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Southampton Castle: A Hidden Treasure

Updated on November 27, 2015

The Southampton Castle, which used to rise high above the town walls back in its golden days, was built after the 1066 Norman Conquest. The King used to make a stay in the royal castle with his court, on his way to France. The castle required heavy maintenance and was rebuilt in 1805, 10 years after which it got demolished. Still it is a popular tourism site, with taxi companies in London providing transportation to tourists to ease travelling to the ruins of the grand Southampton Castle.

The ruins of the castle sketch an immaculate picture, bringing to life the royalty of Medieval England, a true inspiration for a historian or architect. The ruins are spread over a massive area, depicting the grand structure of the castle.

History

The Gothic castle at Southampton, after the invasion, marked the rise of the medieval town. Before the actual structure of the castle was laid, it was a motte around 200 ft. in diameter, enclosed by a deep trench and surmounted by a fort made out of timber with a defensive bailey. By the end of 12th century a stone Southampton castle stood along with a part of wall, surrounding the town halfway.

The cellars for the King were mainly paid attention to during the reign of Henry III. Apart from the King’s stay area, the royal lodgings, the nearby quay and other parts were also taken care of. The castle was more like a place of residence for Henry and not much attention was paid to the defences of the royal building. The Southampton Castle got fortified when the adjacent quay became one of the most significant trading centres in C12th England. The castle was positioned in such a way that it joined the town ports with the purpose of protecting the merchants’ warehouses from sea attacks.

As the town of Southampton grew, so did the fortification. The Royalty made regular visits to the mock Gothic structure, resting beautifully on the English land. One of the wealthiest merchants, Gervase le Riche used to pay part of Richard I’s ransom while the Royalty resided within the walls of the stunning structure. The castle expanded gradually to include quarters and a castle quay to unload goods.

In 1180, a bargate was added as the main entrance to Southampton which was a Norman construction with arches on both the sides to add support, enabling the construction of the Guildhall over the top. It symbolizes what the beautiful city of merchants used to be in its golden days, the hub of trade and commerce.

The castle now had 1000 inhabitants. However, to keep the castle in a good condition, not many funds were given and by 1826, the castle became nothing but ruins, not being able to survive the continuous French attacks.

Richard II did the refurbishment of the castle which resulted in royal visits by Henry V and Queen Elizabeth I. besides, John Speed, the mapmaker also talked about the beauty of the castle in the map he made.

Southampton Castle Today

The Castle must have been a mind-blowing site with seven gates, towers at the corners and the actual structure enclosed within the walls. The two sides of the castles were washed away by the tides while the others facing inland were moated. As the port shifted towards Portsmouth, the Castle fell in despair. To repair the walls of the city, parts of the castle walls were demolished.

Today, only fragments of the royal residence survive. Blocks of flats were built in 1962 and the original site gradually got taken over by modern buildings. The arches and halls of the castle can still be seen along with the Castle Watergate and sections of the south bailey wall. Between the period of 1973 and 1983, an archeological excavation was only able to dig out 10% of the overall castle area. The only structure left at present includes the domestic cellars and bits here and there. The walls of the city have survived enough to piece them together to get an idea of the extent of the defence of the castle during the important, early medieval times.

Although the Castle does not exist like others do, however, the atmosphere and the fragments spread around the place, with half built walls, demolished structure and the stone carvings revive the golden times of the quay city. That is one of the reasons why, despite the few remains of the royal residence many tourists flock here through executive taxi service in London or private transportation.

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    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 

      2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Fascinating place.

    • Kathryn Lane profile image

      Kathryn Lane 

      2 years ago

      This was a very interesting read! Shame the castle is no longer standing, I would have loved to get a look inside. Thanks for sharing :)

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