Gods House Tower

God’s House Tower (GHT), the cornerstone of Southampton’s ancient defensive walls, is about to begin a programme of refurbishments ahead of it reopening to the public as a new arts and heritage venue.

The project has been made possible by the support of a £1.7m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), £100k from Arts Council England (ACE) along with generous support from national foundations and local group the Friends of Southampton Museums, Archives and Galleries (FoSMAG).

The redevelopment is being led by the Southampton based organisation ‘a space’ arts and Southampton City Council with the aim of reopening, culturally reanimating and gifting this important local monument back to the people of Southampton. With the majority of funding now secured ‘a space’ have begun the project delivery phase, and aim to begin work on site later this year.

The project will breathe new life into the Grade II listed monument and tell the special story of this 700-year old building. Refurbishment works will include returning public access to the tower and removing modern internal walls to re-expose a number of original architectural features. A lift will also be installed granting access, for the first time in 700-years, to the upper floors of the main building.

Architects and Designers are busy putting together plans that will give a new lease of life to the grade II listed building. The current plans are to restore the original entrance on Town Quay Road, which will lead into a ground floor café/bar and retail area.

The 1960’s staircase by prominent former city architect Leon Berger will be retained and a lift added that will lead onto a mezzanine level that will become the Collections Gallery where relevant items from the City’s expansive collection of art and artifacts will be displayed to the public.

Go up one more level into the largest space in the building. This triple height first floor room will be home to a programme of changing contemporary exhibitions on themes based on the stories of GHT. Leading off this, the Crawford Room, with it’s impressive timber beamed ceiling will be available to hire for workshops, lectures and events.

The back end of the building houses the tower, the different levels of which will house an innovative thematic telling of the building’s fascinating story. For the first time the public will have access to the tower’s roof where they can enjoy expansive views over Southampton and Southampton Water.

Building work is expected to start this winter with an anticipated opening by 2018. In the meantime local artist Sarah Filmer has won Arts Council England funding for a group of eight artists to work together to respond to and interpret the building as it undergoes it’s transformation. The project, ‘God’s House Tower – A Reincarnation’, can be followed on their blog – www.ght-a-reincarnation.tumblr.com.

In October this year God’s House Tower will reopen to the public for 10 days as it plays host to a series of events as part of the British Art Show 8 Fringe. The programme will include events by the Nuffield Theatre, a pop-up cafe by Mettricks Tea & Coffee, Dangerous Ideas – In Conversation, a display of the GHT future plans, an exhibition of work in progress by GHT a reincarnation artists. This will give the pubic a chance to see the building in its current state and to feed back on the plans for the development.

As an organisation, ‘a space arts’ play a key role the Southampton’s creative community and have a history of reinventing unused spaces. Currently they have artists’ studio spaces at Tower House (next to God’s House Tower), the Arches Studios (underneath Central Bridge) and the Sorting Office (in Eastleigh) as well having previously run the Bargate Monument Gallery for a number of years.

To keep up to date on the project you can sign up to the ‘a space arts’ newsletter from the website.

A Short History
GHT is located at the southeast corner of the old town walls in central Southampton, and is a Grade II listed Scheduled Ancient Monument. GHT has witnessed many events across its 700-year life, is an extremely important and prominent building in the old town that once defended the nation.

The story begins as a humble gatehouse, built in the late 13th century,
at a key entry point into the town of Southampton. The original gate was known as Saltmarsh gate as it led onto marshlands just outside of the town.

The gate was located near to God’s House Hospital, which had been founded in 1168 by Gervaise of Hampton (later known as Gervaise le Riche) as a refuge for poor travelers, and the gateway became known as God’s House gate.

At the start of the Hundred Years War, and in response to the French Raid of 1338 the town progressed its defensive wall-building programme. This included expanding the gatehouse by adding a two-story gallery and three-story tower that would create the strategic military coastal position of Gods House Tower.

GHT is therefore one of the earliest coastal fortifications specifically built to carry cannon and for the next two centuries was home to the Town Gunners. The gunners produced ordnance, powder and shot on site and a large cannon, known as Bearded Thomas, was sited on the roof to defend the nation from invading armies.

By the 17th century military technology had advanced to a point where GHT was no longer adequate and therefore its primary use changed. In 1707 the building was being used as a ‘house of correction’ until in 1786 it was formally adapted to become the Town Gaol, a role it retained for nearly 100 years. Uniquely GHT housed three prisons in one; Debtors cells located in the tower, along with both a bridewell and felons prison in the main building.

In 1876 the Southampton Harbour Board adapted the space for storage and in 1960 it was converted into the Museum of Archaeology, once again becoming a prominent public building. It remained as such until September 2011 when the local authority opened SeaCity museum.

What physically survives today is in a remarkably good condition and the building remains of great importance to the city and the Southampton story.

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