Stories Behind the Stones
God's House Tower holds many fascinating stories and is a corner stone of Southampton's Old Town. Visit GHT today to experience it's stories brought to life with our exhibition throughout the historic Tower - Stories Behind The Stones.
GHT as we know it today was constructed over several hundred years and has held many different uses over that time. The oldest part of the building – originally known as God’s House Gate – was built in 1189 and named due to its proximity to the nearby God’s House Hospital. The original gate was built to give access to the Platform Quay and was used to guard the town from attack by sea.
In 1338 Southampton was raided by the French and – with no defensive walls to protect the town – Southampton was pillaged. The invaders rampaged through the streets setting fire to houses and pillaging the cellars which stored valuable wine and wool. The townspeople faced the wrath of King Edward III, who gave orders to enclose Southampton with walls as a defence against further attack – which the townspeople had to pay for. Strategically positioned at the southeastern corner of the walls and as a lookout point across the Solent, the Tower at God’s House was built in 1400 to house gunpowder and cannons. GHT remained an important defensive structure for the next 300 years.
By the 17th century, with attack from the sea no longer an immediate threat, the Tower was no longer needed for defence and the building began to fall into disrepair. In 1760 plans for a prison at God’s House Tower were drawn up and God’s House Gaol held three prisons in one building: the Bridewell, the Felons’ prison and the Debtors’ gaol. The prison was constantly cold and damp, as it was built over the town ditches, with stories of disease being rife. Inmates were held in chains and subjected to hard labour working a hand cranked mill in the prison yard to produce flour from grain, or picking oakum. The work was hard, monotonous and unpleasant.
By the Victorian era, the population of the prison as well as the population of the town had soared and the prisoners were moved from God’s House Gaol 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.
In the 1960s the building was converted into the city’s archeology museum and Brutalist concrete staircases and parquet floors were installed. The museum closed in 2011 and in 2019 – after a painstaking four-year restoration project – GHT re-opened as Southampton’s new arts and heritage venue.
GHT is a truly unique heritage site with a fascinating and colourful history. The heritage is alive in its walls and in the stories of the people who lived and worked here – stories that blur the lines between fact and fiction, documented histories and hearsay.
‘a space’ arts
Established in 2000, by artists for artists, ‘a space’ arts is a visual arts organisation that leads on a range of artist development projects, including the Arches and Tower House studios, God’s House Tower, and the RIPE programme, along with delivering a bespoke range of Artist Resources.
We take an enterprising approach to delivering our mission of supporting visual artists and inspiring audiences and have grown incrementally and strategically, developing a portfolio of projects that have culturally reanimated several Southampton buildings, to become a registered charity and an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation (NPO).
At the heart of our work are four aims:
Meet our Team
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