Plotting routes for long training walks isn’t always easy, especially if you want to keep things interesting. An out and back route is the easiest but it means covering the same ground twice and I much prefer a circular walk. After a lot of messing about with maps I thought I had a fairly interesting eighteen mile route planned but there was one fly in the ointment. Avoiding walking along Wide Lane twice meant taking the trail across Monks Brook Meadows and, with all the building work going on there, I wasn’t sure if we’d be able to get through. Luckily, Commando had a session at the Running School this afternoon so I thought I’d check out the footpath while he was being tortured.
The heatwave, complete with stupidly high humidity, is continuing and I have to admit it’s getting a bit wearing now. Every walk is a battle to defeat legs that feel like lead, a brain that feels like it’s filled with cotton wool and skin that seems to be leaking at an alarming rate. It’s not just me that’s suffering either, flowers and leaves everywhere are desiccated and sorry for themselves. More or less how I’ve been feeling.
As we set off for the Wyvern 10k this morning I felt unusually light of heart. Previous versions of this event have felt a little like hell on Earth, standing in blistering heat, camera in hand, desperately trying to get photos of runners crossing the finish line. They had to be good photos too, no funny faces or wobbly flesh, just flying feet and smiles. There was never any time to go wandering, just an aching back, arms and legs from standing still for so long and maybe a bit of sunburn.
As the Race For Life was being held on Southampton Common this weekend we had to find another parkrun. There was a great deal of discussion about which one, with suggestions of various events we haven’t been to before. In the end though, we settled on a return to Lee-on-Solent, mostly because it was fairly close to home and didn’t involve getting up at silly o’clock. At least not for Commando and I.
Many years ago I lived in Portswood in a little flat a minute’s walk or so from St Denys Station. In 1989, the Portswood bypass was built and cut a swathe through the area I knew so well. The new road was named Thomas Lewis Way after Tommy Lewis, a St Mary’s lad and son of a dock labourer, who became a prominent trade unionist, local councillor and, in 1929, Southampton’s first Labour MP. The streets I knew so well were soon unrecognisable and many houses disappeared. The last five St Denys crew members all lived on Dukes Road, one of those swallowed up. We might not have been able to find their houses but we could still find what little is left of Dukes Road and tell their stories.
The walk from Priory Road to the remains of Dukes Road was once part of my walk to work but, even in the short time since my Bus Mine days, things have changed. One of the highlights of my walks used to be the path behind the Millennium Flats where boats were tied to little jetties and swans and ducks made me smile each day. The path led to some steep steps and Horseshoe Bridge. The gate at the top of the steps is now locked. The people living in the flats don’t like unsavoury characters like me walking near their nice homes, even though there is a steep bank and a high metal fence between the path and their property.
So we walked the long way round. Both of us feeling quite miffed. A train going under Horseshoe Bridge did cheer us up a little and I was even more cheered knowing I didn’t have to go inside the bus depot and spend ten hours being moaned at by angry passengers.
Almost opposite the bus depot, squashed between the big metal units of the industrial estate and the new road, is a tiny stretch of service road. This was once Dukes Road. In fact it’s still called Dukes Road even though there is no longer a single house on it. Still, we went to what was left of it and took some photos of the road sign.
The first of the Dukes Road Titanic crew was John Bertie Ellis, born in Southampton in 1883. His father, also called John, was a naval seaman from Manchester and his mother, Emma, was from Cornwall. John and Emma had nine children and moved to Southampton just before John was born. John began his working life as a cellarman. In 1905 he married Ethel Amelia Brooks. Ethel was also born in Southampton but was of exotic heritage. Her father, Addison Taylor Brooks, was born in Washington DC, of mixed African-American and European heritage. He’d seen service in the US Military before moving to England. John and Ethel had three children, Mabel Ethel, Bertie Alec and Frank.
When John joined Titanic as a vegetable cook the family were living at 30 Dukes Road. He’d previously been working on Oceanic as assistant vegetable cook so the job on Titanic was something of a promotion and his wages of £5 a month were probably very welcome. John escaped the sinking ship in emergency lifeboat 2, the seventh boat loaded from the port side. Fourth Officer Boxhall was in charge of the boat and took Steward James Johnstone, able seaman Frank Osman and John to assist with rowing. The boat had only eighteen or so people in it, mostly women and children. It was lowered, half empty, to A Deck to pick up more passengers but found nobody there. It was the first boat to reach Carpathia.
John was not called upon to give evidence at any of the Titanic inquiries and returned to Southampton. In October 1912, his fourth child, Archie, was born. John went back to sea but, a few months later, jumped ship in America and was never heard of by his English family again. Ethel and the children carried on as best they could. Mabel became a cook and live in domestic to a sales executive in Enfield, Middlesex. She never married. Bertie married Annie Maria Corbishley and settled in Staffordshire to raise a family. He served as a Royal Artillery gunner in WWII and was killed in 1945 in Burma. Frank moved to Biloela, Queensland and died in 1991. Archie served in the Merchant Marine and Royal Navy Reserve as a quartermaster. He married Robbia Stewart and moved to Staffordshire to raise a family. He died in 1964. Poor deserted Ethel, with her family scattered, remained in Hampshire where she died in 1931. She never heard from John again.
Having left his family in England, seemingly without a second thought, John he moved to New South Wales and began a new life. He bigamously married Isabella Towers in 1914. The couple had two sons, John and William and set up home in Sidney. It is unlikely that Isabella ever knew of John’s previous life. In 1916, John enlisted with the Australian 19th Infantary Battalion. He ended his days in Sidney as a war pensioner. He died in Sidney in 1932 and is buried in the Randwick Cemetery.
Charles Augustus Coombs was born in Wimborne Dorset in 1867. He was the second of two sons born to Mary Jane and George Edwin, a master butcher. Charles, better known as Augustus, was brought up in Wimborne and when or why he ended up in Southampton is a mystery but it’s probable he moved to get work at sea. He was certainly living in Southampton when he married Annie Amelia West in 1891. They had three children, Elsie Annie, Gladys Kathleen and Norah Georgina. On the 1901 census Augustus was working as a ship’s baker and living with his family, including his father, George, at 9 Ivy Road, Itchen.
George died in 1902 and at some time after this, the family moved to 78 Dukes Road. By 1911, Augustus was working as a cook for the White Star Line. He left Olympic to join Titanic as assistant cook, earning £4 10s a month.
It was not the good career move he’d hoped for though. Augustus died when Titanic sank and his body was never recovered. What became of Annie isn’t clear but neither Elsie or Norah ever married and both died in 1970. Gladys married Robert Dyer and continued to live in Southampton until her death in 1976.
John Henry Jackopson was born in Liverpool in 1881. His father, Charles Ludwig Jackopson was probably Norwegian, although this is not certain. His mother, Sarah Ann, was born in Whitehaven, Cumberland. The couple married in Liverpool and had five children. Very little is known about John’s early life, mainly because his surname was frequently misspelled so records are hard to identify with any certainty.
When John’s father died, in 1896, his mother went to live with her married daughter, Mary Thalia Gibson in Kirkdale, Lancashire. John probably also lived with her but, by this time, he was already working at sea so doesn’t show on any census. In 1903, John married Catherine McCabe in Liverpool and, in 1907, moved to Southampton. They had four children, the first two, Charles and Thomas, born in Liverpool and Cornelia and Catherine born in Southampton. Tragically, Catherine died within a few weeks of her birth.
The move to Southampton was most likely prompted by John’s work as a ship’s fireman. His last ship before joining Titanic was the merchant steamer Highland Brae, a far smaller ship than Titanic, carrying around sixty or so passengers. When John signed onto Titanic the family were living at 97 Dukes Road. His wages would have been £6 a month.
The firemen on Titanic had a relentless job. The ship had twenty-four double-ended boilers and five single-ended boilers. They consumed around eight hundred and fifty tons of coal every day and all this coal had to be shovelled from the coal bunkers into the boilers. Every two minutes the boilers needed a ton of coal to keep working. Each boiler had a team of ten firemen and four trimmers, working in four hours shifts. Four hours was the maximum time a man could deal with the exertion and the incredible heat. Even while the ship was sinking, the men on duty kept shovelling coal to keep the pumps working and the lights shining. Of the 176 firemen on board just 48 survived.
For the firemen, survival was a matter of luck. Those on duty stood no chance. As soon as the ship began to list they would have been trapped in the boiler room, unable to climb the steep ladder out. Those off duty lived or died depending on whether or not they were ordered to man the lifeboats and use their muscles to row passengers to safety. John was not one of the lucky ones. His body was never identified.
Catherine must have been devastated by the news. She was pregnant at the time and gave birth to a son, named John after his father, just a few weeks after the sinking. Baby John only lived a few months, adding to the tragedy. In late 1913, Catherine married Charles George Hatcher and went on to have two more children. She lived in Southampton until her death in 1951. John’s children also remained in Southampton. Thomas married Florence Spencer in 1946 but had no children. He died in 1974. Charles married Doris Glasspool Plummer and had five children. He died in 1942. Cornelia married Robert Fuller and had four children. She died in 1991.
Robert Frederick William Couper was one of eight children born to engraver Robert and his wife Stirling in Southampton in 1883. The family lived in Kingsfield Road, All Saints. Robert was just ten when his mother died and, by the time he was eighteen, he and his younger brother Leopald were boarding in a house in York Street, St Mary’s working as boilermakers. What became of the rest of the family is unclear.
In 1910 Robert married Emily Alice Westbury and the couple soon moved to 101 Dukes Road with Emily’s mother, Alice. At some time in 1911 they had a child but it died soon after birth and there is no record of a name or even if it was a boy or a girl. As Robert was almost certainly working at sea aboard Olympic by this time, it must have been a difficult time for poor Emily. They would have no more children.
Robert signed onto Titanic as a fireman. When Titanic sank luck was on his side, unlike so many of his colleagues, he survived. Few exact details are known but he was almost certainly in lifeboat 3, the third to be lowered on the starboard side. Officer Murdoch directed the procedure and when all the passengers had boarded and there were still empty seats, he directed nearby crew members into the boat. There were several other firemen aboard the little lifeboat and their muscles were undoubtedly welcomed when it came to rowing. Lifeboat 3 was the fifth or sixth to reach Carpathia.
Despite his experience, Robert continued to work at sea. He died on 31 December 1941 at Southampton Docks. Exactly how isn’t clear but it may well have been during a bombing raid. He was buried in Hollybrook Cemetery in an unmarked grave. Emily survived him and continued to live in Southampton. She died in 1963.
Sidney Humphries was born in Wimborne, Dorset in 1859 to William, a publican, and Elizabeth. He had one sister, born the year before him. By 1861 the small family had moved to French Street, Southampton and William was working as a ship’s steward.
Sidney followed in his father’s footsteps and went to sea at an early age then, in 1874, he joined the Royal Navy. His first ship was the St Vincent. He went on to serve on Excellent, Rover, Euphrates and Duke of Wellington but was invalided out of the service in 1882. For the next ten years it isn’t clear what he did but it’s probable that he joined the merchant service. In 1892, he rejoined the navy, serving as an able seaman on Trincomalee.
Sidney left the navy and married Annie Rosetta Snead in 1895. They already had two children, Catherine born in 1892 and Frederick, born in 1894, and went on to have six more, Sidney, Horace, Leslie, Hetty, Arthur and Joan. They lived at various addresses in Shirley and Sidney is described on the 1901 and 1911 census as being a seaman so it is likely he’d rejoined the merchant service.
In 1886 Sidney witnessed a young woman, Minnie Whitehorn, throwing herself into Shirley Pond. Poor Minnie, a domestic servant, was trying to kill herself but Sidney intervened. Without a thought for himself, he dived in and saved her. His efforts were recognised by a medal from the Royal Humane Society.
Annie had just given birth to their youngest daughter when Sidney signed onto Titanic as Quartermaster. He and his family were living at 113 Dukes Road. His previous ship had been Olympic. Titanic had six quartermasters, each acting as helmsman, in charge of navigating the ship, when on duty.
Stanley wasn’t on duty when the ship hit the iceberg. Whether he’d have done anything differently if he had been is anyone’s guess. He was on A deck though, helping to load the lifeboats. He watched the youngest crew members, the bellboys, being taken to their posts in the main cabin entry by their captain, a steward. The fifty lads, some as young as fourteen, were told to stay in the cabin and not get in the way. It’s hard to imagine what the poor boys must have been thinking but they all sat quietly on their benches and did as they were told. When it was clear the ship really was going to sink and the order was given that every man was free to save himself so long as he kept away from the lifeboats, these lads scattered to all parts of the ship. Sidney saw several of them standing around smoking cigarettes and joking with the passengers, as if they didn’t have a care in the world. In fact they seemed quite gleeful to be breaking the rule against smoking while on duty. Not one of them tried to get in a lifeboat and not one was saved.
Sidney took command of lifeboat 11, the sixth to be lowered from the starboard side. Several stewards were ordered into the boat to help the passengers over the railing. It was one of the most heavily loaded lifeboats, with between sixty and eighty people aboard, mostly women and children. Miss Edith Rosenbaum brought a toy, a musical pig with her and entertained the frightened children with it. Several people later said a baby was thrown in at the last moment without its mother.
There was some difficulty when the boat was launched as the crew were unable to release her from the falls, the ropes and blocks used with davits for lowering the boats. When the boat finally reached the water it was discovered there was no lamp aboard and a sailor lit a piece of rope to use as a signal. The boat was so heavily loaded those manning the oars had difficulty actually rowing. Even so, lifeboat 11 was the sixth or eighth to reach Carpathia.
Sidney returned to England and was not called to give evidence at either the American or British inquiries into the sinking. He carried on working at sea, even throughout World War I. Later, as his health began to fail with age and he developed a heart condition, he worked as a stevedore in Southampton Docks. He died in 1919, aged 60, and was buried in Hollybrook Cemetery in an unmarked grave. Annie died in 1936.
We might not have found a single house still standing on the second half our our St Denys search but we had at least accounted for all the St Denys crew members. Now we had a descision to make. We were more or less in Bevois Valley and I’d brought the list of Bevois Valley crew and their addresses with me just in case. Time was getting on though. It was almost midday and we were both getting a bit hungry and thirsty. Should we cut our losses and head for home or carry on searching?
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Annoyingly, my plan to walk to town and meet a friend for coffee was scuppered by torrential rain. The walk went by the wayside and I caught a bus. Despite the rain though, I couldn’t resist a quick dash through the enchanted park where the magnolias were in bloom. The heavy rain had left puddles of petals on the ground, like a mirror image of the blooming branches.
There were a couple of other things I wanted to see before I met my friend. The first was the progress on the new Bargate Quarter. On a different day I might have walked the perimeter, peering through fences and over walls. Today was seriously wet, windy and cold though, so I contented myself with a peek through the Perspex viewing window. Frankly, I couldn’t see much progress. In fact I couldn’t see much of anything. If the archaeologists were still working, they had taken a break, along with the builders. Not that I blame them.
The other thing I wanted to see was a little easier to find. The Bargate is the most famous building in Southampton and a symbol of the city. Standing on the north side of the medieval gate you are actually outside the old town of Southampton. Once there would have been a moat, otherwise known as the town ditch, and a stone bridge to cross to get to the barred gate. The entrance was guarded by sentries but they weren’t the only thing guarding the gate. On the north side of the bridge there were two lions made of wood.
These lions represented an important part of the legend of Sir Bevois, who is said to have founded the town of Southampton. Bevois was the son of Guy, the count of Hampton, and his unwilling wife, Murdina, a Scottish princess. Murdina, along with her lover, Doon, murdered Guy and sold poor Bevois to slave merchants. He ended up in Armenia. It was here that he fell in love with the beautiful princess Josian. One of the many heroic deeds he performed was to rescue Josian from two lions who had killed his friend Sir Boniface and trapped her in a cave. Bevois killed the lions and later returned to England to found the town.
Wood does not weather very well and, in around 1743, the two Tudor lions were replaced with lead sculptures, probably made by John Cheere of London. Shortly afterwards the ditch come moat was filled in and the new lions were moved closer to the gate. The Bargate lions are the oldest statues in the city but, sadly, nothing lasts forever.
Towards the end of September last year a council worker discovered the tail of one of the lions had fallen off and was laying on the ground. This was not, as some people have suggested, an act of vandalism. The tail was taken off to be examined and corrosion of the internal iron structure was found to be the problem. Two hundred and seventy odd years of standing guard in all weathers had taken their toll. In fact, the same lion has a rather alarming looking crack across his back.
Of course, simply sticking the tail back on isn’t going to solve the problem. The council are currently consulting experts on the best way to preserve and repair the poor old lion. Hopefully they’ll find a way and the lion and his tail will soon be reunited.
By now the rain was beginning to seep through the hood of my thin coat and I was feeling quite cold. My friend was due to arrive in a few minutes so I took shelter under the Bargate Arch, walking through one of the little side gates next to the lions. Standing beneath the Bargate arch I’m always aware of the history around me, the number of feet that have walked this way over the centuries.
The city is changing rapidly right now. The new Watermark development has been a great success and I hold out a great deal of hope for the Bargate Quarter when it is finished. The one thing that never really changes is the gate itself, even if the poor lions have seen better days. Long may this continue.
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Most Saturday mornings I can be found at Southampton parkrun. Usually I’m clutching a takeaway coffee and wandering around the Old Cemetery while everyone runs. Right now though Commando is at the long run stage of his training for the Southampton Marathon and today he decided he’d incorporate parkrun into his twenty mile run. This meant setting off at silly o’clock, parking near the Common, running seventeen miles then running parkrun.
Obviously I didn’t much fancy getting up before dawn then hanging about for several hours on the Common. Much as I love a wander, even I would find it hard to stay interested in old graves for quite that long. The temptation was to have a lie in and stay at home but, in the end, I descided to have a leisurely walk to parkrun and meet Commando after the run. Sadly, it didn’t turn out to be quite as leisurely as I’d have liked.
It started well. By my reckoning, if I left home at eight thirty, a good half hour after we normally set off, I could dawdle my way to the Common, stopping on the way to grab a coffee from the London Road Starbucks and still arrive before everyone headed off to the Bellemoor for the post run cool down. The last runners don’t usually finish until around ten o’clock and Commando usually mans the finish funnel after his run. There didn’t seem to be any hurry.
It was a beautiful, blue sky morning and the main road was surprisingly quiet. Before I crossed I stood for a moment admiring the outline of the remaining big tree between Juniper and Maple Road. On the other side of the road I strolled on, thinking about the way tree branches look like the bronchi and bronchioles of human lungs. As trees are the lungs of the world, this is hardly a coincidence.
On I dawdled, enjoying the weak spring sunshine. Normally I’d walk across Cobden Bridge and up through Highfield but today I’d decided on a different route, one that would take me past Starbucks. When I reached Northam Bridge I stopped and admired all the little boats in various states of decay on the gently rippled water. Where they come from is a mystery but I love the ever changing view.
As I reached the centre of the bridge a group of rowers from the rowing club passed beneath me and I stopped to watch them for a while, confident there was no rush. Saturday morning seems to be the time for exercise, whether it be rowing, running or just walking like me.
There was another stop to look over the bridge at the progress on the latest phase of development on the old television studios. A tall block of flats is currently going up. For some time I stood trying to imagine how it would look and wondering what I thought about it. We all live wrapped in our own little bubble of history, centred around the decades when we grew up. Change can sometimes be difficult to watch but our little bubble was once someone else’s change and this new change will be someone else’s bubble. Nothing stays the same forever.
On I went, past the new flats and houses, remembering walks to work when this was all overgrown wire fencing and rubble. There were berries and poppies to look at back then and a random gooseberry bush. Then someone shouted out ‘good morning ‘ and I turned just in time to see Luis zooming past on his bike. He must have been heading to parkrun too. He had around ten minutes to get there before the start but I was pretty sure he’d make it, more or less. Southampton parkrun rarely starts bang on nine o’clock anyway.
On foot it would take much longer but I had no need to be there for the start. At the level crossing I climbed the steps to the bridge, even though the gates were up. The views from the top are nice and I was in no hurry. A little clump of dandelions had taken root somehow near the top step. The bright flowers made me stop and smile.
There were no trains coming but I couldn’t resist a photograph looking along the tracks. The old gasometers and the struts of St Mary’s Stadium were just visible in the distance. At the top of the steps on the other side there was a view across Mount Pleasant towards Beovis Valley. The Old Farmhouse pub and the school tower stood out, landmarks in a sea of little terraced houses.
As I passed the school I looked at my watch. It was five to nine. I wouldn’t make the parkrun start but I’d never intended to. I had plenty of time to get a coffee and dawdle my way to the Common before the finish.
As I was walking up Rockstone Lane though, I suddenly remembered I had Commando’s barcode in the tiny pocket at the front of my bag. A quick check confirmed this. Usually I grab his token when he finishes and go off to get it and his barcode scanned while he helps with the finish funnel. His barcode stays in my bag so it never gets forgotten. Last night I meant to give it to him but I forgot and it was still in my bag. Without it he wouldn’t get a finish time.
All thoughts of getting a coffee and wandering on Asylum Green to look at the two monuments there dissolved. There was no more strolling. Now I puffed up the lane to the Avenue at top speed. Even the curious little house in the Rockstone Community Garden barely made me pause. Finding out about it would have to wait for another day.
The rest of the walk was a frantic march, racing against time. By the time I reached Cemetery Road I was hot and rather red in the face. It was quarter past nine. The first finisher would probably be passing Bellemoor corner about now. By the time I made the bag tree people were already on the finish straight. Finding a gap between runners, I dashed across the gravel and headed for the funnel.
Somehow I made it just in time to see Commando cross the line. Mission complete. Barcode and token collected and scanned. Now for a relaxing coffee in the Bellemoor. What a way to start the weekend.
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When I’d seen all I could of the Bargate Quarter progress I crossed the road and headed towards some more building work. This has been going on for a lot longer, although things are moving on apace right now. There was a time when I thought I’d be looking down on this project daily and watching things unfold, but a lot has changed since then.
In 2013 I was working on the top floor of an office block overlooking the old East Street Shopping Centre. The views, especially the sunsets, were spectacular. The shopping centre, built in the 1970’s, was the first in the city but it was never completely successful because it was too far removed from the centre of town. In 2012 the last retail unit closed but the building remained open as a car park and for the public to walk through from St Mary’s.
In the summer of 2013, the doors were closed for good and, shortly afterwards, we watched from our office window as the demolition work began. Often I’d take a photo from the window of our little kitchen while I was making coffee. It felt like watching history in progress. Soon we learned that a supermarket was going to be built on the site and a new walkway joining St Mary’s to East Street. We watched the old shopping centre disappear with interest and anticipated watching the new building go up and then popping into the supermarket at lunchtime to buy our groceries.
None of these things were meant to be though. Not long after the work began we learned our office was closing. We were all being made redundant. Watching the building slowly disappear became a metaphor for our jobs. Then the supermarket owners pulled out and, for a long time, work stopped.
No longer working in the city centre meant I lost touch with what was happening at the bottom end of East Street, although I occasionally walked past and looked through the site gates. Driving past recently I noticed some new apartments have been built and Commando told me about a pedestrian walkway that has now opened. Today I thought I’d take a closer look.
Since I last came this way the row of shops opposite Debenhams has also been demolished. Often in my lunch hour I’d walk past them and occasionally go into the little bric-à-brac store, Scoops, to look around. This row of shops was where an IRA bomb exploded in the late 1970’s. In those days there were bomb scares all the time but this was the only actual bomb I remember exploding. Luckily, no one was hurt although the carpet shop where the bomb was planted and the surrounding area, including Debenhams, was damaged by the blast.
The bomber was caught some years later and jailed for seventeen years. Now the shops have gone. They weren’t especially attractive or busy. In fact, the whole area always felt a little down at heel. Soon there will be new commercial units, car parking and apartments. From the plans they look much nicer that anything there before and the whole thing will complement the Bargate Quarter.
A little further on a few shops still remain. These are older buildings with character. Hopefully they won’t be torn down but time will tell.
What I really wanted to see was the new walkway and buildings. The first thing I came to was the tall office block where I was offered a job before I accepted the one at Silver Helm. For a while I thought it was going to be pulled down like the shopping centre and pub beneath it but it’s now had a revamp and is looking very swish.
Just past the office block are the first of the new flats. As they are student accommodation I imagine the moaners hate them and are complaining bitterly but I quite like them. They’re made of light coloured brick and have the look of old fashioned warehouses to me.
The walkway is wide and paved in light coloured stone. It feels a safe and pleasant place. Between the buildings there are little areas of greenery. This is something else I like and will like even better if some seating appears at some point. My only frustration was that I couldn’t see through the hoardings and find out what was going on on the rest of the site.
Out on the street opposite the end of St Mary’s Street I discovered that the underpass that was closed when the demolition began has been reopened. Before I went through it I walked around to the other sid of the remaining building site onto Lime Street to try to satisfy my curiosity. What I discovered was a lot of nothing. Just some containers, probably being used as builders offices and a few cars parked up.
When the underpass was blocked off it was a bit of a blow. It was a nice easy place to cross the road without having to wait for traffic lights to change, important when you’re in a rush to get to work. The murals all along the sides of the sloping entrance ramp always made me smile too. They were representations of the local people in all their diversity. When it was all boarded up I often wondered if they were still there. Today I discovered they still were, albeit faded and, in some places peeling. Maybe the artist will come back and repaint them now?
Emerging on the far side of the underpass felt like a walk back in time for me. I could almost imagine I was going to pop into the cafe in Central Hall and grab a coffee before going around the corner and back to my office to arrange ship visits, entertainers and turnaround days. Sadly, those days are gone now though so I kept walking, past St Mary’s Church retracing the steps of so many walks home.
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Today I had some business in town and, when I’d finished, I thought I’d have a look at the progress on the Bargate Quarter. By all accounts exciting things were happening there, although work wasn’t quite going to plan. In fact, the scheduled opening date of autumn 2019, now looks overly ambitious. In the circumstances, this was understandable but the online grumbling about the development was disappointing, depressing and downright frustrating.
The sky was blue, the sun was out, it was, I later discover, the hottest February day on record. Even though I’d left home for the three mile walk to town rather overdressed and was, by now, way too hot, the parks made me smile as I unbuttoned my coat, unwound my scarf and walked through. Winter is slowly losing it battle against spring. While most branches are still bare there are flowers bursting on the camellias and daffodil clumps brightening the grass.
The ribbon of beautifully tended parks running through the city centre from Chapel to London Road was once the Lammas lands surrounding the old walled town. This common land was used to grow crops by Southampton’s Medieval residents from spring until August each year. After the harvest the cattle and other animals grazed there.
Between 1854 and 1866, the common land was slowly turned into the beautiful, award winning, parks we have today. As I strolled through I couldn’t help wondering if the Victorian residents moaned as much about the changes as today’s keyboard warriors do? Did they gripe about the public money being spent on laying paths, planting shrubs or erecting statues of prominent citizens like Palmerston? Did they despise every new building and hark back to the good old days of stocks, public hangings and the town ditch overflowing with sewage? Maybe they did. Humans, at least some of them, seem particularly resistant to change.
Like the changing of the seasons, change in the city is inevitable. The needs of the population are not static and some buildings and amenities outlive their usefulness or popularity. Some change comes from changed attitudes, stocks, gallows, zoos and bird aviaries are no longer seen as acceptable and sewage thrown into town ditches is now known to be unhealthy. The Victorians cleared away overcrowded and crumbling slum tenaments after several gruesome deaths. Those who lived in them were probably not too happy and some, undoubtedly, ended up on the streets or in the workhouse. Poverty and homelessness were not wiped out. They still exist today but we now have shelters, benefits and food banks instead of workhouses. Whether they work any better remains to be seen.
In the early 1900’s the growth of motorised transport saw parts of the medieval town walls torn down to make way for roads. We may look back and lament some of the casualties but the people at the time saw it as progress. Today we cherish our medieval history and call it a tourist attraction. Even so, some of the destruction, like the forty steps, cut into the walls in 1853, are as useful today as they were back then.
Some change is driven by simple economics, when the dance halls, ice rinks, pubs, arcades and cinemas fall out of favour and stop earning their owners money, they disappear. Today’s young people get their entertainment in different ways and spend their money in different places.
Other change comes from war and disaster. There is no doubt that both have shaped the face of our city. The blitz left Southampton burning bright enough to be seen from Cherbourg and the town centre in ruins. A few pre war buildings, like Alfred Waterhouse’s turn of the century Prudential Assurance Building in Above Bar, survived, along with the walls that weren’t torn down. Most did not.
Today our city centre is filled with mostly post war or modern buildings. Some are architecturally quite attractive, others, put up in haste to replace the wartime destruction, not so much. Even they are not immune to change. Businesses rise and fall. Shops open and, either thrive, or close as the fashions and needs of the people dictate. Disasters happen, like the fire in Waterstones bookshop a while back. The scorched shop is now up for rent. Books have fallen out of favour,
As I walked through the quiet, weekday morning, precinct I thought about all the changes I’d seen there in my lifetime. Once this was a busy road, filled with traffic. Crossing wasn’t always easy and sitting outside on the pavement to watch the world go by or have a coffee was unheard of. Pedestrianisation made this part of Above Bar a quieter and more relaxing place. Now there are trees where once there were buses and cars, and places to sit in the sun.
Of course the changes never stop. The first walled beds and seating areas have gone and the whole place seems lighter and more open now. Even so, some people would rather it had stayed as it was. The shops have changed too reflecting the spending habits of the twenty first century. Some, like Woolworths, I miss myself but, if people don’t buy then shops will close. At the bottom of the precinct more change is happening. It seems that the concrete barriers, erected after terrorist attacks in other cities, are being replaced with something more permanent and, hopefully, more attractive. The world changes and the city changes with it.
The Bargate, newly cleaned and repaired, stands as it has since the twelfth century, watching over it all while everything around it slowly evolves. The most recent change is the demolition of the relatively modern Bargate Shopping Centre, built in 1989. In its day, the Internet cafe, games arcade and specialist teen oriented shops were popular but times and fashions changed and it became a ghost town.
The post war shops have been demolished too and, while some complain about their loss, they were never especially beautiful and hid a whole section of the remaining medieval wall. Most people don’t even know Polymond Tower, York Gate and the walls adjoining them even exist and those, like me, who do and ventured down the narrow back alley to see them did not have a pleasant visit.
Along with the parked cars and overflowing rubbish bins, the narrow back alley was often home to drunks and worse. It never felt the safest place to walk. Then there was Bargate Shopping Centre, built so close to the wall it was touching it in places. Often I would peer through the locked gates and arrow slits and wish it was possible to walk inside. Of course the piles of rubbish, old bikes and other unpleasant things would need to be cleared out first.
Now the Bargate Shopping Centre and the shops beside it have gone, apart from the marble art nouveau facade that was once the frontage of Burtons. This is being saved and incorporated into the new buildings. Those who mourn are really just looking back with nostalgia at their youth and not the buildings they haven’t visited since those heady days. They forget that each generation has it’s own pursuits and fashions. Time marches on and the world changes.
A peeep through the plastic glass opening in the hoardings revealed a landscape of gravel, dirt and debris, along with a new view all the way to Debenhams. The old walls are hidden for the moment behind protective boards and scaffolding but, in time, they will be revealed in all their glory. No doubt the naysayers, like those who protested at a lumpy car park being built over to create the Watermark Development, will soon be enjoying a stroll, a browse and maybe a meal there. Personally, I can’t wait and I’m sure the Bargate, if it had human feelings, would be pleased to be reunited with some of its adjoining walls.
My wait will now be a little longer but I’m not grumbling. Any building work in the centre of the city is accompanied by archeological investigation. In this case, the demolition of the shops on Queensway, has revealed some interesting artefacts and work has been halted while the archaeologists investigate further. This is just as it should be. The history will be uncovered and preserved and then the work will begin again.
When I left the Bargate behind I walked down East Street and along the back of the old Bargate Shopping Centre to see what I could see. Through the wire fence I spotted the archaeologists working away amid the remnants of the old shops. What they’d uncovered I couldn’t tell but I’m sure it’s interesting.
Over the red hoardings I could just see the top of the Bargate. It’s a view of the iconic building I’ve never seen before and it suddenly seemed much closer than it had before. Thinking I might get a better view from Hanover Buildings, I carried on to the bottom of East Street and walked along Queensway. Here I discovered another viewing window. Through it the footprints of the old shops were easy to see but, if there was anything of archeological interest there, I couldn’t tell.
Around the corner, behind Hanover Buildings, I got a different view of the same thing. There was a time when I often strolled along York Walk, past all the rubbish and parked cars to look at Polymond Tower and the walls. Right now all that’s visible is one edge of the tower and the flag flying on top of the Bargate. Soon though, it will be a whole new walk.
Of course, the new Bargate Quarter development will also have shops, restaurants and apartments. The developers are business people and wouldn’t be investing in such an ambitious project unless there was money to be made from it. There were shops and restaurants there before though, so it’s hardly a big difference.
The biggest grumble seems to be that some of the accommodation will be for students. For some reason there are people who strongly object to the young people studying at our universities to become the scientists, doctors and teachers of the future. They certainly don’t want to see them living in the city and blame every party, piece of litter and social problem on them. Like most young people, they’re not all angels but, surely, it’s far better they live in purpose built halls of residence than share large houses elsewhere, houses that could be used by families. They certainly contribute to the local economy, even if the money they spend comes from their parents.
In my eyes, the new development, like the Watermark, is, on balance, a good thing. As for the moaners, I guess they just like to have something to gripe about. I’m very glad I don’t live in their world.
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When everyone around you is going down with colds and flu it feels like it’s only a matter of time before your turn comes. When I got up this morning there was a definite feeling of lurgie going on but I told myself I was probably imagining it. Besides, I had a package to deliver to a friend who lives close to the Millennium Flats so, ignoring a slight soreness of throat and muzzy head, my feet retraced footsteps from many previous walks. The route may have been all too familiar but the scenery has changed somewhat since I last came this way.
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