Unlike the church in last week’s post, Holy Rood, less than 200 yards away, didn’t survive the Second World War unscathed. On the night of 30th November 1940, it, along with most of the town centre, was destroyed. The ruin was dedicated to the Merchant Navy and there are memorials inside to seafaring Sotonians who lost their lives at sea, including one to members of the crew of the Titanic.
What’s left of the current building was built in 1320, replacing a church that stood in the middle of English Street. The tower is fourteenth century, but the nave, aisles and chancel were rebuilt in 1849-50. The Victorian rebuilding was a lot more sympathetic to the medieval original than many such projects and more people were able to fit inside the church and make use of the building, which was of benefit to the parish.
The site of the present church was given to St. Denys Priory by Thomas de Bynedone, probably the richest man in the town at the time. The old church was more or less exactly where the new water conduit needed to be to bring fresh water into the town from a spring outside. Thomas de Bynedone’s intention was that there would be a cemetery as well as a church, but the town’s mother church, St. Mary’s, objected. Burials of the town’s inhabitants were only to take place in St. Mary’s cemetery and none of the churches within the town’s walls had burial grounds. St. Mary’s was just a few hundred yards outside the medieval town and I’m not entirely sure how it came to be its main church. Perhaps we’ll visit some of the buildings outside the town walls later. The church was reached through the town’s East Gate. The gate is no longer there, but the road that led to it is still called East Street. Although Thomas de Byndone’s plan for a cemetery failed, he was given the right to be buried within Holy Rood itself.
At the height of the Black Death, three separate vicars were appointed to the parish on 12th March, 22nd April and 20th September 1349, their predecessors having succumbed to the plague. The whole town, which hadn’t even started to recover from a raid by the French in 1338, was badly affected by the Black Death and took a long time to regain its former wealth. For centuries it was thought that Southampton was the place where the Black Death entered England, but it’s now believed that this was Melcombe, a few miles round the coast in Dorset.
During the fifteenth century Holy Rood became the church of the wealthier inhabitants of the town, who tended to live in the southern part of the parish. At this time, the church’s bell was rung to wake the town and to announce the curfew each day.
Possibly the most important visitor the church has welcomed was Philip II of Spain. When he arrived in Southampton in 1554, he heard Mass here, then rode to Winchester to marry Mary Tudor.
Historic Buildings of Southampton by Philip Peberdy
Collected Essays on Southampton edited by J B Morgan and Philip Peberdy
Medieval Southampton by Colin Platt
April Munday is the author of the Soldiers of Fortune and Regency Spies series of novels, as well as standalone novels set in the fourteenth century.