Shortly after 1066, the invading Normans took over the Saxon Town of Hamtun or Hamwich which became Southampton.

The town was very important to them as the main gateway to their lands in Normandy and beyond and they built defensive walls and gates of stone, adding a castle.

By the end of the 1300s, the Town Walls totalled one-and-a-quarter miles in length, with 27 towers and 8 gates.

The area enclosed by the walls is now the city’s Old Town where more than half of the town walls still survive, together with 13 of the 29 towers and 6 of the 8 gates.

Most of the North Walls still survive. They stretch east and west from the Bargate, the North and Main Gate of the town - its name derives from the bar used to halt traffic so the town broker could exact tolls.

On the north side, a pair of sculptured lions, originally wooden, were replaced with lead ones in the 1700s. They have recently been restored. Paintings of local legends Sir Bevois and Ascupart were on the northern side of the Gate. They are now held within the Gate itself.


The Bargate.

The Northwest stretch of walls can be climbed, along with Windwhistle or Arundel Tower at the northwest corner.

The Northeast stretch, which runs down to Polymond Tower, is almost complete but is currently hidden by a redevelopment.

The West and South sides of the Town were considered adequately defended by the water until in 1338 a force of French and Genoese privateers stormed in and did tremendous damage to properties – not to mention killing a number of the townspeople. Defensive improvements were ordered by the King.


The Westgate.

The West Walls were completed by connecting merchants’ houses fronting onto the quays - the blocked-off windows and doors can still be seen.

The Arcades, a series of arches was added, to strengthen the wall, and provide a platform for patrolling soldiers. The majority of the West Walls have survived and so has the West Gate.

Little has survived of the South Walls, though one tower of the South or Water Gate still stands at the bottom of the High Street along with buildings at the south-east corner of the Town including Gods House Tower and Gate.

Most of the East Walls were demolished as the town expanded, except for a short stretch at the south end but there are some modern markers of the route. The East Gate was demolished in 1775.

East gate.

The East gate.

The Town played an important part in the wine trade with Normandy and Gascony from the 11th to the 14th centuries.

Numerous wine vaults were built and many of them survive.

Other remains include St Michael’s Church (dated to 1070 and dedicated to the patron saint of Normandy), the Woolhouse ( now the Dancing Man Pub), the Weighhouse, Canute’s Palace in Porters Lane, and a few remnants of the Norman Castle.

In recent years, the town's walls have seen sound and light projections from West Quay, the Bargate has been used as a Christmas backdrop, and the vaults have been used for performances during Music in the City weekends and as a setting for art installations.

The. arcades.

The Arcades.

Southampton City Council now has a comprehensive condition survey of Southampton’s historic buildings and ancient monuments in line with Historic England guidance.

It has recently announced that it is investing more than £6 million in the city’s heritage, to repair and conserve many of the monuments. This includes those within the Old Town conservation area, such as the Bargate, the town walls and the vaults.

Cllr Spiros Vassiliou, Cabinet Member for Communities, Culture and Heritage said: “We have Heritage assets to rival other cities, and this plays a big part of our bid to become UK City of Culture 2025. It’s incredibly important that we look after our Heritage assets so that residents and visitors to the city can really appreciate Southampton’s remarkable history and future generations can enjoy discovering this too”.

SeeSouthampton logo.

SeeSouthampton logo.

Jack Wilson is a tour guide with .