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National Gazetteer (1868) - Southampton

"SOUTHAMPTON, comprises the parishes of St. Mary, St. Laurence, All Saints, Holy Rood, St. John, St. Michael, and St. Mary Extra; it is a seaport, market town, municipal and parliamentary borough, and a county of itself, locally in the hundred of Mainsbridge, county Hants, 14 miles S.S.W. of Winchester, 17 N.E. of Lymington, and 11 N.W. of Portsmouth. It is situated on a peninsula at the head of Southampton Water, between the river Test, or Anton, on the W., and the Alre, or Itchen, on the E. It is a constantly and rapidly-increasing place, the population having risen from 7,913 in 1801 to 35,305 in 1851, and 46,960 in 1861, occupying 7,712 houses. About a mile to the S.W. of the present town stood the Roman Clausentum, the site of which is now occupied by Bittern Farm, and is still indicated by a fosse and vallum on the land side.

The present town, supposed to have been refounded by the Saxons, is called in Domesday Book Hantune, from the river Anton, or Test, which flows by it, and in the Saxon chronicle Hamtune, or Suth-Hamtun. It was often attacked by the Danes, who pillaged it in 980, and again in 992, and there established their winter quarters in 994. Athelstane made it a mint town. On the accession of Canute to the English throne, in 1016, it became a favourite residence of that king, and it is said that he there rebuked the flattery of his courtiers by vainly commanding the waves to retire. In the reign of Henry II. it had four churches and a castle, and in 1215 was made a staple for wines. In 1339 it was plundered and partly burnt by the combined French, Spanish, and Genoese fleets, but was immediately rebuilt and fortified. In 1346 Edward III. sailed with his army from this port for the conquest of France, as did also Henry V. in 1415. In 1377 the French made a descent on the town, which caused Richard II. to surround it with a wall and strengthen the fortifications. It took an active part in the wars between York and Lancaster, and the latter party was defeated here with great loss. In 1554 Philip II., when coming to espoused Queen Mary, landed here and was sumptuously entertained by the corporation. In 1666 the plague which devastated London here also committed dreadful ravages.

The subsequent history of the place presents few points of interest. At the commencement of the present century it was comparatively unimportant, but the impetus given to our trade with India and America by the application of steam as a motive power in vessels, the tide of emigration which has set in to Australia and our other colonies, and the convenience of this port as a point of arrival and departure, all tended to its rapid development, and have caused an increase in the population since 1801 of nearly 600 per cent. The town occupies a high gravelly bank rising gradually from Southampton Water, and sloping in every direction. It is washed on the W. side by the Anton, and on the E. by the Itchen, the streams mingling in the estuary, which stretches, for 7 miles in a south-easterly direction, and is 2 miles broad at its mouth.

The approach by the London-road lies through Southampton Common, 365 acres in extent, left to the town many centuries ago for public purposes. It cannot be otherwise disposed of without the common consent of the inhabitants and the approval of parliament, for which end several unsuccessful attempts have been made. It is richly wooded and well laid out with promenades and drives, and nearer to the town are avenues of elm-trees. The town consists of the old and new portions. The former occupies the S.W. corner, and was originally surrounded by walls 1¼ mile in circumference, flanked by round towers, considerable portions of which remain, particularly on the W. side. It was entered by several gates, three of which are yet standing-West Gate, South Gate, and Bar Gate. The last is a structure standing across the principal street in the present town; it is embattled and machicolated, and is sufficiently large to serve as the townhall. On the N. front are two gigantic figures, representing Sir Bevois of Southampton and the giant Ascupart. From the great increase in the extent of the town, this gate now stands nearly in its centre. The street which it crosses is 2 miles long, and runs nearly N. and S., being divided into Above Bar and Below Bar, or High-street. The latter part, which is three-quarters of a mile in length, terminates near a pier erected in 1832, and opened by the Princess, now Queen Victoria, in honour of whom it is called Victoria Pier. The principal streets run at right angles to this central one, those of older erection being irregularly planned; while the modern buildings Above Bar are generally imposing. This part of the town has more than doubled itself within the last thirty years, and beyond it are extensive suburbs containing villas surrounded by gardens, and mansions skirted with tuftings of wood. Along the shore, for half a mile at the end of High-street, is a raised walk lined with trees, and commanding a view of the harbour. The county of the town comprises all the peninsula formed by the rivers Itchen and Anton, and extends 3 miles along the bank of the former, with a mean breadth of half a mile.

It contains 6 parishes, but is united under a local Act for purposes connected with the relief of the poor. There are 5 parish churches within the town, of which one is in the gift of the Bishop of Winchester, one in that of Queen's College, Oxford, and three in that of the lord chancellor. Holyrood Church, standing in the principal street, is an ancient building with a tower and spire, containing six bells, and a colonnade or portico occupying the entire front. The church of St. Lawrence is an ancient structure, with a tower only rising to the ridge of the nave. St. Michael's, the oldest church in the town, occupies the E. side of a square which was formerly used as a fish-market, and serves as a landmark from the harbour. It is an ancient structure partly Norman, with a tower surmounted by a lofty octagonal spire containing six bells, and has a W. window. All Saints is a Grecian building with a turret and dome. St. Paul's, a proprietary chapel in the same parish, displays considerable architectural beauty. St. Mary's is a plain ancient structure, much modernised. There are also three chapels-of-ease.

The Independents and Baptists have each two chapels, and there are places of worship for English Presbyterians, Wesleyan and Primitive Methodists, Unitarians, Roman Catholics, Friends, and Jews. There are parochial, National, British, and infant schools, a school of industry for girls, founded in 1828 through the influence of Queen Adelaide, a diocesan grammar school, and a grammar school with a small endowment, founded in 1553 by Edward VI. A mechanics' institute has been established here, with library and museum, also a literary and scientific institution. There are several almshouses, a dispensary established in 1823, infirmary, and many other charities, among which is one left under the will of Alderman Taunton in 1760, which provides for the instruction of 10 boys, supplies a stipend of £10 a-year to 16 aged persons, and gives rewards to deserving female servants. There are also an extramural cemetery of 10 acres, recently formed out of a portion of the common on the south-east, several benefit societies, a female penitentiary, and Royal Humane Society. The gaol and house of correction, erected in 1855 at a cost of £24,000, is in the Tudor style, built of red brick with stone dressings. The custom-house, in the vicinity of the docks, is a commodious building of recent erection, as is also the corn exchange, where the Chamber of Commerce meets.

The Ordnance Survey Office for England is now fixed at Southam ton, having been removed thither from the Tower of London, and occupies the old barracks. The Admiralty and Transport Office and the Government Emigration Office are also established in the town. The Royal Southern Yacht Club, established in 1844, have here a club-house in the Italian style of architecture, facing the Royal Pier and commanding a view of the harbour. Other buildings are the baths, erected at a cost of £7,000, two sets of assembly-rooms, and a theatre. The annual regatta is generally held in August, and there is a racecourse, but the races have been discontinued. There are also archery grounds and a botanic garden.

Southampton claims to be a borough by prescription, but its first known charter was granted by Henry II. Under the Municipal Reform Act it is divided into five wards, the corporation consisting of 10 aldermen and 30 councillors, from among whom the mayor is chosen; and under the Public Health Act the corporation is also a local board of health. The town is well paved, lighted with gas, and kept clean. Pure spring water is obtained from a reservoir in Southampton Common, about 1½ mile from the town, supplied by an artesian well, 910 feet deep-the shaft being 560 feet, and the artesian bore 350 feet. The borough has returned two members to parliament since the reign of Edward I. The trade of the town is considerable, chiefly connected with the supply of the shipping; but few manufactures are carried on, the principal being sugar refining, castings, coachbuilding and shipbuilding. There are also some large breweries.

The harbour affords good anchorage, its depth varying from 2 to 6 fathoms. Vessels of 300 tons can come up to the quay, and a pier has been made for the passenger and mail service from the Continent, to which large steamers have access. It has also been selected as the terminus of the Peninsular and Oriental and the West Indian mail packets, and of the Union Screw Company, whose united fleets number upwards of 80 large steamers; and it has been selected by Government as one of the emigration ports. Once clear of the harbour and in the English Channel, the navigation is no longer difficult, and vessels are thus saved from the dangers and delays which attend those sailing from London in rounding the Forelands and Beechy Head. Dock accommodation is very extensive. A large tidal dock, completed in 1842 at a cost of £140,000, with, 18 feet of water at the lowest tides, is accessible at all times to steamers of 2,000 tons, and at high-water to almost any vessel. It is paved with granite, its sides are lined with warehouses, covering an area of 16 acres, and it has 3,100 feet of quay room. Aninner Dock, for colliers, was opened in 1851. There are also three graving docks.

The customs duties received in 1863 amounted to £107,698. The number of British vessels which entered inwards was 2,347, with an aggregate tonnage of 458,979, and of foreign 440, tonnage 108,752. In the same year there cleared outwards 1,561 British vessels, tonnage 280,416, and 409 foreign, tonnage 106,067. The principal articles of import were stone from the western, and coal from the north-eastern maritime counties, corn and provisions from Ireland, timber from the Baltic and America, wine and brandy from France, Spain, and Portugal. About 3 miles to the S.E. of the town, on the shores of Southampton Water, are the ruins of Netley Abbey, founded by Henry III. in 1229; and near it the large hospital erected under the auspices of the late Prince Consort. A canal follows the course of the Anion to Andover, and the Itchen is navigable to Winchester. The South-Western railway communicates with London on the one side, and Dorsetshire and the western counties on the other. Market days are Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, and there is a corn market on Friday. Fairs are held on 6th and 7th May, and on Trinity Monday and Tuesday for cattle, &c."

[Description(s) from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868) - Transcribed by Colin Hinson ©2003]