A Short Artistic Walk in Southampton

In the vicinity of Southampton City Art Gallery are some interesting sculptures and architecture for the Victorian enthusiast, and here is described a gentle stroll through one of the parks, along the High Street, and around via the old city walls and several of the smaller museums.

Directly across the road (Commercial Rd) from the entrance to the art gallery is an open space where a white stone statue of Isaac Watts stands on a granite pedestal. He is shown with book, a raised hand, and stepping forward, giving a learned or almost religious appearance. On the pedestal are much decayed inset panels, showing Watts as teacher and philosopher with hourglass, telescope and globe. The sculptor was a local man, R. C. Lucas (whose only other well-known statue is the Dr Johnson at Litchfield) and the statue was erected in 1861.

In the same green space is the bulky Portland Stone masonry Cenotaph, by Edward Lutyens. This Cenotaph precedes his one in Whitehall, London. It features big acorns, and below the crowning coffin, a pair of grim stone lions.

Across Above Bar Road, the park continues (it is called East Park), with at the corner the excellent Titanic Memorial, a granite construction with bronze panels to left and right of a ship's prow, showing two engineer crew members on deck. Central and above, a large bronze angel with wings, wreaths and exceptional drapery and figure. The memorial was designed by Whitehead and Son.

Nearby is the much decayed fossiliferous limestone statue of Richard Andrews, eminent coachbuilder and Mayor of Southampton. His face is much gone, but this remains a good example of a civic statue, simple in conception, reasonably dignified with robe of office and Mayor's insignia on plump waistcoated stomach. Alas, the original great triangular Gothic pedestal is no more. Benjamin Brain was the sculptor.

Carrying on through the park, exiting towards the right leads to High Street, with Palmerston Park on the left. A decayed statue of Palmerston, Prime Minister originally from Southampton, by Thomas Sharpe and dated 1869 stands just inside the park.

Returning to the High Street, much unambitious 1960s and later building was put up after WW2 bombing, but there are various financial institution buildings from the 19th Century to see. First is the Prudential Assurance Building by Waterhouse, dating from 1899, big, red and terracotta fronted, with good bay windows and ornamental brickwork.

Further down, in the centre of the street, is one of Southampton's medieval constructions, the Bargate, associated with the city's defensive walls, much of which survive. Two lions rampant in lead, with inscription on base dated 1892 noting replacement of 1743 pedestals. The far side of the gate has carved heads in poor condition adorning the sides of the windows, and centrally placed, a statue of George III in Roman costume of Hadrian (modelled after the British Museum statue and emplaced after 1809). To the left (looking back at the statue) a city wall walk begins, but we shall see it later. Looking over the parapet is a nicely posed modern bronze statue John le Fleming (1991) by Anthony Griffiths.

Continuing down the High Street, and noting the buildings; the Pru has already been described; next is the Woolwich, 1860ish, an Italianate design taking advantage of the narrow frontage to give a castle tower effect, with balcony on top. Further, Barclays has a white stone frontage with ornamented pillars, carved faces, foliage and horns of plenty, and pretty ironwork at floor level. Then the Midland Bank, Baroque 1900, with cherubs over the corner door and faces as keystones to the tall windows on front and side. On the other side further down in Lloyds Bank, sandstone neo-Elizabethan, with flat frontage and carved leaves in the woodwork above the door. Originally of 1900, and renovated and enlarged 1928.

Proceeding, other survivals of bombing and rebuilding include the Star Hotel with ornate balcony, a classical white 1930s building with heraldic lion and above, semidraped girl with flowing drapery and matching waves behind, symbolic City of Southampton (presumably) in one hand. At the end of the block is the Ferryman and Firkin pub with mustached and medieval style heads at tops of pillars, ornate doorway, little lions' heads etc. Next block is the imposing ruin of Holyrood Church, established in 1320 and bombed in WW2. Some carved stone survives, and on the tower, little figures with a bell. Opposite is the National Westminster Bank by Gibson, 1867. Too-big heraldic sculpture with figures plus lion dominates an otherwise impressive building.

Staying on the High Street after crossing over St Michael's Street, Holyrood Chambers with ornate Gothic deep red terracotta, lions with shields, ornate chimneys, pointy ironwork, stained glass lights and pink sandstone stonework, dating from 1895. And next door is the red brick Market Chambers, which maintains its dignity above restaurant level and has a good roof.

One block down, back on the church side, next to a mock-Tudor pub is an aesthetically butchered ground floor with interesting narrow frontage above, with blue-green and white glazed tilework. The letters O W are prominently displayed - the premises appear to have been those of a fruit importer, as circlets with pineapples, bananas and grapes feature. Next door is the Post Office, in red sandstone, dated 1894, with a later extension attached.

Further, the road becomes ugly, but there are more ruins of the city walls, and an archaelogical dig with deep vaults. The bottom of the road coincides with the old Wall - it dates from 12th Century onwards, with various surviving ruins of buildings in it which are most interesting. To the left from here, in one such building (15th Century God's House Tower with adjacent 13th Century gate) is an archaelogical museum, showing off the building itself and with a few good bits of pottery including medieval floor tiles and 17th Century French imported ware.

Across the road from High Street, and visible from quite a distance 'inland' is the dome of the Edwardian Town Quay building, and to the right is a domed Victorian building which marks the entrance to a riverside open space from which big ships can be seen opposite. Going past this (i.e. turning right from the bottom of High Street) and following the line of the Wall, leads to the early 15th Century Wool house which contains a lively maritime museum, with ship models, engines, and things of Victorian and Edwardian interest, although as far as art is concerned there are only two or three paintings, including one by Norman Wilkinson.

The big stucco white building with the Tuscan pillars across the road from the Wool House is the former Yacht Club of 1846. Past this is an important monument - the Mayflower Monument, in memory of those who sailed for America and settled in New England. It is a tall pillar in shelly fossiliferous limestone, with carved semi-classical heads at the top. The pillar supports a mosaic dome cupola raised on pillars, and at the summit, a small copper ship - the Mayflower - in weathercock style. Designed by R. M. Lucas, a locally active architect, it was built by Messrs. Garret and Haysom in 1913.

Adjacent is a good pillared canopy over a small fountain, memorial to Mary Anne Rogers, a heroine who saved passengers on a sinking ship in 1899 and herself perished. The design is by Herbert Bryans. From here the wall can be followed around and back to High Street, but if it is abandoned and we walk up Bugle Street, there is an excellent Tudor House Museum, an exceptional survival from the 16th Century, with loads of original features, wooden panels, ceilings, domestic furniture and knick-knackery from 16th-19th Centuries. There are several paintings - from the 19th Century we may note pictures by Tobias Young in the 1800s, New Year's Feast at a Charity School by Mrs Augusta Taylor, and a small distant view of the city by John Mason. The Tudor-layout garden leads to another ruin in the city wall - this one the shell of a 12th Century Norman merchant's house.

Continuing up Bugle street leads past minor medieval remains, and via Castle Lane, past the Italianate former County Court of 1851, back to High Street, finishing the walk.

There is other sculptural work in Southampton, but generally less accessible. However, if visiting the market next to Hoglands Park, then it is worth detouring along Cossack Green to the Kingsland Estate, where there are two nudes, male and female, presented by the architects of the estate in 1951. They were made at the John Cass School of Art in London, and are known as Adam and Eve.

Finally, we may note a lost sculpture of Southampton, which I spent some effort looking for (problem with using 100 year old guidebooks). The sculptor William Theed made a Prince Albert statue, put up in 1876 by God's House Tower. Apparently it was removed in 1907 because it had become dilapidated, and thought unsuitable to greet the eyes of Kaiser Willhelm II who was passing through. It was finally broken up in World War I.

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Southampton City Art Gallery // Victorian art in Britain