Holy Rood means Holy Cross in Saxon so it is possible that the original church dated back to before the Conquest. This first church stood on an island in the middle of the High Street, directly in front of its present location. It was rebuilt on its present site, on the east side of High Street at the north corner of modern Bernard Street, in 1320 after the original church had fallen into disrepair. The land for the new church was provided in 1318 by local wool merchant Thomas de Bynedon. The 15th century, a period of prosperity for the town, saw a number of improvements to the church, including the installation of new and bigger windows.
The parish traditionally occupied the south-east quarter of the walled town including both sides of High (English) Street. On the north the boundary ran a few blocks short of West Street on the west and between the two buildings of the Dolphin Hotel on the east. There was no extra-mural expansion owing to the inclusion of the town ditches in All Saints parish.
From early times the western porch (seen in image 2) of the church was used by the corporation to issue proclamations, and was the site of election hustings. It was known as the Proclamation House and the corporation paid for its repairs. In 1755 it was extended further into the street and enclosed with palisades, eight pillars of Portland stone. It was from Holy Rood that the morning assembly bells and the evening curfew bells were rung. The church was largely rebuilt again in 1849-50. This rebuilding followed the original design and retained parts of the 14th century church, including the chancel, aisle and tower.
The church was largely destroyed after taking a direct hit during the Blitz of 1940. The clock tower, however, remained standing and mostly intact with the clock itself receiving only minor damage. The two ancient quarter-jacks, the uniformed automated figures that tap the bells, were restored and replaced in 1951 (clipping 1 below) (having earlier been restored in 1897).
In 1957 the ruins were converted into a memorial to the Merchant Navy (image 1 and clipping 2). It is Grade II* listed. We have a separate entry on the memorials in the church.
- 1. 'Little Men' of Holy Rood at work again - (SDE 23/06/1951)
- 2. Holy Rood merchant navy memorial will be unveiled in April - (SDE 16/03/1957)
Southampton’s Holy Rood: The Church of the Sailors, by Andy Russel et al. (HS/j)
History of Southampton, by Rev. J. S. Davies, p353-370. (HS/h)
Medieval Southampton, by Colin Platt, passim. (HS/h)
Southampton Occasional Notes, 2nd Series by ‘Townsman’, p15. (HS/h)
Churches in and Around Southampton, by Cuthbert Monk, p12-17. (HS/j)
Documentary about Holy Rood Church, produced by members of Southampton Video Camera Club in 2013.
Blog post about the church, by Lesley and Roy Adkins, 2014.
Image of Holy Rood Church, late 19thc, on PortCities site.
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