OVER the years many different parts of Southampton have been popular with the heavy and recreational drinkers of yesteryear.

East Street and Canal Walk are well-known as once being hang-outs for those eager to whet their whistle. But St Mary Street is another that was also enjoyed for its many pubs and bustling nightlife.

There was a time when the street boasted 22 public houses.

The pubs did a roaring trade and among the many that were open for business in former times were The Eagle Inn, Netherbury Arms – later the Stag Inn, Arundel Castle, Burton Ale House, Pear Drop Inn, Resolution Inn, Red Rover and the Bold Forester.

It was not only the pubs that made this street so well-known as there was a time when seven butchers’ shops, three fishmongers, seven or eight clothing stores, Bricknell’s the homemade sweet shop, chemists, grocers and bakers could be found there.

Even as recently as the 1960s St Mary Street attracted the dedicated followers of fashion with Sydney Man’s Shop and Shirt King while youngsters brought the latest hits from Henry’s Records.

Gaslights ringed Kingsland Square and trams clanked down the road past Holt and Conroy selling ironmongery and household goods and the second-hand bookshop run by the Misses J and F Spencer.

At the end of the 19th century St Mary Street had a reputation of being a rowdy place, especially at the times of local elections when rude posters were hung from buildings, and supporters of the losing party hung lino in front of their windows to keep the stones out.

Back in May, 1957 Alfred Isaac Russell, then aged 90, whose furniture shop in the street had been in the family since 1841, was interviewed by the Daily Echo about the area’s lively past.

Mr Russell, who was born at 111 St Mary Street, told the Daily Echo: “The street’s got quite respectable since those old times.’’

When the pubs closed, the fighting began and it seems women joined in as well and events were watched by ragged children and old people wearing the drab, grey corduroy of the nearby workhouse.

Mr Russell’s father was a prominent worker in the Conservative cause, and at election time St. Mary Street again showed the tough streak in its character.

Heritage. St. Mary Street, 1964.

St Mary Street in 1964.

In those days it was Tory versus the Liberals with both sides were out to obtain as many votes as possible from the people living in the neighbourhood.

Mr Russell recalled that during one election the Tories were well ahead with an hour to go. “Get the flags out, Mother,’’ said his father.

“But a P&O boat came in,’’ said Mr Russell. “Out went the Liberal wagonettes, and the seamen tipped the scale against us.’’ As darkness fell that night his father nailed lino to the shop windows. “That didn’t keep the stones out,’’ said Mr Russell. “As I lay in bed with my brothers, I could hear them crashing through the lino and the windows. The crowd was shouting: ‘Three boos for Russell’.’’

The following appeared in the local weekly Southampton newspaper in 1876.

St Mary Street, circa 1907.

St Mary Street, circa 1907.

“A correspondent has written to us complaining of what he terms as a most intolerable nuisance in St Mary Street.

“A piece of waste ground there is, he says, let out for all kinds of low amusements, such as are to be met with at fairs.

“While music is only permitted on the streets under certain conditions, an organ provides music on this ground without hindrance.

“In the evenings and at weekends, the pavement is so blocked that people desiring to get by are forced to walk in the road.’’

There has always been a different atmosphere about the place and even today, after much redevelopment, it remains a unique part of Southampton with its own individual charm.