IT was one of Southampton’s most imposing landmarks, right up until its demolition almost a century ago in 1919. Nowadays its legacy lives on in name only.

Once, bus passengers would regularly hear the conductor calling out: “Stag Gates, next stop, Stag Gates.’’ The youngest person who might recall the old, imposing stone pillars in The Avenue would now have to be about 98 as the gateway was demolished not long after the end of the First World War.

It was this demolition which sparked an enduring Southampton mystery, which has never been fully laid to rest, especially among people fascinated with the city’s past.

These days, younger generations might wonder what was the origin of the name given to this busy crossroads at the junction of Lodge Road, Banister Road and The Avenue.

To find the answer we’ll need to turn the clock back just over 170 years to 1844, when William Betts bought Bevois Mount House and surrounding estate.

From about 1725 until 1780, this had belonged to the Earl of Peterborough, his widow, and then his nephew.

After passing through the hands of various owners, Bevois Mount House was acquired by Betts, an extremely successful engineering contractor who had built Southampton’s Royal Pier in 1833.

It seems Betts sold off a portion of the land to developers who quickly designed and built houses and streets.

Betts built a fine gateway alongside a small lodge at the entrance of the drive to Bevois Mount House, which stood about halfway along the present day Lodge Road on the north side.

The Stag Gates, as they came to be called, comprised two tall side pillars, each surmounted by a stag and underneath them on the side facing the Avenue was his motto "Ostendo non Ostento", which means the idea of pride without ostentation.

An arched opening in each pillar covered a footway leading through either side of the main entrance, and curving side walls were topped with smaller pillars.

The gateway also had fine wrought iron gates shutting it off from the Avenue. Later these were acquired by the local authority and moved to form the entrance to the Old Cemetery on the Common.

Betts spent large sums of money on Bevois Mount but suffered a series of financial setbacks and, in the mid-1850s, Betts fell on hard times and had to sell the whole estate.

The house, with the gardens surrounding it, was bought by a J Wolff, a Southampton shipping man, but the rest of the estate went to speculative builders, who developed it by making Lodge Road and other streets.

Then, in 1869, Wolff sold the house to a Mrs Barnes, who ran it as a “young ladies’ school’’ until 1900 when it became a hostel for the female students of the Hartley College, forerunner of the University of Southampton.

During the First World War, the house was a transit prison for German officers, who could be seen from the top decks of passing trams, pacing round the gardens.

When the conflict was over, the house - which was between what is now Cedar and Cambridge Roads to the north of Lodge Road -  came onto the market, and was eventually pulled down.

But what became of the Stag Gates? At this time, the pillars were owned by William Burrough Hill, architect, surveyor, land agent, valuer, and formidable name in Southampton’s 20th century history.

A collector of artefacts and paintings, in 1919 Burrough Hill donated the gates to the town as a gift to mark the return of peace following the First World War.

Then, within a short time, the council decided Stag Gates were a danger to traffic – so down they had to come.

It is understood the generous donor was so upset at this that two carts appeared at Lodge Road early one morning and the statues of the stags taken away to a “place of safety.’’

For more than four decades the mystery of the stags’ last resting place remained unanswered, but in May 1963 evidence surfaced, when Southampton resident Mabel Stroud claimed to have part of one of the stags buried in her garden.

It transpired that, during the 1950s, six new houses were built on land in Regent’s Park, including that of Mrs Stroud, who found a large piece of curved stone.

The stone had been there when the Stroud’s moved into their new Southampton home ten years earlier, and the family had planned to dig out the nuisance stone from out of the ground so that a new lawn could be laid.

When neighbours suggested the stone could be part of the neck of one of the stags, Mrs Stroud was also convinced that she had stumbled across part of the sculptures that had been missing for years.

"For years my neighbour's been saying it must be." she explained, when interviewed by the Echo at her Regent’s Park home in May 1963. "And I think it probably is—the house is built in the garden of the man who last had the stags.

"I've been meaning to try and find out. But, like meaning to get rid of the thing, I never got round to it.”

On examination it was thought the stone could well have been the neck of one of the stags missing for so many years and it was decided this was more than likely the answer.

There are many, to this day, who believe that other parts of the statue of the stags were saved from destruction and then hidden for safety and that they still remain somewhere in Southampton.

Stones from the gates were taken away and eventually used in Southampton's parks to form part of a rockery and the pathways around the former aviary site.