In praise of: Southampton

My first ever novel, Rewind and edit, was set partly in my home town of Barnsley (disguised in the book as North Coleton) and partly in Southampton, where I attended University.  On this page, the second of my ‘In praise of’ series of postings, I want to list the best features of my former home- some of the factors that attracted me there in 1979 and which kept me there after my graduation.

What I loved about Southampton:

  • the Common and the parks– is there as green a city in England?  My first arrival in So’ton in 1978, on board a National Express coach from t’North, presented me with acres of grassland on the approach down the main road into the city centre.  It was unlike any other city I knew and I was sold on the place immediately.  Many were the happy hours spent wandering the vast expanses of wood and grass land, feeling far from the crowds.  The large parks surrounding the commercial core of the city were an added bonus.  The pond in the view below is especially meaningful to me as my degree course tutors sent a group of us to survey and map it, using metal ranging poles, during a thunderstorm…;


  • the Bargate and city walls.  It’s not as impressive as York, it has to be acknowledged, but still it’s striking and memorable;


  • the Tudor House museum and other traces of the medieval and Tudor port. Below Bar another city exists- the street plan and the buildings all suggest the wealth of former centuries;


  • the Nuffield Theatre on the University campus, the venue for a range of fantastic productions;


  • pubs– not least the Old Red Lion in the High Street but also The Junction in St Denys. The latter was an excellent drinking venue in my student days; the former is a stunning medieval hall house.  It is too little known and is remarkable for its preservation.  I should not forget too the late-lamented Southerner on High Street… sailors off newly docked ships came in to drink and meet ‘ladies.’  The atmosphere there was, to say the least, lively…


  • talking of sailors… I have always reckoned that a city isn’t really great without a river.  Southampton is greedy- it has two rivers, the Test and the Itchen, as well as the waterfront of the Solent.  The presence of the docks and the coming and going of huge ships and liners, pus ferry access to the Isle of Wight and beyond, gives the place an exciting air.  Down at the waterfront there’s a sense of possibility; the way is open to Cowes and the world…
  • the city art gallery, especially for the painting ‘Sadak in search of the waters of oblivion’ by John Martin.  I have, ever since, had an affection for Martin’s apocalyptic canvases with their over the top Gothic gloom and doom;


  • the University’s John Hansard Gallery and Turner Sims concert hall.  In the latter I attended my first concert of early music featuring singer Emma Kirkby in 1982; it was revelatory and I have loved medieval and renaissance music ever since.  Such a fan did I become, that I even built my own lute from a kit supplied by the Early Music Shop.  You can’t tune or play the thing, but it looks pretty handsome…