FOR a long time it was one of the old town’s great open spaces, a place where Southampton schoolboys played football, the venue for funfairs and rallies.

Marlands, now the site of the Civic Centre, had its roots back in medieval times, when a leprosy hospital, known as Magdalens, stood nearby.

Over the years the name became corrupted to Marlands and the area turned into a meeting place and a speakers’ corner. Bounded by Commercial Road, Civic Centre Road, Havelock Road and West Marlands Road, the land was used for a huge variety of events, from circuses to recruiting drives, during the First World War.

It had in earlier times been covered in grass.

However, the trampling of thousands of feet over the years destroyed much of the greenery, leaving just a gravel surface.

In May, 1910 thousands gathered for a memorial service following the death of King Edward VII, and a few years later crowds again packed the Marlands to see one of the first fighting tanks displayed to boost the National Savings campaign.

There was a time when many local people could remember Marlands being used for bank holidays during the First World War, as the Common was used as a rest camp for troops on their way to the Western Front, but time has taken its toll on first-hand memories.

Marlands was also the scene of some intense rivalry between pupils from King Edward’s and Taunton schools.

The last event to be held on the site was O’Brien’s Great Fun Fair, which promised the Golden Dragon Scenic Railway, the Brooklyn Cake Walk and the American Dodgem Machine, which was claimed to have come from Coney Island in the USA.

It was only after a drawn-out campaign, lasting several years that Alderman, later Sir, Sidney Kimber gained acceptance for his scheme for using the West Marlands for Southampton’s Civic Centre.

In return, five acres of land at Weston Park and three-and-a-half acres at Shirley Warren had to be promised in recompense.

An echo of the name remained with the Marlands Hall, now the site of the BBC studios, once a Second World War Naafi club, until it was demolished in 1985.

The office block which was built on the site of the former Grand Theatre was called Marland House when it opened, but it had nothing to do with the old open space, which would have stood opposite.

It was in fact named after one of the directors of the company that developed the building.