Illustration by Southampton artist Martin Davey
Cannonballs can still be found lodged in Southampton's medieval walls

History

The buildings which form modern-day God’s House Tower are some of the earliest in Southampton. The name God’s House comes from the nearby hospice, built around 1189 as a resting place for travellers and pilgrims en-route to Canterbury.

The original gate was built around 1280, to give access to the Platform Quay as well as to the walls on the east at a high level, useful for any patrols or at times of attack. Running along the eastern walls was a double ditched moat, up to 40 feet wide, which was fed by sea water operated by a sluice at the Platform Quay. The ditches were important not only for defence but also because they also provided water power for one of the town’s main mills which was built adjacent to God’s House Tower.

After the devastating French raid on Southampton in 1338, the townspeople faced the wrath of King Edward III, who visited the town giving orders to enclose Southampton with walls as a defence against further attack. The walls took 40 years to complete. The Tower itself was constructed during the reign of Henry V around 1415. Strategically positioned to form the southeastern corner, the Tower was built to house gunpowder, fire cannon and as a lookout point across the Solent.

These Southampton fortifications represented cutting edge technology. Bows and arrows were being replaced by guns, cannon and muskets – and at the time Southampton held one of the largest stocks of  ordnance in any English town.  By 1417 a gallery had been built joining God’s House Gate to the Tower. The buildings were used as a key part of the south coast defence system for the next 200 years.

By the 17th century however the Tower began to fall into disrepair, until 1760, when plans for a prison at God’s House Tower were drawn up. It was the town gaol until that too closed in 1855. Part of the building was used as a temporary mortuary until the Southampton Harbour Board rented the premises in 1876 for use as a large warehouse .

God’s House Tower became Southampton’s Museum of Archaeology from 1963 until 2011.

In 2012 ‘a space’ arts acquired the lease for the building from Southampton City Council and in 2018 GHT’s £3.1million restoration project began.

This year GHT will be gifted back to the public, with a specially curated series of exhibitions designed to bring the building’s unique history to life.

 

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God's House Tower archive image taken around 1900
Archive image showing GHT circa 1900.