
A couple of shops down, in Mayflower Bridal, we found Live Love Learn wearing the uniform red jumper of St Monica Primary School who painted him. He has words within his stripes to represent the school ethos and his legs are painted with puzzle pieces to represent creativity and uniqueness.
We almost walked past Dreamcatcher in Becketts Music store, possibly because CJ was too busy drooling over guitars. He was painted by the children of Hythe Primary School and designed by Madeline Ingram from year 4. Her inspiration was Paul Cookson’s poem Let No One Steal Your Dreams and he has a musical theme with staves instead of stripes and coloured notes made by the finger prints of the children. The finger print theme is one that runs through the baby zebras and I love the idea of the children all being a part of their work in such an intimate way.
The next zebra was on the corner outside Frobisher House, the office block that seemed so tall and new when I was a teenager working at the railway. Now it doesn’t look so big at all and the concrete fascia has darkened with age to a dirty grey. The zebra brightened up the view considerably.
Warren is sponsored by Warrens Office Supplies and has been painted by Laura Schillemore with lots of office equipment. We spotted paper clips, staples, scissors, pens, a ruler and even pencil shavings. He’s certainly a very well equipped zebra.
The office building he stood in front of may have weathered badly but the building behind him on the opposite side of the road is probably one of the most controversial modern buildings in the city. While we’d been on the other side of the road walking past the shops at its base we hadn’t been able to get the full effect of Wyndham Court but now we could appreciate it in its entirety.
Built in 1969 as social housing, it was designed by E D Israel Ellis for Southampton City Council. The innovative design is supposed to evoke a cruse ship. If you wander round it for long enough, you can see where E D Lyons was coming from. He felt the white concrete he used was sympathetic to the civic buildings at the top of the hill. When you get up close you can see the concrete has been patterned to resemble planks of wood but any hint of white it might have had is long gone.
The people who live inside say it’s lovely and it was well built with a quality finish. It even won an Architectural Design Project award for its brutalist style and, in 1998 was grade II listed. Some people, like writer Owen Hatherley, love it. Unfortunately, most people think it’s a hideous monstrosity. While, I’m not against modern buildings, or unusual and innovative design, I tend to side with the latter. In my opinion, if Southampton Council were thinking of building something a little different they would have done well to go to Barcelona and see how beautifully it can be done before they approved any designs.
With some relief, we left Wyndham Court behind and crossed the pleasant plaza to Southampton Central Station. Opened in 1895 as Southampton West, it replaced the original Blechynden/West End station. Back then this was the sea front, looking out over West Bay and the high tide came right up to the southern platform, occasionally flooding it. The land reclaimation project between 1927 and 1934 solved that problem and created the Western Docks. With more land available, the station was enlarged and, in 1966, when Southampton Terminus Station near Terminus Terrace was closed, it was rebuilt.
Today there are offices above the station entrance rather than the lovely clock tower that was once a landmark. My first ever job was in one of them.
“Behind those corner windows on the first floor was my office when I worked for British Rail,” I told CJ. “We could see right over the station from the windows on the other side and hear the trains rattling past. When there were big football matches on we’d watch the police on horses herding the the crowds to the station.”
CJ was more interested in the zebra he’d spotted standing on the newly revamped plaza by the station entrance.
We crossed the expanse of new multihued paving where taxis stop to drop off and pick up travellers and found Bunty (Let’s Go Fly A Kite) standing beside one of the new lozenge shaped benches. Sponsored by Three Rivers and East Hampshire Community Rail Partnerships and South West Trains, she is painted with blue sky, a kite on her face and colourful kite tails trailing along her body. Artist Sarah Rosie has even hidden a little, startled looking, bird in her ear.
When I went to tick her off on the app I realised there was another baby zebra somewhere about. At first I thought it might be in the station foyer but there were only travellers there. Perhaps it was in one of the shops below Frobisher House? We walked back through the plaza staring through shop windows. All the while a security guard outside the entrance to the offices watched us with an amused look.
“It’s in there,” he said when we were within speaking distance. “I saw you earlier and I was waving like mad but you didn’t notice.”
He was pointing towards CXO a little cafe bistro type place I’d never noticed before. We’d been standing right in front of it when we found Warren and, looking back at the photos I took of him I can see the security guard standing near the door. Inside we found Meon Vallery, painted by Meon Valley Guides. She has fifty two guiding badges on her jacket, painted by the guides. What a clever zebra she is. We also found coffee and some rather delicious homemade truffles. It would have been rude not to stop after all.
It was pleasant sitting in the sun outside the cafe, if a little warm for walking. The plaza is set in a dip below the level of the road and the little corner outside CXO is quiet and sheltered. We couldn’t linger too long though as we still had two more zebras to tick off our list. Getting to them involved another walk down memory lane, or, in this case, up it. When I worked at British Rail I normally caught the train to and from work because I had a free ticket. At lunchtime though, I’d often walk into town up Kingsbridge Lane. It was a route I also used when I worked at Dream Factory. Sometimes I would stop in the little park beside the station car park to sit on a bench and eat my lunch. Amongst the trees are the crumbling remains of old brick walls and I often wondered about the building that once stood there. Of course, this was long before the advent of smart phones and Google so I had no easy way to find out about them.
Before the railway arrived Blechynden Terrace was a quiet suburban street with terraced houses and views over the water. A beautiful place to sit, with ornamental gardens and a marine parade. The modern park stands in the shell of the Emperia Buildings, built in 1905 and destroyed by bombs in 1940. Originally the building housed Idris Mineral Waters but BAT moved there in 1913 and stayed until the bombs destroyed it.
When I was a child there were bomb sites like this all over the city, little areas of wildness littered with debris and crumbling brickwork. It’s nice that this one at least remains as a quiet place of contemplation. For a while we wandered around the old walls looking at curious cubby holes and openings wondering what it must once have been like.
Eventually we left the shady garden overshadowed by the concrete of Wyndham Court and headed up Kingsbridge Lane. Back in my British Rail days this was an overgrown cutway, a convenient but not particularly pretty route to the Civic Centre. These days it’s beautifully paved with a small seating area to one side where I occasional sat to eat lunch back in the Dream Factory days. Originally called Cooksey’s Lane, the modern name is a conundrum as there are no records of a bridge here although there was once a pond, King John’s Pond, a small rill and, adjoining it, was Kingsfield.
Towards the top of the lane, behind the trees, is the BBC television studio. In the early ninteenth century Kingsbridge House stood here, a rather grand building with lovely gardens by all accounts. In 1845 the council bought the site and the house was used as the King Edward VI Grammar School, now in Hill Lane. Sadly, the house was demolished in the 1930’s.
It was very hot and the Lane felt steeper than I remembered. We puffed our way to the top and saw our next zebra through the trees beneath Danny Lane’s Child of the Family sculpture. Tooly McTool, the work of Minky, is another reminder of Seamore the first ever Go Rhino’s sculpture I saw. Sponsored by Selco Builders Warehouse, he has a hard hat, jeans, a tool belt and a checked shirt, very much the handyman.
Now we had just one more zebra to go, at least on today’s list. He was just across the road outside the Old Mutual Wealth building. We’d seen AquaZeebra in the distance last week as we were walking past the Civic Centre but hadn’t officially ticked him off our list. Created by Will Rosie, he’s a mosaic sculpture in shades of green, very reminiscent of his rhino counterpart Enrhinomental who stood on the same spot. AquaZeebra’s dark sea green stripes are strips of seaweed and he has an anchor on his rump, a very nautical reminder of the city’s maritime heritage.
The first part of our walk today had been disappointing, with so many vandalised zebras missing from the parks. The second part, a veritable walk down memory Lane for me, more than made up for it. Now all we have left, apart from the missing zebras, are the Marlands and Marwell sculptures. They will have to wait for another day.
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