31 July 2018
CJ and I had spent the morning walking in large circles up and down town from the precinct to Bedford Place looking for giant deckchairs. So far, with quite a lot of doubling back and grumbling from CJ, we’d found all the chairs at the top end of town. Now we had a proper map, rather than a badly cropped photo on my phone, the Below Bar chairs should be a little easier to find. In fact, I’d already seen the next three on the list on a shopping trip with Commando at the weekend.
Most of these chairs were inside the medieval city walls, although the next two, in the Watermark Plaza, were technically just outside the old town on what was once the shore of Western Esplanade. It seemed a fitting place for them, although I’m not sure anyone ever set up deckchairs on this particular beach, even in the days when this was a popular spa walk.
The plaza fountains were on, giving a nod to the tide that once came right up to the walls here. Children were dashing about in the water getting soaked and having fun. For all the moaning that went on when the plaza and the Watermark building were being built, this has turned out to be a very popular place for people to gather, with regular events that have given the citizens of Southampton a new appreciation of the old walls.
Right beside the walls, almost at the bottom of Arundel Tower, was the WestQuay deckchair with a large, decorated W and Q next to it. It was briefly empty so I took a couple of quick shots while I could. Meanwhile, CJ was playing in the fountains, trying to pretend he was a grown up and not just one of the children.
To be honest, it was so hot I was thinking seriously about running through the cool water myself. The way the water pools on the sandy coloured swirls of paving blocks really is reminiscent of the tide coming up a beach and the weather today was hot enough for it to have been a Mediterranean one.
It took quite some time to drag CJ away from the water but there were more chairs to find. The next was on the upper level of the plaza, outside Waterstones bookshop. This chair was sponsored by Fatface, a clothes shop I’m quite fond of. Opposite, right beneath Arundel Tower, was a wooden swing seat covered in a bower of flowers. It would have been a nice place to sit for a while in the shade but someone had beaten us to it.
“Do you think those flowers are real?” CJ mused. “If so, how are they not all brown and shrivelled up in this heat?”
A closer look gave us the answer. The flowers weren’t real, which is probably why they were looking so good in the unrelenting sun. They were very convincing fakes from a distance though.
With one last look back at the lovely new plaza, we crossed Portland Terrace and headed for our next objective, Bargate. From now on we really would be inside the old city walls. The deckchair was just inside the gate, right in front of the slowly disappearing Bargate Centre. Sadly, the chair itself seemed to be slowly disappearing too. There was a rather large hole right in the middle of the canvas. It looked as if something, perhaps a tear, or maybe some graffiti, had been cut out.
A lady stopped beside us and muttered about the damage before walking on. It does seem a shame but neither CJ or I were sure this was actually an act of vandalism.
“It was probably just someone far too heavy or lots of smaller people sitting in it together.” CJ said. I had to agree.
According to the map, the next chair was somewhere near Holyrood, the church damaged by bombs in November 1940 and left as a memorial to lost sailors of the merchant navy. We began to walk down the High Street towards the ruins. By this time we were both rather hot, thirsty and hungry. We’d been walking in the heat for two solid hours since our brunch in Guildhall Square. Costas seemed an ideal place to get out of the sun for a while, rest our feet, have a drink and maybe a snack. Sadly, it wasn’t to be. We got as far as opening the door, but the lunchtime crowd inside was so tightly packed and the queue so long we decided to give it a miss.
“We’ve only got three deckchairs left,” I said, “why don’t we find them first, then come back? It probably won’t be so busy then.”
”Or we could try the shop in East Street with the nice cups,” by this time we’d actually reached the top of East Street. Good as the Nousha Lounge coffee was, the shop, halfway down East Street, was a fair way off track for us.
”Let’s find the deckchairs first. It shouldn’t take long and we can decide on the way back. That way, if we do go to Nousha’s, we can walk back through St Mary’s and not add any distance.”
CJ opened his mouth to protest then spotted something interesting on the boarded up entrance to the old Natwest bank. By the time we’d stopped to look at the crudely drawn but pleasingly abstract piece of graffiti he seemed to have forgotten how thirsty he was.
We couldn’t see a deckchair on the street outside Holyrood Church, so, thinking it might be tucked away in the ruined shell, we went inside. It wasn’t there either. Puzzled, I looked at the map again, hoping to find some kind of clue. There was definitely supposed to be a chair here somewhere. CJ thought it might be hidden around the side or the back of the church so we went back outside for a more thorough search.
This didn’t take long. Between the church and the abandoned Ferryman and Firkin brewery, we found a sign attached to a tree. Like the chair by the bandstand, this one had been removed. It was disappointing, especially as this was almost certainly due to vandalism, but there was nothing we could do about it. The clock on the tower of Holyrood Church told us it was quarter past one. We had two more chairs to find. Hopefully they would both still be where they were supposed to be.
Close to the bottom of the High Street, we turned right, past Quilters Vault. The thirteenth century vault is all that remains of the Royal George Hotel, built in 1783 over the Norman vaults. The pub was destroyed by bombs in November 1940. The ruins are named after a notorious nineteenth century landlady, Eliza Quilter, who kept order with a big stick behind the bar.
Sadly, it isn’t possible to go inside either Quilters Vault, or the remains of the vault next door which was once used as a coal cellar for May’s sweet shop. It was also used as an air raid shelter during World War II. Tragically, when a bomb destroyed the shop above, the exits were blocked and a fractured water main filled the vault drowning a number of people. Today the vault stands at the bottom of the St Johns School playground and has, for many years, been hidden beneath corrugated iron behind a wire fence while archeological work is carried out.
We walked past the crumbling medieval remains of Canute’s Palace through Town Quay Park towards the Woolhouse, or, as it’s now known, the Dancing Man Brewery. There was a temptation to go inside for a drink and something to eat but we both really wanted to find the last deckchairs before we stopped. As we passed we noticed the Royal Southern Yacht Club House, once the headquarters of Southampton University Air Squadron, has had a new coat of paint and is looking rather spruce. Apparently there are plans to turn it into a hotel.
The penultimate deckchair was a cinch. It was right where it was supposed to be, in front of the Mayflower monument. This is, of course, just outside the old town walls on what was once the sea front. Now the reclaimed land of Mayflower Park, the Pier and the ferry terminal stands between the walls and the sea along with the busy Town Quay Road.
A pleasant breeze was blowing off the water as we stopped to take our photos and the canvas of the deckchair billowed up and down as if it was breathing. A little further along, the Stella Memorial was surrounded by scaffolding. There was nothing to say why but I’m guessing repair work is soon going to be undertaken. The Portland stone memorial, built by public subscription, is looking quite weathered and a little the worse for wear.
The memorial commemorates Mary Anne Rogers, a senior stewardess on the passenger steamship Stella. The ship was en route to the Channel Islands on 30 March 1899, when she hit a submerged granite reef and began to sink. Mary Anne gave out lifebelts to the one hundred and forty seven passengers and guided the women and children to the lifeboats. She even gave up her own lifebelt to a young girl who’d lost her mother. The lifeboats were overcrowded and Mary Anne refused to get in one, for fear she’d cause it to sink. It took eight minutes for the ship to go down and Mary Anne was among the eighty six passengers and nineteen crew who were lost. Her body was never found but the wreck of the ship was discovered south of the Casquets in 1973.
We now had just one more chair to find and I, for one, was looking forward to a nice drink once we’d found it. We began to walk back towards the zebra crossing opposite the Woolhouse when CJ noticed something near the base of the wall close to the end of Cuckoo Lane. On closer inspection, it turned out to be a thick and rather rusty metal ring. It looked very old and we both agreed it was probably used to tie up boats back in the days when this was still sea front.
Without further ado, we crossed the road and headed towards the ferry terminal. Our final chair was supposed to be somewhere in Red Jet Terminal 2. By this time we were both feeling tired and in need of sustainance so we hoped it would be easy to find. As it happened it was. As soon as we went through the door we spotted it, complete with a couple of passengers. The Hythe Ferry looked as if it was just coming in and, if we’d hung around, the chances are the chair would soon have been empty. Neither of us wanted to wait though so we took a picture, passengers and all, and left the terminal.
The walk back up the High Street seemed to take forever. It was incredibly hot and humid and we’d been walking almost non stop for three hours or more. We both totally forgot about going to Nousha’s and carried on past East Street. By the time we realised our mistake we were outside Costas. Neither of us felt like backtracking by then but, luckily, the crowds had disappeared so we bought coffee coolers and rested our tired feet for a while.
It had been a long hot day and there had been a few disappointments but, all in all, we’d had fun on our deckchair hunt. I wonder what we’ll be hunting next summer?
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