Bloody British History: Southampton

Bloody British History: Southampton

by Penny Legg


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Southampton has one of the darkest and most dreadful histories on record. The city has been assaulted by the Romans, Vikings, Normans, and the King’s men, razed to the ground by the French and bombed almost to extinction by the Nazis. Inside the walls, violence, terror, and destruction raged, from the horrors of God’s House Tower gaol to the dolorous deaths of the Southampton Plot ringleaders, who were executed outside Bargate. A city with a most martial of histories, Southampton has seen millions of soldiers flood out from the port towards the battlefields of Europe and beyond—many never to return. With bombs, blood, and battles, famous disasters such as the sinking of the Titanic and the awful destruction of the Blitz, read this book if you dare!

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780752471105
Publisher: The History Press
Publication date: 09/01/2013
Series: Bloody History
Pages: 96
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Penny Legg is a writer, photographer, and public speaker. She is the author of Winchester: History You can See and Haunted Southampton, among others. She lives in Southampton.

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Bloody British History: Southampton

By Penny Legg

The History Press

Copyright © 2013 Penny Legg
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7524-8193-7




Raiding and Plundering!

England was a divided kingdom just waiting to be plundered and the Danes, part of the feared Norse Viking raiders, took full advantage.

Population growth was one of the deciding factors for the start of the raids. The need to find new areas to colonise, together with the desire for conquest and plunder, combined with advances in shipbuilding technology, led to the raids that saw Viking settlements springing up in East Anglia, Western Scotland, parts of Wales and southern Ireland. The raids began in 793 in Lindisfarne and, by the ninth century, had reached their peak.

The raiders came in by night, making defence difficult.

Marauders and Slaughter!

In 837 Southampton was attacked, but the marauders were beaten back and the residents breathed a sigh of relief that their world had not been turned upside down by the fierce people from a strange land. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle states that, '... Ealdorman Wulfheard (an Ealdorman is a high-ranking official charged with command of the army in place of the king) fought at Southampton against the crews of thirty-three ships, made a great slaughter there and had the victory ...'

Peace was not to last though. The Danes made repeated attacks on Wessex, the area of England below the Thames, wishing to expand on their holdings in East Anglia. In 871, Saxon King Ethelred and his brother Alfred defeated them in Berkshire but the Danes' reply was to defeat Ethelred's forces at Old Basing in Hampshire two weeks later. Ethelred died shortly after this battle, leaving the throne to Alfred.

Anyone gazing on Hamo Thorneycroft's splendid statue of King Alfred in Winchester will not fail to be impressed by Wessex's greatest leader, despite the most well-known story about him being that he burnt cakes. The statue was erected in 1899 and depicts him crowned, with his shield on his arm and with his sword upside down so that it resembles a cross, held aloft. He was a devout Christian, who happened to be a warrior king. He made Winchester his capital, but life was not quiet after Old Basing and for the next eight years he battled to keep his kingdom.

Peace came after the battle of Ethandun in 878, when the Danes were starved into submission in Chippenham. The Danish leader, Guthrum, converted to Christianity and he and Alfred agreed on a split of territory between them.

Killing and Captivity!

However, the Danes returned, and with a vengeance. In one of the versions of the Anglo Saxon Chronicle (Version C), it is stated that in 980 'Southampton was sacked by a naval force, and most of the citizens killed or taken captive ...' In Versions D and E, the year is given as 981 and further details are supplied; 'In this year there first came seven ships and ravaged Southampton.'

Alfred was under no illusions. After having to retake London from the ever-encroaching Danes in 886, he set about establishing shipyards, building ships larger than those that the Norsemen sailed in. The naval shipyard on the Itchen at Woolston was possibly one that was started in Alfred's time.

The new ships were engaged in a battle on the Solent in 897, when Alfred's force succeeded in defeating the invaders, who had brought along their wives and children to settle the area they wished to conquer.


Alfred died in 901, but the threat from the Vikings was ever-present. In September 994, ninety-four Danish ships attacked London but were fought off. The surviving forces then 'did the greatest damage that ever any army could do, by burning, ravaging and slaying everywhere along the coast, and in Essex, Kent, Sussex and Hampshire,' (Anglo Saxon Chronicle). In desperation, King Ethelred the Unready paid bribes, 'tribute', and gave the marauders provisions on the condition that they promised to stop the 'harrying'. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle continues, 'And they then accepted that, and the whole army came then to Southampton and took winter quarters there; and they were paid 16,000 pounds in money'. The citizens of Southampton had to put up with their very unwelcome guests until Olaf Tryggvason, the Danish army's leader, promised on payment of gifts, that he would 'never come back to England in hostility.' Southampton, and the rest of the country, no doubt breathed a sigh of relief!

* * *

Southampton Water is said to be the place that Canute (Cnut, crowned King in Southampton in 1016, died 1035) sat on the beach and commanded the waves to stop advancing. When they lapped at his feet, Henry of Huntington (1080-c. 1160), the Archdeacon of the Diocese of Lincoln, states that he said, 'Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but He whom heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws,' (Historia Anglorum, or History of the English). Under Canute's rule, England enjoyed peace and prosperity.




The Norsemen

The Normans were descended from the Vikings, or Norsemen, who had been granted lands in northern France in 911 in return for their support in beating back further Viking raids on the area. They had had a close affinity with England since the marriage of England's King Aethelred II, 'the Unready' (968–1016) to Emma (c. 985–1052), the daughter of the Duke of Normandy, Richard III, 'the Fearless' (933–996). Their son, Edward the Confessor (1003/5-1066) became King of England in 1042, after a long period of living in Normandy. He was heavily influenced by the Norman supporters he installed in key positions at Court and in the Church to advise him. Thus, the Normans became involved with English political affairs and this was to have major consequences for the country when Edward died, childless and with no clear heir.

Harold, Harald and William

Harold, Earl of Wessex, was proclaimed king but there were two foreign claimants to the throne to worry about. One was William of Normandy, who said that Edward had promised him the English throne, and that Harold had been present when he did so, and Harald Hardrada, also known as Harald III (1016–1066) of Norway, whose claim went back to Edward's predecessor, Harthacanute (c. 1018–1042), son of Canute (c. 985–1035). They, so Harald Hardrada would have it, had had a pact that if either of them died childless, the throne of the other would go to the survivor. As Harthacanute had done just that, the throne, he claimed, should be his. Either way, Harold was not going to have an easy time, as both these pretenders amassed armies to invade and forcibly seize the throne.

Harold spent the majority of his short reign worrying about the antics of his disaffected half-brother, Tostig Godwinson, who held a grudge after losing the Earldom of Northumbria. His fleet, recruited in Flanders, attacked ports along the south-east and east coasts, and waited with his militia army to rebuff William's expected invasion on the south coast. Both William and Harald Hardrada's invading forces arrived in England almost simultaneously but on different shores, miles from each other. Harold had sent many of his militia home on 8 September to bring in the harvest, so was left with a depleted following – just when he needed to be strong.


Harald Hardrada's invasion force consisted of more than 300 ships and 15,000 men. He meant business and was soon joined by Tostig and his men, throwing in his lot with the Scandinavians. After the battle of Fulford, in which Harald Hardrada had been victorious against troops led by Harold's supporters Morcar and Edwin, morale was high amongst the Norwegian force, so it was a surprise to be attacked by Harold and the troops he had recruited on an heroic 185-mile dash from the south coast to Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire. They met on 25 September and the resulting battle was bloody, all the more so because it was a hot day and the Norwegian forces, not expecting to be fighting, had taken off their protective chainmail shirts. The fighting was so fierce that at the end of it both Harald Hardrada and Tostig were dead, and only twenty-four ships were needed to carry the survivors home to Norway.

The toll had been hard on Harold's army, too. They needed time to recover and heal their wounds. However, this was not possible, as Harold now needed to repel William. He left part of his army in the north and marched the rest south. In the meantime, William and his forces arrived in England at Pevensey on 28 September. They immediately began to make themselves at home, building a wooden castle in Hastings, the first of many all over the country, to use as a base. They then set out to subdue the local population, and waited for Harold to realise they were there.


The decisive battle commenced on 14 October 1066. Harold had hoped to take William by surprise, but the Norman was wily and had spies out ready to spot his enemy's advancing men. William also had archers and cavalry, while Harold had only men on foot. Although Harold had everything to lose, he was outclassed. Harold and a large number of his men were slain. The prevailing theory is that Harold died after being hit in the eye by an arrow, a view backed up by the depiction of Harold on the twelfth-century Bayeux Tapestry. There was much confusion as to exactly how Harold died, and this may or may not be the truth. William, though, had won his first, and most important, victory in his conquest of England.

Welcomed with Open Arms?

If William thought that he would then be welcomed with open arms, he was mistaken. He would have to fight his way to London, eventually to be crowned king in Westminster Abbey on 25 December.

A Good Deal

The Norman conquest of England in 1066 could not have been a better deal for Southampton. After all, settlers from another country will always want to keep up their links with their mother country, won't they? This is precisely what the conquerors wanted, and they soon used Southampton as a major transit port from Winchester, England's capital, to Normandy. The town prospered.

Southampton was a thriving centre of commerce and trade long before the Normans arrived. The earliest known coins produced at the town's mint came from the reign of Athelstan (924–939). Coins continued to be minted in the town until Cnut's era (1016–1035).

French Quarter

There had been a French quarter in the town since before the conquest. Twenty years later, it is mentioned in Domesday Book of 1086 that there were sixty-five men of French origin and thirty-one of English descent in the town. Residents lived in separate areas, with the French settled in the aptly named French Street, in the south-west of the town, and the English living in English Street, south of the Bargate. St Michael's Church (St Michael being the patron saint of Normandy) is in the centre of the old French section of town, and it has been dated to 1070. Originally built in a cruciform shape, it was extended in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The Norman structure included the tower, which is still standing. The font is one of six dating from 1170 and is made of black marble, which came from Tournai in Belgium. Another can be seen in Winchester Cathedral. Its full title is the Church of St Michael the Archangel, and it is the oldest building still actively being used for its original purpose in Southampton.

Southampton Castle

The Normans were great builders, and examples of their skill can still be seen standing all over the country. Their Romanesque architecture featured massive proportions, and rounded arches over doorways and windows. Eager to make sure that their new lands were not taken from them, they built many fortifications in England, including castles. In Southampton they built a wooden motte and bailey structure, first mentioned as a munito or fortified residence in 1153 (Rance). It was in the north-west part of town and overlooked the River Test, an important waterway at the time. It is shown prominently on John Speed's 1612 map of Southampton. The bailey, an enclosed courtyard, surrounded the motte, or raised earthworks. On the top of the 45ft motte, was a wooden keep or fortified tower. A stone castle was introduced in the twelfth century, when Henry II took an interest in renovating and improving the site. Some of his improvements of 1150 and 1160 can still be seen today, including the large hall built abutting the cliff and the Castle Vault for storing wine. At the time, Southampton was an important port, and the wine trade was of particular note.

* * *

In 1968, archaeologists excavating whilst Castle Way was being built found more than they expected in the rubbish tip they were examining at the corner of Broad Lane and High Street. A hoard of Norman coins – derniers – dating from 1030 was unearthed.

* * *


Richard II built a new keep with four turrets between 1378 and 1380, as a reaction to threats of invasion from France. He also refurbished the castle, which had been falling into disrepair as locals had plundered it for its stone. Southampton Castle became one of the first castles in the country to be fitted with a cannon in 1382.

Speed's map shows the mound with the turreted castle atop it. By 1618 though, the castle was in ruins and it was sold into private hands. A windmill was erected on the motte and some of the stone was later used to repair the town walls. In the nineteenth century a gothic mansion, Lansdowne House, was built on the site, using stone still remaining from the medieval structure. The house is described in Revd J. S. Davies' A History of Southampton as 'castellated' and 'of brick and stucco'. This was short-lived; its owner, the Marquis of Lansdowne, elected a town burgess in 1805, and died in 1809. His successor was his half-brother, who sold the house, for building materials, and the freehold to the land. The mansion was demolished in 1815/9. After that time, the site was levelled and built upon. Although there are glimpses of the old castle still visible, much has now been covered over by roads and housing.





This was the Victorian view of leprosy, the disease that has been with man since at least the fourth century BC. It was long thought to be a curse from the gods, and priests were left to treat it as best they could. Members of the same family often had leprosy, and so it was considered to be hereditary. Avoiding those with the disease also meant avoiding infection, and so suffers often had to ring a bell to alert the uninfected and give them time to move out of the way. However, the bell was also used to alert those wishing to give alms to the sick, so it had a dual purpose. Those with leprosy often lived together in colonies; these were frequently situated on or near main thoroughfares, meaning that the lepers had maximum chance to beg for alms from passing travellers.

Scientists now think that leprosy is spread either by respiratory droplet infection or from environmental conditions. It is also sometimes already present in a person's genetics. It can take up to five years from infection to the first appearance of symptoms.

Severe Pain

There are two forms of leprosy. The mild form of the disease is tuberculoid, or paucibacillary, leprosy. This causes red patches on the skin, which have less touch sensation. Skin stiffens and dries out, and muscles in the hands and feet weaken. There is severe pain and the possibility of the loss of sight, fingers and toes. Nerves in the elbow and knee enlarge.

Nasal Collapse

Lepromatous or mulitbacillary leprosy is the severe form of the disease. Symptoms include a symmetrical skin rash on the face, ears, wrists, elbows, knees and buttocks. The rash can be light or dark, flat or raised, large or small. The disease also causes thinning of the eyebrows and eyelashes, thickened facial skin, bloody nose, nasal stuffiness and nose collapse, laryngitis, swelling of the lymph nodes in the groin and armpits, scarring of the testes leading to infertility, and enlargement of the male breasts. This truly gruesome disease can also lead to blindness, loss of fingers or toes and arthritis. It was no wonder that the healthy took pains to keep away from the sufferers. Pity was also a powerful motive in alms giving.

* * *

Nowadays, although overall the disease has declined globally, leprosy is becoming of increasing concern as it is developing drug resistant forms. India accounts for the highest percentage of cases in the twenty-first century.

* * *

Le Maudelyne

In Southampton, the Hospital of St Mary Magdalene, called Le Maudelyne on early town accounts, was founded c. 1172. The Pipe Roll for that time shows a charge of £1 3s 2d as allowance for land given to Southampton's lepers. The town burgesses had founded the hospital from their own pockets. In 1179 it was assigned to the Priory of St Denys.

The Burgesses appointed the master of the hospital, but in the reign of Edward I this duty was taken over by the Crown, much to the annoyance of the town dignitaries, who saw it as a loss of privilege.


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Table of Contents

Acknowledgements 7

Introduction 8

837 The Danes are Coming! 9

1066 The Normans Arrive 12

1173 Leprosy in Southampton 16

Twelfth Century Sir Bevois of Southampton 18

1237 The Convent of Friars Minor 21

1321 Pirates! 23

1338 The Sack of Southampton 25

1348-1351 The Pestilence 28

1415 Treason! 31

1417 God's House Tower 33

1420 The Grace Dieu 34

1460 Prejudice! 36

1470 The Wars of the Roses 38

1563 The Plague 41

1585 The Spanish Armada and Southampton's Pirates 42

1620 The Separatists Sail 44

1642-1644 Cavaliers and Roundheads 47

1653 The Battle of Portland 51

1665 The Plague Returns 54

1773 Georgian Southampton-Polygon 58

1786 A Peaceful Spa Town? 59

1848 & 1866 Cholera Strikes Southampton 60

1855 Murder, Most Horrid 63

1874 'Dr Livingstone, I presume…' 66

1884 Shipwrecked! 69

1896 Murder in Portswood 74

1899 Mary Ann Rogers and the Stella 75

15 April 1912 A Titanic Disaster 77

24 April 1912 Mutiny! 82

1937 Southampton and the Spanish Civil War 84

September 1940 The Supermarine Raids 85

6 November 1940 The Bombing of the School of Art, Civic Centre 88

1944 D-Day 90

1830-1965 The Coliseum 93

Bibliography 94

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