Situated in the angle of St Mary's Street and Chapel Road, St Mary's, although outside the town walls, is regarded as the mother church of Southampton. The original church dates back to the Saxon period, the minster at Wic (Hamwic), the forerunner of the medieval St Mary’s, being mentioned in Saxon charters of 713 and 776. St Mary’s was not directly named in the Domesday Book in 1086 but was probably one of the churches mentioned in connection with the manor of South Stoneham. John Leland writing in 1546 repeats a traditional story that the church was completely rebuilt in the 12th century thanks to the efforts of Queen Matilda.

The medieval church had been largely destroyed or pulled down by 1550, the Court Leet records noting that rubble from the ruined church was being used to repair roads and that only the damaged chancel remained. The chancel continued in a dilapidated state until 1711 when it was rebuilt and a new nave added, thus forming a new church, which was enlarged over the next century and a half, most notably in 1833. The new church was not an impressive structure (image 1). Sir Henry Englefield in 1801 devotes only a paragraph to it, and that only because of its historical fame, not its current appeal.

The rapid increase in population during the mid-19th century soon meant that the church was inadequate for the needs of its expanding congregation and it was completely rebuilt in 1878-84 to the designs of George Edmund Street (image 2). The ceremony to lay the foundation stone in 1878 was attended by the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), the Princess of Wales and their sons Albert and George. The royal party was met by The Bishop of Winchester, the Rector of St Mary's, the Rev. Basil Wilberforce and other dignitaries. The church, with the exception of the spire and steeple, was completed in 1884. The steeple was added in 1914. The Victorian church was largely destroyed during the Blitz and was rebuilt in 1954-6 by Romilly Bernard Craze, who retained Street's steeple and some of his outside walls (images 3 & 4). It is Grade II listed.

Probably by virtue of its minster status, St. Mary's parish was from early times of a ‘residual’ character and embraced everything east of the walled town and of All Saints parish, i.e. the area east of the ditches. It included Houndwell, East Marlands and the Bellevue estate, and also the Avenue as far as modern Westwood Road. Here its boundary executed a double return to include all of the original Padwell Farm, including Bevois Lodge but not the later acquisitions. It continued as far as the creek where Bevois Valley sidings are today. All of Northam was included.

King Edward VI Grammar School was founded by money left in the will of William Capon, rector of St Mary's, who died in 1550.

1. St Mary's Church

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Engraving showing the church in c.1790

2. St Mary's Church

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Photograph showing the rebuilt church in 1900. The steeple has not yet been added.

3. St Mary's Church

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St Mary’s Church in 1956

4. St Mary's Church

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A modern view of the church

Further reading:

History of Southampton, by Rev. J. S. Davies, p328-350. (HS/h)
Medieval Southampton, by Colin Platt, passim. (HS/h)
St Mary’s Church, Southampton: A short History and Guide. (HS/j)
A Walk Through Southampton, by Henry C. Englefield, p74-75. (HS/h)
Buildings of England: Hampshire and the I.O.W., by Nikolaus Pevsner and David Lloyd, p517-519. (H/i)
Resurgam: The Story of St Mary’s Church, Southampton. (HS/j)


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