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A Shout From The Attic: The Gerry Years

Ronnie Bray presents a word-portrait of Southampton, where he lived in the 1960s.

Southampton is a city and major port situated on the south coast of England. It is the closest city to the New Forest, situated approximately halfway between Portsmouth and Bournemouth. Southampton lies at the northern-most point of Southampton Water where it is joined by the River Test and River Itchen, with the River Hamble joining to the south of the urban area. The city represents the core of the Greater Southampton region. A resident of Southampton is called a Sotonian.

Stone Age settlements are known to have existed in the area, but the first permanent settlement was established by the Romans. Known as Clausentum, it was an important trading port for the large Roman towns of Winchester and Salisbury.

The Anglo-Saxons moved the centre of the town across the River Itchen to its present location, and it remained an important port. At the time, it was centred around what is now the St Mary's area, and the settlement was known as Hamwic. This name was later to evolve into Hamtun, and later still to Hampton.

The Viking King Canute the Great is supposed to have defeated the Anglo-Saxon King Ethelred the Unready here in 1014 and his fabled attempt to "command" the tide to halt may have taken place in Southampton. However, its prosperity was assured following the Norman Conquest in 1066, when it became the major port of transit between Winchester (then the capital of England) and Normandy.

In the 13th Century, Southampton had become a leading port, and was particularly involved in the wool trade. The Wool House was built in 1417 as a warehouse for the medieval wool trade with Flanders and Italy. This building is today used as the Maritime Museum, and can be found near Town Quay. It includes an exhibition concerning the RMS Titanic.

Bowls was first played regularly on the Southampton Old Bowling Green adjacent to God's House Hospital in 1299. It is the world's oldest surviving bowling green.

The town was sacked in 1338 by the French, including the pirate Grimaldi, who used the plunder to help found the principality of Monaco. After this attack, the city walls were built, some of which remain as ruins today. The city walls include God's House Tower, built in 1417, the first purpose-built artillery fortification in England. Today, it is open as the Museum of Archaeology.

The 12th century Red Lion pub on the High Street below the Bargate within the old walls is where in 1415, immediately prior to King Henry V of England's departure from Southampton to the Battle of Agincourt, the ringleaders of the "Southampton Plot", Richard, Earl of Cambridge, Henry Scrope, 3rd Baron Scrope of Masham and Sir Thomas Grey of Heton, were tried and found guilty of high treason, before being summarily executed outside the Bargate.

Southampton is the site of the Roman Clausentum and of the Saxon Hamtune or Suth-Hamtun. Remains of the ancient town walls and reworked Norman structures may be seen. The Crusaders under Richard I, Henry V on his expedition to France (1415), and the Pilgrims all embarked from Southampton.

Until the 16th century discovery of a new trade route to India, Southampton had a lucrative trade in goods from the East with Venice. In the 18th century it was a fashionable spa. Trade with the United States, the construction of modern docks, the railroad to London, completed in 1840, and the coming of the steamboat all worked to convert the spa back into a commercial port. Southampton was one of Britain's chief military transport stations in both world wars.

The city suffered considerable damage in World War II, as a result of which new dock facilities and shopping districts were built to make it a modern city.

The port was the original point of departure for the Pilgrim Fathers aboard the Mayflower in 1623. A memorial can be found on Town Quay. Since that time it has been the last port of call for literally millions of emigrants who left the Old World to start a new life in the USA, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and other parts of the world.

The painter John Everett Millais was born in the city. Southampton Solent University's art gallery is named Millais Gallery in his honour.

In common with most of the luxury liners of the time, the RMS Titanic sailed from here, and it is still an important ocean liner port frequented by luxury ships such as the RMS QE2, the MV Oriana, and the Queen Mary 2.

The city is home to Sir Edwin Lutyens' first permanent cenotaph, a memorial to the city's dead of World War I. When it was unveiled on 6 November 1920, it bore 1800 names, later raised to 2008. It is in West, or Watts, Park, opposite the Titanic memorial.

The Second World War hit Southampton particularly hard, partly because of its strategic importance as the major industrial area on the South Coast and partly because of the city's links to the Supermarine Spitfire fighter aircraft, which was invented and manufactured in Southampton. Pockets of Georgian architecture remain, but much of the city was levelled.

The accuracy of the locally-based Ordnance Survey's maps did not go unrecognised by the Luftwaffe: the German bomber pilots used them to bomb Southampton. One notable building to survive the bombings was Southampton's oldest, St. Michael’s Church. Thought to have been commenced in 1070, the building has been added to many times over the centuries but its central tower dates from Norman times. The spire was an important navigation aid for the German pilots and consequently they were ordered to avoid it.

The Spitfire was developed and initially manufactured in the suburb of Woolston. Its designer, Reginald Mitchell, grew up in Stoke-on-Trent, then had a house in Russell Place in the suburb of Highfield near the university (now identified by a memorial plaque). The plane was a direct descendant of experimental aircraft built by Supermarine that competed in the Schneider Trophy in the 1930s.

Supermarine was taken over by Vickers in 1928. Mitchell's short life is documented in the film The First of the Few. On Sept 24th 1940, the Woolston factory was bombed, killing 100 workers, though not damaging the factory. Two days later, the factory was heavily damaged by bombing, and thirty more workers died, which interrupted production of the Spitfire for many weeks at a critical time of the UK's survival.

There were many aircraft companies based around Hamble, to the east of the city, from the 1930s to 1950s, including Folland Aviation, started by Henry P Folland, the former chief designer of Gloster Aircraft. Folland was taken over by Hawker Siddeley in 1960, and later as British Aerospace, the factory built the Hawk and Harrier.

The history of the area's contribution to aviation is celebrated at the Southampton Hall of Aviation, near Itchen Bridge, and opposite the erstwhile site of the Woolston Supermarine factory. BOAC had a flying boat base in the docks serving British colonial possessions in Africa and Asia in the 1930s and 1940s. It closed in 1950 when land based aircraft became dominant. Nearby, Calshot Spit was a base for the military flying boat services.


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