The history of St Mary Street and the surrounding St Mary’s area dates back to the Saxon period and the founding of St Mary’s Church in the 8th century. This settlement, usually referred to as Hamwic, appears to have been the largest and most important industrial port in England between the 7th and 10th centuries. The original site became unsuitable for a variety of reasons and subsequent urban growth took place further to the west. The Saxon settlement slowly disappeared, leaving only the church and the line of the main street. The earliest extant map of Southampton (c.1560) shows St Mary Street running north from East Street, past the church and then curving around to meet the main road out of Southampton at Padwell Cross (now Asylum Green).
The southern stretch of the street, where it met East Street, was from the 14th century known as Bag Row (or Bagge Row), a name probably derived from Richard Bagge, a local landowner. The northern stretch was sometimes referred to as Love Lane, and was substantially what is now St Mary’s Road.
In the 18th century the street was a genteel semi-rural road, but the coming of the docks, railways and industry in the early 19th century entirely transformed the area. New cheaper housing was developed to house the dock labour force and industrial workers. Shops, pubs and churches were built to serve their various needs. The ancient Saxon routeway became an important shopping and market area for this part of the town, an alternative to the larger stores in the city centre.
After World War Two the fortunes of the street declined due to changing employment, shopping and population patterns. Busy surrounding roads served to cut the street off from the town centre and it soon developed a shabby and neglected appearance. Urban regeneration schemes have done something to halt the decline, but the street is still only a shadow of its former self.
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