Originally called the Heath or the Great Heath, the Common lies between Shirley to the west, Bassett to the north, Portswood to the east and Banister to the south. It covers a total area 328 acres, including 20 acres of the Old Cemetery. The origins of the ownership of the common by the citizens of Southampton probably go back to the Saxon period, but the first written record occurs in 1228 when a dispute between the Lord of Shirley and his tenants and the burgesses of Southampton was settled by agreement.
In medieval Southampton all householders had 'rights of common'. This meant that they could graze animals, collect wood for fuel, dig clay to make bricks, etc. from common lands. The most important right was that of grazing, and the Common was the main common grazing area within the town. The cowherd was employed by the town council to look after the animals grazing on the Common. Drivers were also employed to drive the beasts to and from their owner’s farms or houses. The Common formerly embraced also (1) the triangle from Chilworth Gate / Hode Cross / Rosemary Cross: and (2) the triangle from the present north east corner / Burlstone Cross / Miles Cross: both were encroached in the late 16th century.
By the 19th century 'rights of common' were far less important and the Common became used for recreational purposes. In the 1840s it was converted into a public park. Horse racing had been held on the Common sporadically in the 18th century and in 1822 an attempt was made to make a race meeting an annual two-day event. A permanent course was established, the shape of which was a long, narrow parallelogram stretching from the top of the Common to the cemetery and almost to the Avenue. Races were run clockwise, starting and finishing at the top of the course. The course can be clearly seen on the Town Map of 1845-46. The grandstand was situated on the open plateau at the top of the Common facing the Avenue, a position which gave a fine view of the course. The meeting was successful for a few years but seems to have declined in the later 19th century.
A carriage drive was constructed as a public amenity in 1832-3, originally running from Cemetery Pond all round the northern reaches of the Common, returning to a point near Miles Cross. A series of recreational lakes and ponds were later established.
Common Farm
In the 19th century this farm was situated west of modern-day Bassett Avenue, and south west of Bassett Crescent West.
Common Gates
Originally the Common had only two gates. The first was situated in the Avenue, as indicated by the markers, immediately north of Avenue Road. The second was situated at the junction with Burgess Road. All other gates are 19th century.

**Common Lakes see

Common Reservoir
The reservoir is situated 200 yards immediately west of the junction of the Avenue, Burgess Road and Bassett Avenue. It was constructed in 1851 to hold water pumped from Mansbridge and originally consisted of two separate reservoirs. It was covered over in 1895, and converted into a single reservoir with two compartments in 1952.
Common: Watercourses of
This was a complex system utilised for surface drainage and the replenishing of amenity ponds. It was ultimately based on the natural collecting ground of the Rolles Brook and its two main tributaries, though also artificially incorporating the headwaters of the Freemantle Pond stream (but not utilizing the Highfield stream in the north east corner). The various streamlets were diverted to construct perhaps first Pedleys waterworks of 1595, and certainty later J.D. Doswell's waterworks of the early 19th century. Later diversions cleared the racecourse, supplied the various ponds and improved surface drainage.


Further reading:
Southampton Common, by the City of Southampton Society. (HS/ll)
History of Southampton, by Rev. J. S. Davies, p48-59. (HS/h)
Southampton Occasional Notes, by ‘Townsman’, p42-3. (HS/h)
Medieval Southampton, by Colin Platt, p50-51. (HS/h)


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