LONDONER James Lemon came to Southampton in 1866 and his work in the town changed the life of Sotonians forever.

James was born in London in 1833 where he trained as a civil engineer and later worked in that field.

It was around 1866 that James came to Southampton where he took up the post of borough Surveyor. The changes James Lemon made in the town are not to be underestimated and can still be felt to this very day.

The town’s sewage works at that time were woefully inadequate. Cholera continued to kill residents as the water supply had to deal with an increasing population and the contamination of the system by sewage claimed so many Sotonian lives. This had been preventable and thanks to the work of James Lemon things began to change.

Southampton had been a victim of its own success. Behind the lovely High Street and its splendid buildings lay areas of abject poverty where folk lived in miserable over crowed conditions without basic facilities such as clean running water and sewage disposal.

The commercial success of both the railway and docks attracted workers from all over the British Isles. Many of the workers were the poorer working class, unskilled but willing to do a day's work.

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The old library

The counties farm labours were required less as machinery automated the jobs of farm workers. Many of those affected moved to Southampton with their families for the chance of a better life, the prosperous commercial port of Southampton with its shining tall buildings and open spaces being quite the attraction

There was employment for some of the unskilled labourers not nearly enough to cater for all those that came. With little or no income they were resigned to a life in Southampton's slums, many dying of starvation and disease where they had gathered.

It was James Lemon that continually fought the Corporation, forerunners of the Council, for the funding of his great engineering projects in the town. They included acquiring land in St Denys for the disposal of sewage along with the installation of miles of sewage pipes.

He instigated new water mains to replace the cumbersome wells in the town.

Other projects James undertook were the resurfacing of High Street and the widening of the narrow East Street.

James was a man of vision, getting things done often in the face of adversity. He helped improve the lives of Southampton residents past and present, and without him there would undoubtedly have been more outbreaks of the dreaded cholera and a greater loss of life.

James had been involved in many events in the old town including the opening of Southampton's first purpose-built Library on the corner of London Road and Cumberland Place which opened in 1893.

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In 1901 Sir James Lemon had three volumes of his memories published by Henry March Gilbert & Son who was then based at 24 the High Street, the work was entitled Reminiscences of Public Life in Southampton.

The following is an extract from volume 3 of those reminiscences which covers the Public Library in London Road:

"There was a great deal of opposition to the proposed purchase of land upon the New Place House estate, the representatives of St. Mary wishing to keep the Free Library in their Ward, but it was ultimately decided to erect the building on the New Place House Estate.

"Designs were advertised for, and the plans of Mr. Guy were accepted, and he was appointed architect, but when the tenders came in they were in excess of the amount provided, and the plans were referred back to the architect for revision, that having been done fresh tenders were received.

"The foundation stone was laid by myself on August 31st, 1892.”

James had become Mayor of Southampton in 1891 and 1892, so was recounting his memories when laying the foundation stone to the Free Library.

James continued to serve the town and in recognition for his work was knighted in 1909.

Sir James Lemon passed in 1923 and was buried in Southampton's Old Cemetery.

He is remembered in the naming of Lemon Road, Shirley.

By William Burns, founder of Southampton Sotonian & Friends Facebook group.