English Street was the medieval name for what since Renaissance times has gradually become established as the High Street. The name which is first recorded in the late 13th century was doubtless used to designate the common artery of the three English speaking parishes of All Saints, St Lawrence and Holy Rood (in contradistinction to French Street linking the French speaking St Michael and St John). Before this date the northern stretch in All Saints was called the Street of the Smiths; the St. Lawrence stretch was the Street of the Fleshmongers; while the Holyrood stretch, which was virtually cut off by the old Holyrood Church blocking the roadway, had no special name.
Many visitors to the town have remarked on the impressive appearance of the High Street. John Leland praised it in 1546 and Sir Henry Englefield wrote in 1801: “the most careless observer must necessarily be struck with the beauty of the High, anciently called English Street; which for breadth, length and cleanliness, can scarcely be equaled in England”. There are many fine 18th and 19th century views of the street, including Brannon’s engraving of 1849 (image 2) and the Tobias Young painting of 1811 (image 1). The Blitz and post-war reconstruction destroyed many of the architecturally interesting buildings, leaving the street a shadow of its former self (image 3). Notable buildings that still stand include two predominantly Georgian coaching inns, the Dolphin Hotel and Star Hotel, and the Red Lion Public House which has its origins in the medieval period. A few 19th century bank buildings have survived, including the National Westminster Bank at no. 129 (1867), the neo-Baroque Midland Bank at nos.165-166 (1900) and the neo- Jacobean style Barclay's Bank, 171 High Street (1900). The former Bank of England building at nos. 31-33 still stands but has been converted into a public house. No. 6 High Street, situated between the Bargate and East Street, dates back to the mid 19th century; no. 56, the ornate former Oakley and Watling Fruit and Vegetable Merchants (image 4) premises built in c.1890, retains its original facade which is heavily decorated with circlets of various fruits, including pineapples, bananas and grapes; nos. 123-124 (image 5) is a three-storey red-brick building, formerly the premises of Mowat's Fish Merchants, built c.1870. Medieval stone cellars still exist in a number of locations. Most of these buildings are Grade II or Grade II* listed.
Businesses and buildings on the High Street included:
- Gilbert's Bookseller's (?-1875), number 103.
- Laishley's drapery business, number 124 and by 1845, number 123 also. Previously Daniell's and there from 1793.
- The Mitre Inn, number 130 (from the 18th century) - later the Bugle, then the Clarence, and finally Clarence Bars.
- Hampshire Picture Gallery, at number 159 from 1827.
- Strachan's boot and shoe makers (?-1844), number 164.
- Gaze, bootmaker, (1844-?1872), initially at number 164, then at 183, then 143.
- Iron Doors (mediaeval).
- Le Crowne (mediaeval pub).
Excavations in Medieval Southampton, by Colin Platt (ed), p94-104. (HS/f)
Medieval Southampton, by Colin Platt, p43-49, 99-102, 145-146, 270-272. (HS/h)
Buildings of England: Hampshire and the I.O.W., by Nikolaus Pevsner and David Lloyd, p546-548. (H/i)
A Walk through Southampton, by H. C. Englefield, p30-50. (HS/h)
Visitors’ Descriptions: Southampton 1540-1956, compiled by Robert Douch, p5-8. (HS/h)
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