CHAPTER II. SOUTHAMPTON WATER AND THE NEW FOREST
Bitterne is now a suburb of Southampton on the opposite side of the Itchen, but it may claim to be the original town from which the Saxon settlement arose. It is the site of the Roman Clausentium, an important station between Porchester and Winchester, and when the Saxons came up the water and landed upon the peninsula between the two rivers they probably found a populous town on the older site. This conjecture would account for the name given to the new colony - Southhame tune - ultimately borne by the county-town and the origin of the shire name. It is as the natural outlet for the trade of Winchester and Wessex, standing at the head of one of the finest waterways in Europe, that Southampton became the present thriving and important town.
To-day its commercial prestige, if not on a par with Liverpool, Hull or Cardiff, is sufficiently great for the town to rank as a county borough. The magnificent docks are capable of taking the largest liners, and as the port of embarkation for South Africa its consequence will increase still more as that great country develops. On the banks of the Itchen many important industries have been established during the last quarter of a century and, as a result of this and the inevitable disorder of a great port, Southampton's environs have suffered. But more than any other town in England of the same size, have the powers that give yea or nay to such questions conserved the relics of the past with which Southampton is so richly endowed. The most famous of these is the Bargate (originally "Barred" Gate), once the principal, or Winchester, entrance to the town. It dates from about 1350, though its base is probably far older. The upper portion, forming the Guildhall, bears on the south or town side a quaint statue of George III in a toga, that replaced one of Queen Anne in stiff corsets and voluminous gown. The various armorial bearings displayed are those of noble families who have been connected with the town in the past. Within the upper chamber are two ancient paintings said to represent the legendary Sir Bevis, whose sword is preserved at Arundel, and his squire Ascupart. Sections of the town wall may be found in several places, but the most considerable portion is on the north side of the Westgate, where, until the middle of the last century, when Westernshore Road was made, high tides washed the foot of the wall. The arcading of this portion is much admired, and deservedly so. So far as the writer is aware, no other town in England has medieval defences of quite this character remaining. The picturesque Bridewell Gate is at the end of Winkle Street and not far away is all that remains of "God's House" or the Hospital of St. Julian, "improved" out of its ancient beauty. The chapel was given to the Huguenot refugees by Queen Elizabeth; a portion of the original chancel still exists and within the Anglican service continues to be said in French. The house known as "King John's House," close to the walls near St. Michael's Square, dates from the twelfth century and is therefore one of the oldest in England. Another old building in Porter Lane called "Canute's House" is declared by archaeologists to be of the twelfth century, but Hamptonians, with some degree of probability, claim that the lower walls are certainly Saxon, so that the traditional name may be right after all. In that part of the town nearest to the docks are several stone cellars of great age upon which later dwellings have been erected, in some cases two buildings have appeared on the same sturdy base. A particularly fine crypt is in Simnel Street, with a window at its east end. At the corner of Bugle Street is the "Woolhouse," said to belong to the fourteenth century; very noticeable are the heavy buttresses that support this fine old house on its west side. Another old dwelling in St. Michael's Square may have been built in the fifteenth century. Tradition has it that this was for a time the residence of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.
The reference to Canute's House brings to mind the tradition, stoutly upheld by Hamptonians, that it was at "Canute's Point" at the mouth of the Itchen, and not at Bosham or Lymington, that the king gave his servile courtiers the historic rebuke chronicled by Camden. By him, quoting Huntingdon, we are told that "causing his chair to be placed on the shore as the tide was coming in, the king said to the latter, 'Thou art my subject, and the ground I sit on is mine, nor can any resist me with impunity. I command, thee, therefore, not to come up on my ground nor wet the soles of the feet of thy master.' But the sea, immediately coming up, wetted his feet, and he, springing back, said, 'Let all the inhabitants of the earth know how weak and frivolous is the power of princes; none deserves the name of king, but He whose will heaven, earth, and sea obey by an eternal decree.' Nor would he ever afterwards wear his crown, but placed it on the head of the crucifix." There is little doubt that Southampton was one of the principal royal residences during the reign of the great Northman, and nearly a hundred years before, in Athelstan's days, it was of sufficient importance to warrant the setting up of two mints.