AS Southampton finds itself a finalist in the race to be crowned UK City of Culture 2025, there’s never been a better time to learn something new and fascinating about the wonderful city. And now, with the release of Celebrating Southampton – a new 96-page book from local author Martin Brisland – it’s never been easier!

For instance, did you know that Southampton has the second highest acreage of green city spaces in England, that the hovercraft was invented here, or that Richard the Lionheart may have spent his only Christmas in England in Southampton Castle?

Celebrating Southampton is the perfect way for people to familiarise themselves with the city and to find out about its rich heritage. It also packs enough insightful information to provide further background and knowledge to those who know it well.

“The Solent region was at the centre of aviation development between 1910 and 1960” writes Martin in a section on boats, trains and planes.

“Around twenty-six aircraft manufacturers made this area their home and built everything from biplanes to the legendary Spitfire. Southampton-born aviation pioneer Edwin Moon (1886-1920) flew one of the first British aircraft, the Moonbeam II, in 1910. He built his Moonbeam planes in the Wool House, now the Dancing Man Brewery pub and restaurant. Moon is buried at Southampton Old Cemetery, the grave marked by part of the propeller from the flying boat in which he died following an accident.

“Southampton became the base for Flying Boats, which connected England to the world. A few remnants of the docking berths can be seen off Town Quay.

The Tudor House..

The Tudor House.

“The Schneider Trophy for seaplanes was held on Southampton Water in 1929 and 1931, which was the last time it was held. Supermarine won three consecutive races in 1927, 1929 and 1931 in planes designed by R. J. Mitchell (1895-1937) winning the trophy outright. Today it is kept in the Science Museum, London. In 1931 a Supermarine S.6B achieved a speed of 340 mph. The film The First of the Few (1942) starring Leslie Howard as R. J. Mitchell centres on Mitchell’s life as the designer of the Schneider Trophy winning planes. This then helped him in the design of the iconic Spitfire. It had its first test flight from Eastleigh in March 1936. Afterwards, Captain Joseph ‘Mutt’ Summers said ‘I don’t want anything touched’. Over fifty are still airworthy.

“Bombing raids on the Supermarine factory at Woolston culminated in the devastating raid of Thursday 26 September 1940. The youngest to die was a fourteen-year-old. The problem then was how to build Spitfires without a factory. Production was dispersed across the Southampton area.

“Lord Max Beaverbrook was put in charge and given emergency powers. Local historian Alan Matlock has led research into the dispersal sites including Hendys Garage in Pound Street and Lowthers Garage and Sewards Garage in Winchester Road. The former Sunlight Laundry on Winchester Road was requisitioned to make wings and fuselages. Next door was the high ceiling of the Hants and Dorset bus garage, which was ideal for the jigs and Hollybrook was used for stores.”

The Dolphin Hotel in Southampton High Street around the turn of the century before the Bargate was completely isolated by the buildings of succeeding periods..

The Dolphin Hotel in Southampton High Street around the turn of the century before the Bargate was completely isolated by the buildings of succeeding periods..


Having such a wealth of history, Southampton is obviously not without its fair share of ghost stories. Martin addresses this in one of the sections of the book where he covers many of the spooky tales. From the 21 resident ghosts of The Red Lion through to Anne Boleyn’s spirit at the Tudor House Museum.

“The Mercure Dolphin Hotel is mentioned in documents dating back to 1454, although parts are older. From 1750 to 1820, Southampton was a spa town and the Dolphin Hotel became a popular social centre. Queen Victoria and Admiral Lord Nelson were guests. Jane Austen, author of Pride and Prejudice, celebrated her eighteenth birthday in the hotel’s ballroom. The most active ghost appears to be the apparition of a young chambermaid Molly. The story goes that Molly hanged herself after her affections were rejected by a young man she fell in love with. Molly has been witnessed wandering the halls of the hotel with her legs appearing to be stuck below floor level. Some say she is a psychic imprint left from a time when the floor was much lower before a fire in the 1890s.”

Along with spooky tales of supernatural occurrences and ghostly apparitions, the city has also seen many pubs come and go.

“In the mid-1800s it was felt there were too many pubs and outlets selling ‘the demon drink’ in Southampton. Albert Road near the docks once had six pubs side by side. Joseph Chamberlain MP claimed that Southampton was the third most drink ridden town in England with one person in every 120 having been charged with drunkenness. In 1878 the St Mary’s Church of England Temperance Society whose president was the teetotal Basil Wilberforce, the rector of St Mary’s, published a drink map of Southampton showing the large number of alcohol outlets in the town. Its purpose was to illustrate why Chamberlain was advocating a system whereby a retail license for the sale of spirits would be awarded to a trust, with the aim of controlling consumption. The profits were to be used for libraries, museums and parks. It is said that the map unintentionally proved popular as a pub guide with ships’ crew when they were in town. The licensing magistrates were very strict with the awarding of licences following the 1902 Licensing Act. The number of licensed premises declined and convictions for drunkenness fell to 1 in 250 by 1908.

Heritage. Building Thornhill Estate. Star pub 1962

The Star pub in 1962. Later became the Hinkler.

“History is often remembered in pub names. Some interesting ones include:

  • “Brass Monkey, Shirley Road. A brass monkey was a device for storing cannon balls on a ship.
  • “Giddy Bridge. Named after a nearby bridge over a muddy field.
  • “Hinkler, Thornhill. The Star was renamed in 1983 after Bert Hinkler, who was the first to fly solo from England to Australia in 1928. He had lived nearby.
  • “Admiral Sir Lucius Curtis. Built around 1870 as the Ferry House shipping offices. Renamed in 2007 after the Admiral who laid the Eastern Dock foundation stone in 1838.
  • “Obelisk Hotel, in Woolston, is named after the obelisk-shaped memorial that stands in nearby Mayfield Park to the memory of politician Charles James Fox.
  • “Saints, Kendal Avenue, Millbrook. Named after Southampton FC (nicknamed the Saints) since opening in 1962.
  • “Spike Islander, South East Road. Originally The Yacht, it became the Spike Islander in the early 1980s. Some say the name refers to a part of Sholing that was covered in spiky gorse, others that it applies to the spike shape land peninsular between the Hamble and Itchen.
  • “The Titanic, Simnel Street. Formerly the Queen, Queen of Clubs, Atlantic Queen and Endeavour. Renamed on the Titanic centenary in 2012.”

The book lives up to its name as it celebrates the city’s special events, important moments and fascinating connections. Split across 38 well-illustrated sections, subject matters include local sports, Titanic, animals, inventions and more.

The author not only uses his incredible knowledge of Southampton to amaze and entertain but he also calls upon his experience as a tour guide to include self-guided tours. These are well detailed and take advantage of much on offer including monuments, plaques, buildings and artwork.

But Celebrating Southampton isn’t just a book that should be found in the clutches of all locals and tourists eager to take in the historic sights, it’s a book that deserves a place on every Sotonian’s bookshelf.

Celebrating Southampton

Celebrating Southampton from Amberley Publishing is available in bookshops for £15.99 and is obtainable in Kindle, Kobo and iBook formats.