In the medieval period the castle occupied a position on the west face of the town wall towards the northern end. It is not known when the first phase of the Norman castle was built, but it was probably in existence by 1100. The castle was originally of motte-and-bailey design with a shell keep at the top of the motte (or mound) situated close to what is now Lansdowne Hill. Later reconstruction under Richard II converted the keep into a multi-turreted tower. There was considerable expenditure on the castle during the 13th century, some of which was on the defensive works, but much on the domestic buildings. The chapel of St Nicholas, no longer standing but believed to have been on the site of the Juniper Berry public house, was re-roofed in 1253. The Castle Hall was remodeled with a stone vault, and other domestic and sanitary facilities were added.

The castle declined from the early 15th century as the Crown’s interest in Southampton diminished; it eventually sold the estate entirely in 1618. The fabric of the buildings decayed and from the 17th century stones from the castle were used to repair the town walls. The process of demolition and decay continued well into the 20th century. In 1804 the Marquis of Lansdowne built a castellated mansion from the remains of the castle keep. It was demolished just fourteen years later.

A few remains of the castle can be seen in modern Southampton. The Norman curtain wall with its finely finished ashlar buttresses is visible from the Western Shore. The garderobe tower (toilet block), which was constructed in the 13th century at the south-west corner of the castle, was demolished in the 19th century but the channel itself (image 4) has been excavated and can be seen next to the wall. The bailey-wall (images 1 and 2) still survives on the north of the site. It runs in a curve on the south side of Albion Place from the wall to Castle Lane. The parapets are supported on high arches formerly faced by battered earthen walls and ditches. The bases of the drum towers of the east postern gate can be seen at the entrance to Castle Lane (image 3). Traces of the Castle Hall and barrel vault can still be seen. The Castle Vault, built in about 1193 and entered from Castle Quay is still intact, as is the Castle Watergate (image 5).

1. Castle Bailey Wall

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A T G Hart pencil drawing of the bailey wall, c.1840.

2. Castle Bailey Wall

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Photograph, c.1985

3. Remains of the East Gate

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Photograph, c.1985

4. Castle Garderobe

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Photograph, c.1985

5. Castle Watergate

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Photograph, 1941

see also

Further reading:
Southampton Occasional Notes,, by ‘Townsman’, p68-69. (HS/h)
Medieval Southampton, by Colin Plat, p12-13, 128-29. (HS/h)
History of Southampton, by Rev. J. S. Davies, p74-84. (HS/h)
Excavations in Medieval Southampton, by Colin Platt (ed), p36-38, 176-186. (HS/f)
Southampton Castle, by John Hodgson. (HS/k)


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