Sunday, 13 October 2013

5 Fun Facts about Southampton

It has happened. I've moved to Southampton! From one end of the country (Durham, see here for my 5 fun facts on Durham) to the other, I will be spending the next 12 months in this major port city completing my Master's degree. So time for another edition of 5 Fun Facts:

1. Southampton began life as a small, but significant, Saxon town called Hamwic around AD700 between the rivers Test and the Itchen. Back then, it was considered a major town, which shows evidence of early Saxon town planning (see map 1). Hamwic enjoyed "complementary" trading relations with Winchester, the nearby royal town (Hamerow 2002), which basically meant that the two towns were essentially best mates, and while Winchester was older and more established, Hamwic was the more dynamic of the two and was able to exploit trading links with the continent, being sited next to the sea in a relatively safe natural harbour. Thus Southampton has always been assocaited with the sea.

Map 1: Image of Hamwic, facing north, with the river Itchen to the right; the Test is about 1/2 mile to the west. Note the ordered formation of the roads (Archaeology in Europe).

However, Hamwic collapsed during the 9th century, for reasons that are not fully understood today; reasons range from Viking invasion (or indirect Viking influence affecting English Channel trade), to political instability in England at the time.

Hamwic has been excavated multiple times, but the most important excavations were at Six Dials in Northam (a district of Southampton), which produced streets filled with animal bones (direct evidence of butchers?), and over 60 buildings (Hamerow 2002)!

2. The logo of the city is "the gateway to the world", which comes from Southampton's roots as a port city, but not just to it's colonal importance (when Victorians would emigrate out of Britain through Southampton, Liverpool and other major port cities to new parts of the world;  the phrase "gateway to the British Empire" was inventedfor this reason!). The modern docks have been in their present location since 1843 (portcities). "The gateway to the World" logo also reflects Southampton's status as one of the busiest ports in the world; in 2011, it was second only to London (felixstowe port) in terms of container traffic in the UK, and, although it may sound unimpressive, this made Southampton no. 86 in the world for container traffic! See here for more info.

3. Ordance Survey, who produce maps for the UK, were originally based in London, at the Tower of London. But after a fire in said tower in 1841  highlighted the need for more (and more fire-proof!) office space, they relocated to Southampton. (Ordance Survey 2013, Historic Royal Palaces 2013).With the advent of the train and faster ships, this meant that it is wasn't necessary to be located so close to your owners (i.e. the government), and Ordance Survey to this day is still based on the outskirts of Southampton, producing maps for the world.

4. Southampton, along with Portsmouth and other small towns nearby, make up around 850,000 people, with Southampton contributing aout 230,000 people to this total, making it one of the UK's larger cities, but again, a rather unimpresive21st. But it's not the size that counts: famous residents in the past have included Jane Austen (briefly), Craig David, and Coldplay drummer Will Champion!

5. Large areas of Southampton have now been recognised as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), and also in marine cases, European Special Protection Areas (SPA) and Special Areas of Conservation (SAC). See here for more information on marine coastal protection. Southampton Common, which is open to the public, is a large example of an urban SSSI.

Next time, I will delve further into Hampshire; with the New Forest, South Downs and Goodwood set to feature, it should be more exciting facts that you may not have known about the local area!

Comments always appreciated!


Hamerow, H, 2002, Great Sites: Hamwic, in British Archaeology, issue 66,

Historic Royal Palaces, last updated unknown, The Ordance Survey, last accessed 13/10/2013,

Ordnance Survey, last updated unknown, Our History, last accessed 13/10/2013,

Portcities, last updated unknown, PortCities: Southampton, last accessed 13/10/2013,


Map 1: Archaeology in Europe, last updated unknown, Early Medieval Emporia: Hamwic, or Saxon Southampton,, last accessed 13/10/2013
Link in e.g. 2: American Association of Port Authorities, World Port Rankings 2011, 2012,
Link in e.g. 5:The Yatchman's Guide to Southampton Water and It's Approaches, Associated British Ports, date published unknown,


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