At the south eastern corner of the medieval town are God’s House Gate and God’s House Tower. The gate was built in the early fourteenth century following the construction of a new quay here at the end of the thirteenth century. The gate provided access to the town from the quay. The gate was protected by two portcullises, but I’ve only photographed the grooves of one.
The tower dates from the fifteenth century, probably the reign of Henry V. It protected the sluices controlling the flow of water into the tidal moat along the eastern side of the town. I think the water ran under the archway you can see around the woman in my photograph.
Soldiers and the town’s guns were kept here. When we get to some of the other towers dotted around the walls, we’ll see how progressive Southampton was in the use of cannon. The guns in the tower were used in 1457 when a French fleet threatened the town. They were effective and the fleet sailed further round the coast.
The tower served as a prison in the eighteenth century and was used for storage and as a mortuary in the nineteenth. For fifty years at the end of the last century it was a museum of archaeology and now it’s a space for the visual arts.
Most of these photographs were taken from outside the medieval town. Where I stood to take them would have been on the quay or a beach in the fourteenth century. I’m not sure which. Today it’s reclaimed land and there are docks and a quay opposite the gate and tower.
This building looks very modern, and it is, but the fence surrounds the oldest bowling green in the world. It has been here, just outside the medieval walls, since at least 1299. I should probably qualify that by saying that it’s the oldest bowling green still in use, as there’s a record of one in Chester in 1294.
The tower and the gate were called after God’s House, a hospital, which was nearby. God’s House itself was on the left of the photograph below. It was built at the end of the thirteenth century by Gervaise de Riche. Yes, his surname does mean that he was rich. There’s very little of God’s House left, mostly St. Julien’s church, and it was heavily ‘restored’ in the nineteenth century. It was used by French Protestants from the sixteenth century until 1939.
God’s House was built as an almshouse for some of the sick and old who could no longer work. It also gave hospitality to foreign pilgrims on their way to the shrines of St. Swithun in Winchester and St. Thomas Becket in Canterbury. Probably its most famous guest was Marguerite d’Anjou who stayed in 1445 on her way to marry Henry VI.
The hospital was supported by the gifts of the wealthy men of the town, at least for the first hundred years or so. The gifts would have been of money and of property. Rents on the properties would have provided a regular income to maintain the hospital. By the middle of the fourteenth century the town was in a bad way financially, as a result of a raid by the French in 1338 and the Black Death in 1348 to 1351. It was only at the beginning of the fifteenth century that the hospital began to receive the money it was due again.
In the early thirteenth century the staff comprised a master, two priests, a clerk, two to three brothers, three to nine sisters and two to three indoor servants. It didn’t take many people to manage a hospital in the Middle Ages.
In the first post in this series, I mentioned the conspirators against Henry V who were executed outside the Bargate in 1415. One of them, Lord Scrope, was buried at St. Julien’s, apart from his head, which was displayed above one of the town gates at York.
Historic Buildings of Southampton by Philip Peberdy
Collected Essays on Southampton edited by J B Morgan and Philip Peberdy
Medieval Southampton by Colin Platt