Shirley (Surlie, Shyrlegh, Sirlei are variant spellings) is a large district constituting the main western suburb of Southampton. It was formerly a manor and tithing of the vil of Millbrook. The name derives from early English and means ‘a clearing in a wood next to water’. The original settlement - still sometimes referred to as Old Shirley - was near the junction of the modern Romsey and Winchester Roads and probably dates to the Saxon period.

A mill and settlement is recorded here in the Domesday Book. There was also a church, but it was demolished in the 17th century. Some development occurred in the 18th century with the establishment of a number of country houses and estates. Shirley was then a pleasant rural area and some wealthy Southampton people preferred to build their houses here rather than in the increasingly over-populated town. Major development took place in the mid to late 19th century, mainly to the south of the original hamlet. Shirley Common was enclosed in 1830 and the large estates were sold off for development and the open spaces were gradually filled-in with new streets. Many of the new inhabitants were merchants and tradesmen from the then fast-expanding Southampton. By about 1885 Shirley looked much as it does today.

In the mid 19th century the local governance of Shirley was invested in the Shirley Board of Health, established in 1853. In 1880 the Shirley Board was merged with the Freemantle Board, which had been established some years previously. The local Boards were replaced in 1894 by the short-lived Shirley and Freemantle Rural District Council. In 1895 Shirley and Freemantle were incorporated into the County Borough of Southampton.

Further reading:

Shirley, by Dick Moxon (et al). (HS/h)
Shirley from Domesday to D-Day, by John Guilmant and Hilary Kavanagh. (HS/h)
Discovering Shirley, by Sandra Bartlett (et al). (HS/h)
Shirley 1836-1986, by Adrian Rance. (HS/h)


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