The length of the town walls, which encompassed the medieval town, totalled 1,980 yards, the greatest north-south length being 786 yards and the east-west width at the north end being 217 yards. The perimeter included the curtain facade of the King's castle. Originally the north and east sides were alone defended by earthen banks. In the early 13th century, growing prosperity and possible conflict with France encouraged the construction of a number of gatehouses and stone walls on the north and east sides.

When the town was attacked by seaborne raiders in 1338 (usually referred to as the French Raid), the town’s defences proved inadequate, particular along the south and west sides. Edward II, whose wine and property was plundered in the raid, ordered immediate improvements to the town walls.

The west wall was interrupted by merchants' houses fronting onto the quays. In c.1360 the windows and doors in the seaward walls were blocked off and the wall made complete. Some of the blocked off windows and doors can still be seen. The arcade, a series of arches built on to the front of the West Wall, extending south from Biddle's Gate, was also added at this time to strengthen the wall.

The Watergate at the bottom of the High Street was the main gate in the south wall. A salient wall stretching south from the east side of the Watergate took the wall around Winkle Street which would otherwise have been outside the wall.

The east wall is not nearly as well preserved as the west wall. It defended the town from a landward attack and was served by a stout gate (East Gate) and a total of eight towers built into the wall. David Lloyd (Buildings of England: Hampshire and the I.O.W.) dates one of the few remaining fragments of the wall to the early 13th century, making it the earliest part of the stone fortification, apart from gateways.

The north wall was probably built in the late 13th century. The eastern portion incorporated two half round towers and ended at Polymond Tower at the angle with the east wall. Originally, the town ditch, or moat, ran outside the north wall and the Bargate was reached by a bridge over the ditch.

The walls remained an important part of the town’s defences throughout the 15th century. From the end 17th century their importance declined and they slowly diminished. The fabric of the walls was used in the construction of other buildings; some of the gateways were demolished, while others, notably the Bargate and God’s House Gate and Tower, were used for civic purposes. Many of the surviving sections of the walls are Grade I or Grade II listed.

East Wall

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A section of the southern part of the east wall with one of the towers, c. 2000.

North-East Wall

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A section of the eastern section of the north wall, 2015.

West Wall

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The northern section of the still largely intact west wall, c. 2000.

See also:

External links:

Further reading:

Southampton Occasional Notes, by ‘Townsman’, p1-3, 70-75. (HS/h)
Medieval Southampton, by Colin Platt, passim. (HS/h)
History of Southampton, by Rev. J. S. Davies, p59-110. (HS/h)
Excavations in Medieval Southampton, by Colin Platt (ed), p36-38, 142-149. (HS/f)
Buildings of England: Hampshire and the I.O.W., by Nikolaus Pevsner and David Lloyd, p536-541. (H/i)
Historic Buildings of Southampton, by Philip Peberdy, p12, 17-18, 50. (HS/k)
Southampton Archaeological Society Bulletin, No. 4, p5-7. (HS/f)
Southampton Archaeological Society Bulletin, No. 8, p1-7. (HS/f)
Southampton Archaeological Society Bulletin, No. 14, p5-7. (HS/f)


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