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HER Number:MSH2247
Type of Record:Building
Name:Town Defences - Watergate and Watergate Tower
Grid Reference:SU 4197 1098
Map:Show location on Streetmap


Watergate, also known as Floodgate, was the south gate of the walled medieval town, situated at the south end of High Street. It led onto Town Quay, the main quay in the later medieval period. It was the home of the Clerk of the Kings Ships, a town official, and was used to control the movement of goods, to collect custom duties and other fees.

In or soon after 1339 some work was carried out at Watergate, although it is unclear whether this involved an existing early 14th century gate or the construction of an entirely new gate. In the late 14th century Watergate was still said to be “new”. Corporation leases from 1403 refer to a tower over the Watergate and another tower on the west side of the gate, with the town walls to the east and west.

In 1433 Watergate was said to have been “lately weak and ruinous” and had been repaired at great expense by William Soper, then Clerk of the Kings Ships. In or soon after 1438 Soper added another building to the east side of the gate tower, inside the town walls and partially "above" the street leading to Gods House Gate (now Winkle Street) (see MSH42). This was clearly part of the Watergate complex. It is probably the “new square tower” referred to in the 1454 defence terrier. This seems to have been a substantial structure. The 1454 defence terrier gives 2 loops in the western tower, 2 loops over Watergate and 7 loops in the “square tower”. On Speed’s 1611 map this building appears to be taller than Watergate and the western tower. (It seems unlikely that the “square tower” of 1454 was the south-west annex, for which see below, although there is no documentary evidence for the construction of this annex.) In 1454 Watergate contained domestic accommodation, a warehouse and a shop.

In 1481, Watergate was again said to be “very ruinous and broken down”. At this time or soon after a building may have been constructed across what is now Porter’s Lane, between the western tower and the customs house on the west side of the High Street. In 1519 a new customs house was built on the east side of the High Street against the north face of the gatehouse and Soper’s 1438 building; the new building seems also to have extended across Winkle Street (see MSH68).

There are late 18th century illustrations of the south side of the Watergate. These show post-medieval alterations to the buildings. The earliest illustration (1771) shows fairly low buildings east of the gate, so the tall building shown on Speed’s map must have been reduced in height by then. At this time Watergate and its adjoining buildings were used as an inn. The area was congested with buildings which obstructed access to Town Quay. In 1789 a postern was ordered to be constructed at Watergate; this may have been in the western tower or in the town wall just south-east of the gate. Not long after, buildings adjoining the east side of the gatehouse were demolished, bringing down some of the machicolations on the gate. In 1803/4 the gate house was pulled down leaving only the western tower and a small, rectangular annex to the south-west, against the outside of the tower and town wall. In the 19th century the western tower was rebuilt as the Castle Hotel.

In the early 1960s the post-medieval alterations were removed and the medieval remains restored as a monument. This work was accompanied by a limited archaeological investigation (SOU 659). The surviving monument was described by Faulkner who identified two main medieval phases. The first phase, dated to the early-to-mid 14th century, consisted of the gate tower and two-storey, D-shaped drum tower to the west, both probably contemporary with the adjacent town walls. The second phase was dated to the first half of 15th century. Machicolations were probably added at that time. A third storey was added to the western tower and internal floor levels altered. The small southwest annex was built. Faulkner noted that these alterations would have provided spacious accommodation. From the documentary evidence, Faulkner’s first phase may date to 1339 or soon after. The second phase can be identified as Soper’s repairs mentioned in 1433.

Protected Status

  • Scheduled Monument 1001932
  • Listed Building (I) 1091977: WATER GATE TOWER
  • Conservation Area: Old Town South

Other References/Statuses

  • Old Southampton SMR No/Backup file: SU 4110 NE 21  BU

Monument Types

  • GATE TOWER? (Built, Medieval - 1300 AD to 1339 AD (between))
  • TOWN GATE? (Built, Medieval - 1300 AD? to 1339 AD? (between))
  • FLANKING TOWER (built or altered, Medieval - 1339 AD to 1350 AD (between))
  • GATE TOWER (built or altered, Medieval - 1339 AD to 1350 AD (between))
  • TOWN GATE (built or altered, Medieval - 1339 AD to 1350 AD (between))
  • DRAIN? (Built, Medieval - 1400 AD? to 1450 AD? (between))
  • SITE LAYER (Medieval to Post Medieval - 1400 AD? to 1900 AD? (throughout))
  • WALL (?Built early 15th century, Medieval - 1400 AD? to 1450 AD? (between))
  • FLANKING TOWER (Altered, Medieval - 1430 AD? to 1433 AD (between))
  • GATE TOWER (Altered, Medieval - 1430 AD? to 1433 AD (between))
  • GATEHOUSE (Built, Medieval - 1430 AD? to 1433 AD (between))
  • TOWN GATE (Altered, Medieval - 1430 AD? to 1433 AD (between))
  • TOWN GATE (Altered, Medieval - 1438 AD to 1440 AD (between))
  • FLOOR (Post Medieval to Modern - 1700 AD? to 1965 AD? (between))

Full description

Records for the town defences are currently being enhanced and it is intended that further details will be added to this description at a later date. (SCC HER 4/12/09)
[5]: Listed Building Description. TOWN QUAY - Water Gate Tower (formerly listed as Watergate) (Grade I).
- C14 and C15. The remains of the Watergate, the south gate of the town. Built of stone rubble. Drum tower of 3 storeys and part of fourth storey with 3 arched windows. Three storey rectangular tower added to west in early C15. South facade has a central part recessed between buttresses and a parapet with machicolations resting on 3 stepped corbels. Remains of garderobes on each floor. Four centred doorway. Late C15 extension to the north, the west wall retaining a 2 light square-headed window. Scheduled as an ancient monument.
[Derived from English Heritage LBS download dated 19/08/2005. Crown Copyright. Reproduced under the terms of the Open Government Licence.]
[1] in [2]: See source for a full description of the remains of the Water Gate. The main part of the Water Gate Tower and the town wall to the west are of 14th century date. The southwest wing of the tower is an early 15th century addition, built against the main drum tower and town wall. TO BE COMPLETED

[4] SOU 659: A small trench was dug in the southwest wing of the Water Gate Tower during restoration work. It has since been backfilled and the ground level reinstated at a level about a foot lower than before the excavation.

[3] SOU 659 results (with some interpretation of the sketch sections by record compiler IP):
The base of the town wall to the west of the drum tower was revealed; it had a sloping, champhered plinth, which was exposed to a depth of about 5 feet below the champher. At the base of the trench, the town wall was butted by a "tide deposited gravel". The base of the south wall and footings of the southwest wing was revealed. A north-south wall, running between the town wall and south wall of the wing, contained an opening with quoined jambs and lintel; this may be labelled "drain" on the sketch. This ?drain may be associated with the garderobes described in [1] (IP). In the western section of the trench, overlying the natural gravels, layers of mortar, stone chippings, redeposited gravel and charcoal are shown below two "Victorian" floors; these layers may be construction layers (associated with the construction of the southwest wing) and medieval floor makeup (IP). In the ?eastern section, apparently above the north-south wall, there was a layer of "mortar, brick and stone building rubble"; this in turn was overlain by a gravelly "buildup" layer, in turn overlain by "mortar seating for an earlier floor"; above this was "?18th century buildup" composed of "dark debris, pottery, pipes, etc"; above this was a brick floor, which seems to have been the floor level at the time of the work.

Sources / Further Reading

---SSH3064 - Unpublished document: Ancient Monument File AM12 - High Street (general and specific). photo
---SSH3083 - Unpublished document: Ancient Monument File AM31 - Watergate/Water Gate.
---SSH352 - Archaeological Report: I Peckham. 1997. Watching Brief on groundworks for the repaving of Winkle Street, Southampton. SOU 802. p 4/5
---SSH4242 - Bibliographic reference: Francis Grose. 1773. The antiquities of England and Wales, Volume 2. p217 (picture & text)
[1]SSH563 - Article in monograph: PA Faulkner. 1975. The Surviving Medieval Buildings. P&CS: Excavs in Med Soton 1953-69, Vol 1, 56-124. p 67/70
[2]SSH508 - Monograph: C Platt and R Coleman-Smith et al. 1975. Excavations in Medieval Southampton 1953 - 1969, Vol 1: The Excavation Reports. p 67/70
[3]SSH562 - Excavation archive: SOU 659 Site Archive. 2 sketch sections only.
[4]SSH564 - Unpublished document: I Peckham. 1997. Note on location of SOU 659 trench. All
[5]SSH2888 - Digital archive: English Heritage. 2005. Listed Buildings System dataset for Southampton.

Associated Finds: None recorded

Associated Events

  • ESH1898 - Watching brief on repaving at the south end of High Street in 2009 (Ref: SOU 1512)
  • ESH659 - Recording during restoration of The Water Gate in 1963-5 (Ref: SOU 659)

Related records

MSH14Child of: Town Defences - town wall, towers and gates
MSH628Parent of: North corner of High Street and Winkle Street - Limestone Wall

Associated Links: None recorded

If you have any feedback or new information about this record, please email the Southampton HER (her@southampton.gov.uk).