Friday, 26 September 2008

Revisiting my childhood - Southampton Museums

(Click on photos to enlarge)

God's House Tower (above)

When I was down in Hampshire recently, Tricia and I spent the day in Southampton, as it was a free Museum Open Day. We packed quite a few in. Even the Archaeology Museum, at God's House Tower, which I used to go past on the bus and always wished it would be open (it never was) on this occasion, was functioning, open and free. After the delights of two stores selling fabric and wool in East Street (which hasn't changed so much since I lived on the edge of So'ton in 1980), we went to God's House Tower first. I'm afraid I took some photos, lots of photos, not realizing that cameras were not allowed. Perhaps I can sneak just one or two in on here and hope that the camera police won't be knocking on my door . . .

Adjacent to the Museum was this French religious building, inside a walled garden, and with this beautiful doorway set in one wall. There was Medieval carving over the door frame by the look of things. I don't remember this building AT ALL from when I lived in Southampton - I'd just never noticed it.

It was an interesting Museum, and they had some splendid finds. Southampton has a long long history, including the Romans at Clausentum (bottom of Bitterne by the river Itchen) and the later Bitterne Manor, which was a distribution point for wine and salt (the latter being panned from the river). In Saxon times, the focus changed to the Six Dials/St Mary's/Chapel area of the city, on the other side of the river, where the settlement of Hamwih grew up. I can remember a very interesting talk about this Dig inside a polytunnel over a Saxon street in Six Dials, on a broiling summer's day which made suffocation seem a real possibility at one point! This was a centre for industry and merchants lived and traded here. Many pits were found, one containing evidence of large-scale bronze-working including ingots and crucibles. Elsewhere a furnace and hearth associated with iron-working was found. Loom weights, thread pickers and spindle whorls were also unearthed - hardly surprising in an age where everything was hand-made - and a small much-decayed and stained fold of Saxon material (a very rare find indeed) . Later examination showed that it was made from a fine wool worsted. Bone working was also carried out in one premises on the site, with the vertebrae of Little Piked Whale being used as a chopping block! Bone weaving tools, spindle whorls, handles, gaming pieces, combs, comb-cases and pins were all artifacts found on site.

Medieval pottery above, and below, a loom which my fingers were fair itching to try out . . .

Viking raids on Hamwih meant that by the early Medieval period, the focus of Southampton had shifted again, and walled defences built. There are good lengths of the town walls still standing, but only the Bargate remains of the entrances to and from the walled town. Following the Norman conquest, Southampton became a major port and the point of entry and exit between Winchester, then the capital of England, and Normandy. The castle was built in the 12th century and the port saw the importation of French wines in exchange for English cloth and wool.

God's House Tower was built in 1417 and was the first purpose-built artillery fortification in England. We went up onto the roof and the views were panoramic, right across the Solent towards the New Forest in one direction, and across the length and breadth of Southampton on the other 3 sides.

Looking up-river with the tower of the Royal Pier to the left. We used to go dancing at "the Pier" on a Monday night. Sadly the end of the Pier is no more, and the building remaining beneath the tower is now a Balti restaurant. How times change.

Looking back across the park towards the Railway terminus and hotel, when cruise liners left the port in the days of P&O and the White Star Line, who used to have their offices on the right of this picture.

Looking across the Solent towards the New Forest. I think that was the Isle of Wight ferry just leaving.

More ruins (King John's House??) behind God's House Tower. It was very peaceful here and there's a little garden beyond it where people were going for lunch. This is as I remember it from my childhood.


Rowan said...

Just catching up on your blog, this is a really interesting post about Southampton, it looks as though it would be an interesting place to visit on one of my trips to Sussex and Hampshire. Enjoyed the Thomas Hardy poem too.

Cookie Sunshine said...

What a beautiful place. I can only imagine how much prettier is must be in person. Thank you so much for posting these photos and sharing your visit.

GeraniumCat said...

I love the ruins in the last picture, very atmospheric. I don't know Southampton at all, though I've been promising to visit a friend who lives there for years. Maybe I should make the effort!

Bovey Belle said...

The old part of Southampton is worth visiting, but it has a very modern (ugh!!!) shopping centre and has altered beyond recognition for me. I shall try and put in a couple of photos of the old and the new in the morning before I'm off oop North with middle daughter, going back to Uni. I have some smashing photos of the Tudor House Museum, so I will put them on if I wake up early enough (or can stay on-line tonight).