Southampton Common covers over 300 acres and today is well used for many leisure activities.
Originally it was the town’s common land and animals were pastured there. This is recalled in the name of the popular Cowherds pub, built near the site of the Cowherdsman’s hut. Animals were kept in by earth banks some of which still exist e.g. along Hill Lane.
In the 13th century its ownership was disputed and in 1228 the town secured it from Nicholas de Surlie, who owned the Manor of Shirley. Since then proud Sotonians have defended the Common from incursions, ranging from illegal cows, to the motor car.
Archery practice took place here in the 1500’s. During the wars of 1756 and 1763, Hessian (German) prisoner troops were kept here when local innkeepers refused to have them. In the Napoleonic Wars armies were massed here. During the 20th century it was used by troops during WW1 and WW2, particularly prior to the D-Day invasion.
During the 18th century the ancient track to Winchester was made into a road – The Avenue. The 19th century saw the Common used for sedate carriage drives and the routes can still be traced. There was also a figure of eight race course and some remnants remain. The racing was stopped in the 1860’s due to the drunkeness and hooliganism it attracted!
The pools on the Common are the remains of water reservoirs constructed in the 19th century and there was also brick making on the Common.
Southampton Zoo was closed in the 1970’s and is now the peaceful Hawthorns Urban Wildlife Centre.
Southampton Old Cemetery
An Act of Parliament was required in 1843 to acquire the land from Southampton Common. It now covers an area of 27 acres and the total number of burials is estimated at 116,800. Currently there are 6 to 8 burials a year to existing family plots. The cemetery, one of the earliest to be owned by a local council, opened in May 1846 as a 10 acre site and was expanded up to the 1880’s when an avenue of yew trees was added. There are over 60 plots connected to the Titanic disaster as well as over 100 Commonwealth War Graves.