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St Mary's Church Southampton

St Mary's Church, Southampton

Situated in the angle of St Mary's Street and Chapel Road, St Mary's, although outside the town walls, is regarded as the mother church of Southampton. The original church dates back to the Saxon period, the minster at Wic (Hamwic), the forerunner of the medieval St Mary’s, being mentioned in Saxon charters of 713 and 776. St Mary’s was not directly named in the Domesday Book in 1086 but was probably one of the churches mentioned in connection with the manor of South Stoneham. John Leland writing in 1546 repeats a traditional story that the church was completely rebuilt in the 12th century thanks to the efforts of Queen Matilda.

The medieval church had been largely destroyed or pulled down by 1550, the Court Leet records noting that rubble from the ruined church was being used to repair roads and that only the damaged chancel remained. The chancel continued in a dilapidated state until 1711 when it was rebuilt and a new nave added, thus forming a new church, which was enlarged over the next century and a half, most notably in 1833. The new church was not an impressive structure (image 1). Sir Henry Englefield in 1801 devotes only a paragraph to it, and that only because of its historical fame, not its current appeal.

stmarys18thCEngraving showing the church in c.1790

 At Edward's Baptism in 1857 St Mary's Church would not have looked very impressive. It would have been enlarged compared to the c. 1790 image as it was after 1833.

However, at the time of Edward's marriage to Alice Florence Furzey in 1895, it had apparently been completely rebuilt.

The rapid increase in population during the mid-19th century soon meant that the church was inadequate for the needs of its expanding congregation and it was completely rebuilt in 1878-84 to the designs of George Edmund Street (image 2). The ceremony to lay the foundation stone in 1878 was attended by the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), the Princess of Wales and their sons Albert and George. The royal party was met by The Bishop of Winchester, the Rector of St Mary's, the Rev. Basil Wilberforce and other dignitaries. The church, with the exception of the spire and steeple, was completed in 1884. The steeple was added in 1914. The Victorian church was largely destroyed during the Blitz and was rebuilt in 1954-6 by Romilly Bernard Craze, who retained Street's steeple and some of his outside walls.

stmarys1900Photograph showing the rebuilt church in 1900. The steeple has not yet been added.


 Below is a modern image from Google Maps. Click on it to go to the mapping and see the church's location and proximity to Chapel Road and Grove Street.

I seem to remember that whist St Mary's was considered the mother church of Southampton, and it did have an ancient past, it was not a cathedral, which for a time hindered Southampton's ambitions to achieve City status.

The charter granting Southampton city status is dated 24 February 1964.

It had first applied for city status in 1929, but that request was turned down by King George V.

World War Two and the resulting austerity postponed Southampton's next application until September 1958, when a petition was prepared for the Queen.





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