OUR streets are like an open-air museum containing many artefacts relating to the city’s past. There is history in every street and around every corner.

Today many of the services we receive – especially utilities - are privatised but historically they were operated by local authorities.

The Second World War and the need for national coordination of production combined with government philosophy led to many utility companies being nationalised.

In Southampton in the late 19th and early 20th centuries we saw a move towards municipalisation in which the local council took on and operated many of the utilities such as water, sewage and electricity as well as transport.


As you walk along the streets of Southampton you will often see fire hydrants and water stopcock covers cast with SCWW embossed on them. This stands for Southampton Corporation Water Works and relates to when our water was supplied by the Corporation.

This water initially came from an artesian well and reservoirs located on the common. These reservoirs can still be seen today one of which is used as a boating lake.

Reservoir on the Common.

Reservoir on the Common.

The wells could not meet demand so the supply was supplemented with water from the Itchen at Mansbridge where the reservoir can still be seen. It no longer provides a water supply but is a social amenity enjoyed by anglers and walkers.

SCWW also had to process sewage and in various streets around the city you will see what look like telegraph poles but on closer inspection they are made of cast iron, are hollow and have no telephone wires attached.

These are vent stacks which were installed to vent gases from the sewer thereby easing the flow of the sewage and are often known as “stink pipes” or “stench pipes”. They are made tall enough to ensure that the escaping gases do not cause a nuisance. On many the vent cap is missing from the top.

Stink Pipe in Carnation Road.

Stink Pipe in Carnation Road.


You will notice along many streets old electricity distribution boxes often painted green or grey and embossed with the town shield.

These date back again to the days in the first half of the last century when Southampton Corporation supplied its own electricity from a power station located near Southampton Central Station.

These boxes are known as lucy boxes and are about 3 feet high, 2 feet wide and 18 inches deep.

Lucy Box at Houndwell Place.

Lucy Box at Houndwell Place.

They are found on pavements around the city and were originally used in connection with the tram network and distribution of electricity.

The name "lucy box" was applied to these boxes because many of them were made by the Lucy Foundry based in Oxford which closed only a few years ago.


When you next walk along Oxford Street, be sure to take a close look at the lamp standards.

These are embossed with the Southampton shield but were originally the posts that supported the wires which held the power supply cable for the trams until 1949.

Town shield on tram power stanchion.

Town shield on tram power stanchion.

They can be clearly seen in early photographs and have been cleverly modified for use as lamp standards.

Few signs of the tracks associated with the trams are visible today but if you look carefully some can be seen on the North-West corner of the Common near the Avenue and Burgess Road traffic lights.

Tram tracks on the Common.

Tram tracks on the Common.

These tracks were laid in the Second World War so that the trams could be hidden among the trees at night well away from the risk of bomb damage.

With so many utilities to manage in addition to its other services it was not surprising that by the early 20th century the Corporation had outgrown its offices in the high street with many departments scattered in buildings across the town.

A new civic building was needed to bring the administration of all the services and utilities together under one roof and hence the construction of the historically important, Civic Centre in the 1930s.

Godfrey Collyer is a tour guide with SeeSouthampton.co.uk .