This stood “opposite the Dispensary and the Relief Office.” It apparently consisted of “2 Roundabouts or Giants Strides, Parallel Bars, Climbing Poles, Swings and Horizontal Swing Bars” in a space measuring 100ft square.
The saga of this “bold experiment” is recorded in the Council minutes and in the local papers.
On 2 May 1877 Southampton Town Council asked the committee responsible for the parks to consider “a public gymnasium on or near the Cricket Ground on the Public Parks.” Perhaps naively, and perhaps to save money, it was decided “that it be entirely open without any buildings whatever except a small shed for ropes.” A sub-committee was appointed, and Mr Lemon the borough surveyor devised a plan, at an estimated cost of £100, which was agreed 27 July 1877.
The final cost, submitted 26 April 1878, was £98, which included “Giant Strides purchased complete of a good maker.” A Giant Stride was a tall pole with ropes attached to a hoop at the top, ending in loops: you swung from the rope and made “giant strides” in a circle. The rest of the apparatus could be put out to tender to local joiners.
The chosen joiners began work on the equipment in July 1878, and the Hampshire Advertiser (31 July 1878) reported that “already some of the ‘Arabs’ have distinguished themselves in climbing and performing various ‘feats’ on the flagpole.” Just over a week later, Alderman Jones was warning of the danger: “it was perfectly alarming to see little boys, seven and eight years of age, climbing up to such a height.” By the 21 August “the swings, ring trapeze, &c … had a pretty good testing, as at one time we observed no less than four or five great fellows standing up on one swing and swinging themselves, and there was quite a fight among the juveniles to get one of the ropes attached to the circular swings. One boy got his arm broke.. Already some very pretty scenes are to be witnessed there, and, of course, the choicest language.” The Park Superintendent started to place a man in attendance to maintain order (the Advertiser of 24 August said he would have his work cut out), and the ropes were taken in at night. The committee, meeting 23 August, said that “unless decorum be maintained the committee will take into consideration the propriety of recommending the Corporation to take further steps in the matter.” In a Council debate about Mr Egerton the Park keeper’s salary, and the expenses of maintaining the Parks, (Hampshire Advertiser 7 Sept 1878) Alderman Passenger said “the gymnasium, he was sorry to say, had not proved so great a success as it ought. No sooner was it erected than it became a nuisance.” Councillor Furber replied that “the Gymnasium was a child of his, and he was glad to see it was so well liked by the young people. It wanted bringing under proper control, and bye and bye they would be able to effect this, and by bringing the children to one spot they would save the Park rails.” He also said other towns closed their parks at night. Mr T Bowman, who lived on South Front, overlooking Hoglands Park, wrote to the Advertiser commenting that if the Gymnasium was Mr Furber’s child, “may I suggest he be called upon to clothe his child in a proper garment, so as to conceal its nakedness from the public eye?” (Hampshire Advertiser 11 Sept)
Some of the gymnasts were “not at all bad hands” with the ring trapeze, and youngsters did the exercises on the horizontal bars with great proficiency. However, by October there had been more accidents, and at the December meeting of the St Mary’s Working Men’s Conservative and Constitutional Association, held in the Kingsland Tavern, the general opinion was that it had been a bold experiment, but put in the wrong place. At the committee meeting 7 May 1879, the ropes and fixtures of the apparatus were all in store, but the wooden frames were still standing, and people were bringing their own ropes to use on the frames.
The matter of the Gymnasium came up again 27 February 1880, but “the advisability of its being refixed in another locality be postponed for the present.” A month later, the Advertiser described the Good Friday activities in the parks, including “swinging at what remains of the public gymnasium.”
On the 22 September 1882 Mr Robert Chipperfield Chairman of the Endowed Schools Governors wrote asking “that one of the Giant’s Strides on the Houndwell might be handed over to the Grammar School the one at the school being rotten, dangerous and past repair.” The committee recommended the council to “sell one of the posts to the Endowed Schools Governors for the sum of £4.”
And finally, 25 May 1883,the Committee considered the subject of the Gymnasium in the Hoglands "with reference to the propriety of retaining the same or recommending the removal." It was resolved unanimously, “that the Committee recommend the Corporation to instruct the Borough Surveyor to remove the remaining portion of the Gymnasium from the Hoglands to the Corporation Wharf.”

The Gymnasium had only been officially in use for one summer and autumn in 1878. Its position close to the courts and alleyways of Southampton's "rookery" with its swarming families with no open space but the parks, and the lack of funding for proper supervision, meant that the hopes of its supporters for healthy and appropriate exercise facilities were dashed. The bold experiment was over


Browse A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W Y-Z

Search is temporarily unavailable, we are working to bring it online!

Get Involved

If you wish to

  • suggest additional information for this entry
  • suggest amendments to this entry
  • offer your own research
  • make a comment

then fill in the form on the Contact page.