Remembrance Day

Hidden history of Southampton

Gus Mckechnie By Gus Mckechnie

To commemorate those who so bravely gave their lives in WW1, GetOutside Champion Gus Mckechnie takes us through the hidden histories around Ordnance Survey's Headquarters in Southampton.

The journey through Southampton from Ordnance Survey is one that involves passing a lot of hidden history. History that has had huge impact on Southampton and some cases the world. There are a number of historic spots that you wouldn’t even realise existed.

For me this started happening when I started getting outside in the city.

Ordnance Survey is currently based in Nursling, Southampton and previous to that it was Maybush - both of which can be cycled to. We are lucky at OSHQ that the grounds are great for stretching your legs but one thought provoking corner is the war memorial.

My cycling route takes me from Nursling, past the Maybush site and through Southampton Common.

In one part of the Common is the old cemetery where a number of Commonwealth war graves are located. In fact there are graves in the cemetery that are also associated with the Titanic, Battle of Waterloo and the Boer war.

It contains 104 scattered Commonwealth war graves from the 1914-18 War, a plot of 21 1914-18 War Belgians and 15 Commonwealth war graves from the 1939-45 War.

A short ride from the Common down the cycle paths along The Avenue and you arrive at the original site for Ordnance Survey in Southampton. You will go past the Director General's accommodation. The original site for OS was hit in the World War 2 bombings, much like many other parts of the city. If you use this as a measuring point you can take a walk which will give you an idea of how hard the city was hit.

Follow London Road and you will eventually find the Titanic engineers memorial and on the opposite side of the road is the cities cenotaph. The cenotaph was originally dedicated to those lost in World War one, names from subsequent conflicts were added later. At that stage Southampton was a smaller borough than it is today, it didn’t incorporate other boroughs of that we associate being part of the city today.

Keep following a straight line along the high street past West Quay and the Bargate, you will eventually arrive at Holyrood church. The church was originally built in 1320 and was destroyed in the bombings in 1940. The church was dedicated as a memorial to the merchant navy in 1957.

Thanks to a recent lottery you can listen to voice recordings of accounts of the bombings. Using the starting point of the original OS building to Holyrood will give you a small insight into how much of the city was hit in the bombings.A walk achievable in an hour.

If you head over the Itchen bridge through Woolston to Victoria Country Park, you will get to see another part of Southampton’s past.

Bear in mind in the shadows of the Itchen bridge on the Woolston side is the site of the original Spitfire factory, another site that was destroyed by bombings.

The scale of what hit the city is something that no one in our time can really comprehend.

Go through Woolston along the shore and you will eventually find Victoria Country park, a beautiful area to be outside. It’s main feature is the chapel, which was part of the of the Royal Victoria hospital. The hospital was at one point the largest military hospital in the world and was one of the longest buildings.

The hospital originally opened in 1863 overlooking Southampton water. Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone on the 19th May 1856. It was well known as the influential Florence Nightingale stated that there were flaws in the design. The idea of being by Southampton water was that there would be benefits from the sea air. The majority of the patient’s accommodation was at the back of the hospital buildings.

Thanks to a lottery grant the story of the hospital has been brought alive in the Royal Victoria Country Park. The chapel has been refurbished and an OS survey plan covers one of the floors, showing the hospital as it was.

For many leaving to defend our country the chapel would have been one of the last landmarks they passed before leaving Southampton water. For others it would be a place for them to try and heal.

The display in the chapel and the Commonwealth War Grave on it’s grounds is a reminder of now how lucky we are.

Gus Mckechnie By Gus Mckechnie


Gus is a world record holder, marathon runner, charity event organiser and wheelchair rugby player.

Find out more about Gus Mckechnie here.