One of the strengths of the people of Southampton is their ability to reinvent their town in times of great change.

An example of this is the growth of Southampton as a Spa Town in the mid 18th century.

The changing fortunes of trade and politics had left Southampton impoverished by the early 1700s but that was to change with a combination of fashion and good luck.

In the early 18th century it had become fashionable to bathe in sea water and to drink mineral rich water for its health and curative benefits.

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In 1740 a chalybeate spring, rich in iron and other minerals, was discovered in Southampton and to encourage its use a fountain was installed surrounded by attractive gardens.

The fountain’s location is remembered today in the name of Spa Road off Castle Way and the water jets installed at Westquay.

In 1750 Frederick Prince of Wales, the son of George II, visited Southampton with his three brothers, including the future George III. They became regular visitors. This Royal Patronage led to the Spa’s increasing popularity and brought many wealthy and influential visitors to the Town.

To cater for the fashion of sea water bathing, baths were constructed along the water’s edge opposite the Arcades along the western walls and included Assembly Rooms where visitors could be entertained with a variety of social activities such as Balls during the season.

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The Gloucester Baths and Promenade Rooms were opened along The Platform which later became the site of Union Castle House and another near Cross House on the Itchen shore.

Increasing numbers of visitors needed a range of services and many locals were employed conveying visitors between venues in sedan chairs and in providing horse drawn carriages.

A theatre was opened in French Street to provide further entertainment.

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Southampton’s sea air and rural charm encouraged many wealthy visitors to establish grand country houses nearby while others, such as the Marquis of Landsdowne built extravagant town houses within the walls for use during the season.

The improving prosperity of the town led to many building projects including the rebuilding of All Saints Church and hotels, such as The Star and The Dolphin, turning Southampton’s High Street into one of the most beautiful streets in Britain.

The High Street in Southampton became lined with all sorts of impressive buildings and shops. It also became a busy thoroughfare with stage coaches and mail coaches arriving regularly from London, Poole, Bath and Brighton.

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Bookshops were numerous and popular with at least seven in the High Street alone, not just selling books but also lending them.

One very successful book shop was Bakers located at 143 the High Street which printed and published local guidebooks, directories and maps. These were very popular and bought by visitors, including royalty, who wanted to explore the area.

One of their best selling books was “A companion in a tour round Southampton” by John Bullar which included detailed tours for a gentleman to explore on horseback with a very useful map printed to accompany it.

Southampton became a popular place of residence for Navy Officers from Portsmouth as its social life provided opportunities to meet and marry young women from wealthy families or with royal connections that might help to accelerate their careers.

One such officer was Jane Austen’s brother Francis who lived in a house where the Juniper Berry pub is today and where Jane lived between 1806 and 1809.

In 1768 the architect James Leroux together with two wealthy investors, Isaac Mallortie and General Carnac, set upon building an ambitious “architectural ensemble” of shops, large houses, hotel and Assembly Room on a site to the north of the town which was to become the Polygon.

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Three Houses and the hotel were constructed when, for financial reasons, the scheme collapsed.

The spa period lasted into the early years of Victoria’s reign when Brighton became more fashionable and Southampton went into decline to be reinvented once more with the construction of the docks and the arrival of the railway.

Godfrey Collyer is a tour guide with .