Features of Town Quay Park

Town Quay Park has seen many centuries, although not of course in the guise that we now see it. This area is part of the original Old Town of Southampton and being on the waterfront, it has witnessed all the excitements and deprivations that being close to a commercial waterfront bring with it. But Town Quay Park is surrounded by 1000 years of history, from the remains of an old Saxon rampart as you approach from the High Street, opposite the 13th century Quilters wine vault. This only got its name in the 19th century from Ma Quilter, who then ran a fleapit hotel that stood on that site and who ruled it with a rod of iron. Or in her case with a wooden truncheon! That hotel was bombed in the Blitz of November 1940, leaving only the vault below. In the corner of the Park, towards the remains of the Watergate Gate there is a small Garden which is the memorial to the influx of Huguenot refugees who came to Southampton during the reign of Louis XIV and made such a lasting impression on British commerce, with Courtauld, Barclays, De La Rue and Debenhams all springing from them. In this garden we have a mulberry tree, beloved of silkworms, which was the basis of the silk trade for which Huguenots are most famous.
Town Quay, C.1971
Town Quay, C.1925
Then there is the enigmatically named Canute’s Palace, which again dates from the 13th century, which keen historians will know is at least 200 years after Canute’s death and so disproves the theory that it ever had any connection with the famous Danish king, who was reputed to have had his altercation with the incoming tide some 250 metres from here.  We can find no evidence that this building was ever lived in and being located right on what then was the beach it is likely that it was a warehouse for goods coming off and going on the sailing ships moored nearby. It was last used as a coal merchant’s store and again was a victim of the Blitz. We can thank the Georgians and Victorians for trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, and they did a very good job of it, because it may still be known as Canute’s Palace for many years to come! Porters Lane, which runs seaward of the Park, took its name from the men who delivered the goods coming to and from the sailing ships, and they kept their horses stabled there. And where modern garages now stand, on the corner of French Street, was the old town cesspit. So it was not likely to be a prime residential location!!
And across French Street, which was named during the Huguenot immigration because so many of them lived there, we have a remains of an old mediaeval corn store, before we move round to the 13th century Wool House; which has seen many uses over the years, from the Wool trade in the Middle Ages, to housing French prisoners during the Napoleonic Wars. It is now a hugely popular and thriving Micro Brewery.
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In British usage today, the experts say that a labyrinth has one path and a maze has more than one path. (In other times and places the words may be used the other way round.) To get to the central space involves only patience in a labyrinth; but it involves choices in a maze and perhaps getting lost.
The oldest labyrinths and mazes go back as much as 4000 years, and traditional designs can be found in many places going back 2000 or 1000 years. Some were for decoration and quite small, both indoors and outdoors. Others were big enough for walking – for entertainment, or for a small local journey giving time and space for reflection on life (perhaps for those unable to go on a long walking pilgrimage to a special place). The word ‘mizmaze’ seems to be a local word for turf labyrinths (perhaps 1000 years old) in Hampshire and Dorset. Other ancient turf mazes in other parts of the country have different sorts of local names.
In Hampshire we have two local turf mizmazes – St Catherine’s Hill in Winchester, and Breamore near Fordingbridge. The Breamore mizmaze has the same pattern and was installed about the same time (1200 AD) as Chartres Cathedral labyrinth in France. The Chair of the Friends of Town Quay Park, with Southampton Council, chose a simplified version of the Breamore pattern for installation, finally completed in May 2022. We call it a labyrinth because it is not an ancient turf construction, and it has just one path from the entrance to the centre and back out again. There are numerous other indoor and outdoor labyrinths near Southampton (e.g. Romsey).

This small garden is dedicated to the Huguenots who came to Southampton in the 1560s seeking sanctuary from religious persecution in France and the Netherlands. Huguenots brought their knowledge and skills in silk making to Britain. To symbolise this, a large Mulberry tree (symbol of the silk industry) shaded plants of Frencyh origin in the garden. Sadly the original mulberry tree was badly damaged in a storm in 2012 so a replacement mulberry, kindly sponsored by a local family, was planted. A nearby plaque donated by the Women’s Gas Federation explains the garden’s history.

FTQP, with the Huguenot Society are in the process of fully restoring the garden. For more information on Huguenots see here.

Near the French St entrance sits a stone memorial to 22,000 men, women and children, who were repatriated to Southampton in November 1945 after being held as prisoners of war in the Far East. Beds surrounding the commemorative stone have been planted with bamboos and grasses to evoke a sense of the Far East from where the ships departed. Names of these 22 ships are listed on the memorial. Spring and summer bulbs add colour and symbolise hope as they bloom each year.

The Far East Prisoners Of War Memorial (FEPOW) memorial was unveiled in October 2013 in front of 200 people including civic leaders, the local community, St John’s School, veterans and family members of those who are part of the FEPOW community. Since then FEPOW has held an annual ceremony in thanks for those who did return and in memory of those who did not. FTQP are proud to work with FEPOW, to help with the annual commemoration event and to keep the FEPOW memorial and beds well maintained.

For more information see here and also here

Although Town Quay Park is hidden away it is well used by people of all ages from the local community, city-centre workers, and the many tourists and visitors to the area. FTQP keep the park looking as attractive as possible through co-operation with the City Council Parks team and through the many volunteer hours contributed by our gardening volunteers.

As well as regular maintenance the gardening group have planted fruit trees, created raised herb beds, planted spring bulbs, colourful flowering, and a woodland glade. To find out more about their work or about joining in click here.

FTQP very much encourages use of the park as a public space for events that bring people together. A regular feature is the annual picnic with jazz band, games and a chance to meet others. Since 2017 a summer picnic has been part of the Great Get Together, a national event in celebration of murdered MP Jo Cox’s belief that we have more in common than that which divides us.

You can view other upcoming and past events in the Events page.