HUNDREDS of people pass by it and under it every day, but rarely do they stop and truly look at Southampton’s most iconic building – the Bargate.

No one alive has ever seen the city without this frowning structure, the landmark by which strangers are directed around Southampton and long the symbol of the strength and steadfastness of local people.

Next time, take a few minutes to stand and stare at this remarkable building, together with the imposing walls that once wrapped strong fortifications around the town in past centuries.

These fortifications gradually grew, ranging in date from the Norman period to the early 15th century, by which time the medieval town of Southampton was completely encircled by a lofty wall, averaging about 25ft feet to 30ft in height and extending nearly one-and-a-quarter miles in circumference.

The defensive walls formed a rectangle, stretching north and south, following the line of the western shore and rounded off at the southwest corner.

Built mainly of Isle of Wight limestone, the walls incorporated seven main gateways and were strengthened by 29 towers.

V-Day preperations in Southampton. Parade marching though the Bargate. June 8, 1946. THE SOUTHERN DAILY ECHO ARCHIVES. HAMPSHIRE HERITAGE SUPPLEMENT. Ref: 591

V-Day preparations in Southampton. Parade marching through the Bargate. June 8, 1946. 

The Bargate or North Gate dates from Norman times, its earliest feature the half-round arch dating from about 1175-1200, forming the core.

It was the most important gateway to medieval Southampton and here the town broker collected tolls on all merchandise entering or leaving the town. A bridge formally spanned the wide moat in front of the Bargate and the entrance was defended by a portcullis.

Twin drum towers containing arrow slits were added on either side of the gateway during the 13th century.

The imposing north front with its battlements dates from the late 14th or early 15th century and projects several feet forward of the original gate for strong defensive work.

The two leaden lions which form an ornamental guard to the entrance of the gate date from 1743, when they replaced earlier wooden lions which used to stand at the end of the bridge crossing the wide moat in front of the Bargate.

The Queens Diamond Jubilee. The Queen pictured waving inside her Royal car as the procession makes its way from under the Bargate and into Above Bar after leaving the QE2 during a busy day of Royal engagements, which also saw her visit the Cunard liner

The Queen's Diamond Jubilee. The Queen is pictured waving inside her Royal car as the procession makes its way from under the Bargate and into Above Bar.

Shields bearing the crosses of St Andrew and St George, together with nine other heraldic shields, also decorate the north front.

These were put in place in honour of Parliamentary representatives and leading burgesses and benefactors of Southampton during the late 17th and 18th centuries.

The south front of the Bargate, overlooking the High Street, is of an entirely different architectural character from the other side facing Above Bar.

This is largely the result of improvements to the Norman gateway during the 13th century.

In a niche over the central archway is a statue of King George III in Roman costume, copied from the statue of Emperor Hadrian in the British Museum.

Heritage. Last tram through the Bargate 1938

Last tram through the Bargate 1938

It was the gift in 1809 of the second Marquis of Lansdowne, who presenting it to the corporation, described it as bearing “no mean likeness to his Majesty’’.

The niche was previously occupied by a statue of Queen Anne, relegated to inside the old Guildhall on the Bargate’s first floor.