EVERY day countless numbers pass by it, and under it, but rarely do they stop and study Southampton’s iconic building, the Bargate.

No-one has ever seen the city without this frowning structure, the landmark by which strangers are directed around Southampton, and long the symbol of the strength and steadfastness of local people.

Next time, take a few minutes to stand and stare at this remarkable building, together with the imposing walls that once wrapped strong fortifications around the town in past centuries.

These fortifications gradually grew, ranging in date from the Norman period to the early 15th century, by which time the medieval town of Southampton was completely encircled by a lofty wall, averaging about 25ft feet to 30ft in height and extending nearly one-and-aquarter miles in circumference.

The defensive walls formed a rectangle, stretching north and south, following the line of the western shore and rounded off at the southwest corner.

Built mainly of Isle of Wight limestone, the walls incorporated seven main gateways and were strengthened by 29 towers.

The Bargate or North Gate dates from Norman times, its earliest feature the half-round arch dating from about 1175-1200, forming the core.

It was the most important gateway to medieval Southampton and here the town broker collected tolls on all merchandise entering or leaving the town. A bridge formally spanned the wide moat in front of the Bargate and the entrance was defended by a portcullis.

Twin drum towers containing arrow slits were added either side of the gateway during the 13th century.

The imposing north front with its battlements dates from the late 14th or early 15th century and projects several feet forward of the original gate for a strong defensive work.

The two leaden lions which form an ornamental guard to the entrance of the gate date from 1743, when they replaced earlier wooden lions which used to stand at the end of the bridge crossing the wide moat in front of the Bargate.

Shields bearing the crosses of St Andrew and St George, together with nine other heraldic shields, also decorate the north front.

These were put in place in honour of Parliamentary representatives and leading burgesses and benefactors of Southampton during the late 17th and 18th centuries.

The south front of the Bargate, overlooking the High Street, is of an entirely different architectural character from the other side facing Above Bar.

This is largely the result of improvements to the Norman gateway during the 13th century.

In a niche over the central archway is a statue of King George III in Roman costume, copied from the statue of Emperor Hadrian in the British Museum.

It was the gift in 1809 of the second Marquis of Lansdowne, who presenting it to the corporation, described it as bearing “no mean likeness to his Majesty’’.

The niche was previously occupied by a statue of Queen Anne, relegated to inside the old Guildhall on the Bargate’s first floor.