When the Normans arrived in Southampton in 1066, they built a castle on high ground at the confluence of the rivers Test and the Itchen. It was built in their usual manner consisting of a large mound, or motte, on top of which the castle was constructed inside a defensive stockade.

The motte was 60 metres in diameter and 17 metres high and surrounded by a palisade - a wooden fence - enclosing about three acres known as the bailey. The complete structure was made of timber and its position gave a commanding view of the two rivers and Southampton Water and also intimidated the local inhabitants.

Today this site is the location of Castle House a tall block of apartments and remains of part of the motte can be seen in the slope of the land in this part of the old town.

We know that Henry II in the 12th century had a great influence on the development of the Norman town of Southampton and it was during his reign that the first phase of the Bargate was completed. At the same time the palisade around the bailey and the stockade around the castle would have been replaced with stone. The castle itself would have remained a wooden structure.

Henry I often stayed in the castle at Southampton writing letters which he began with "From our Castle in Southampton". During this time various sums of money were spent on the Castle including for the construction of the quay by the Castle Watergate.

The Castle itself would have been replaced with a stone structure in the fourteenth century.

Part of the remains of the Bailey Wall can still be seen today. The arches forming the foundation for the bailey wall were covered with a bank of soil in front of which was a ditch.

Each side of the Watergate were vaulted chambers and the north vault remains intact. This vault was used to store the prisage wines - the wines claimed by the King.

The thirteenth century was a period of general decay for the castle despite letters of warning and the fact that Edward I had endowed the castle to his second wife on their marriage.

The arrival of the 14th century and Edward III's claim to the French throne, the 100 years war and the attack on the town in 1338 by French and Genoese raiders gave a new impetus to the improvement of the town's defences. The threat of further French raids in 1378 led to the castle and town defences being improved under the direction of Sir John Arundel. By this time the motte had become a derelict waste and the early keep had disappeared such that a new square tower had to be constructed with two gates, complete with portcullises, an outer defensive wall known as a barbican, four turrets and a bridge. This new tower, after two centuries, fell into decay.

John Speed is said to have surveyed the town in 1596 and his atlas, which was published in 1611, included a plan of Southampton showing the castle. A French spy also drew a plan of the town around the same time showing the castle.

When James I came to the throne the castle was once more a ruin and, in 1618, it was sold for £2,078 to James Ouchterlony and Richard Gernard and from them eventually to George Gollop, one time Sherriff and Mayor of Southampton.

In 1650, during the Civil War, stone from the castle was used to reinforce the town walls.

By the reign of Queen Anne the Castle had ceased to exist.

In 1805, the site of Southampton's medieval castle was bought by the Marquis of Lansdowne, who built a new castle. After his death in 1809 it was sold, and demolished in 1818.

  • By Godfrey Collyer - tour guide with SeeSouthampton.co.uk.