The transformation of Marlands area of Southampton

The transformation of Marlands area of Southampton

For many years it was one of the old town’s great open spaces, the perfect venue for funfairs and a place where Southampton school children played football.

Dating back to the medieval era, the area now occupied by the Civic Centre and its surroundings has a rich history. Centuries ago, a leprosy hospital named Magdalens was once located in the vicinity.

Daily Echo: The green space where the Civic Centre was built in the 1920s.The green space where the Civic Centre was built in the 1920s. (Image: Echo)

Over the course of several years, the area bounded by Commercial Road, Civic Centre Road, West Marlands Road, and Havelock Road hosted a wide variety of activities and gatherings from hosting circuses to organising recruitment campaigns during the First World War.

The area was abundant with vibrant green grass, but constant foot traffic gradually wore down the lush vegetation, leaving behind a surface of compacted gravel.

Frequent clashes of bitter rivalry unfolded in the region as King Edward’s and Tauntons often vied for victory in the competitive world of school football.

Daily Echo: Southampton Civic Centre under construction in the 1930s. The second phase with the law courts and Police station being built.Southampton Civic Centre under construction in the 1930s. The second phase with the law courts and Police station being built. (Image: Echo)

Since Southampton Common served as a temporary rest camp for soldiers on route to France in the First World War, the traditional bank holiday fairs were relocated to this location.

The final known event hosted at the location was thought to have been O’Brien’s Grand Carnival, featuring attractions like the Golden Dragon Roller Coaster, The Brooklyn Stroll, and the American Dodgem Ride, reportedly sourced from Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York.

After a rigorous and prolonged effort, Alderman Sidney Kimber successfully pushed forward his proposal to transform the West Marlands into Southampton’s Civic Centre. Approval was granted, leading to the inauguration of the first wing on November 8, 1932. Over time, the clock tower affectionately earned the nickname of Kimber’s Chimney.

Daily Echo: Marlands House being built in 1962.Marlands House being built in 1962. (Image: Echo)

In a commitment to return the green space to Southampton, a total of five acres in West Park and three-and-a-half acres in Shirley Warren were pledged as compensation.

The name lived on with the Marland’s Hall, now the site of BBC studios, which was once a Second World War Naafi Club before it was demolished in 1985.

Before becoming the Marlands Hall, the site was home to the King Edward VI Grammar School which moved to Hill Lane in 1938.

Daily Echo: King Edward VI schoolKing Edward VI school (Image: Echo)

The nearby office block built on the site of the former Grand Theatre in 1963 was called Marlands House – although the title had nothing to do with the old open space. It was actually named after one of the directors of the company involved with the construction of the building.

But the biggest changes to the area came in the late 1980s and early 1990s when an ambitious £40million scheme to replace the bus station and surrounding buildings with a supermarket and shopping centre was put into place.

Gateway first opened its superstore doors on April 25, 1989, providing the public with more than 52,000 sq ft of shopping space.

Daily Echo: Asda under construction in June 1988.Asda under construction in June 1988. (Image: Echo)

The building of Gateway and the 810-space multi-story car park marked the opening of the first part of the Marlands development.

Manager Keith Moore was inundated with more than 1,200 applications for the 300 job positions available at the store.

“We were convinced we would have problems filling all the vacancies, but we were wrong and are delighted with the response,” he said at the time.

Daily Echo: Asda manager Keith Moore in April 1989.Asda manager Keith Moore in April 1989. (Image: Echo)

Kicking off the event was a special appearance by TV personality Annabel Croft who graced the store with her presence to support a charity scavenger hunt.

The team netted a £1,500 donation from the store for the Wessex Cancer Trust.

In a commemorative event on March 5 1990, then-mayor of Southampton, Councillor Norman Best, officially reopened the store after it was acquired by Asda, symbolizing a new chapter for the establishment.

Daily Echo: Asda Southampton - official opening of Gateway with Annabel Croft. April 25, 1989.Asda Southampton – official opening of Gateway with Annabel Croft. April 25, 1989. (Image: Echo)

Keith Moore said: “I have worked at this store for ten months and I know that Asda are as committed as I am to improving the quality of shopping and being involved with the local community.”

The development continued when Marlands shopping centre was officially opened on September 5, 1991, providing Southampton shoppers with further stores, eateries and more.

The demolition of nearby Machester Street – a uniquely distinct row of houses converted into shops – wasn’t without protest. Locals tried to save the street’s shops with last-minute efforts.

Daily Echo: Marlands Shopping Centre - construction. March 7, 1989.Marlands Shopping Centre – construction. March 7, 1989. (Image: Echo)

The construction firm agreed to move part of the street stone-by-stone and rebuild it as part of the shopping centre, but this never happened.

In the present day, only a replica facade in the Mall Marlands shopping centre stands as a reminder of the once vibrant Manchester Street.

Located near to the elevators within the heart of the Marlands shopping centre, visitors can see a plaque proudly celebrating the opening by Dame Gail Ronson DBE.

Daily Echo: Dunnes Store, Marlands Shopping Centre shortly after opening.Dunnes Store, Marlands Shopping Centre shortly after opening. (Image: Echo)

Dame Ronson’s husband, Sir Gerald Ronson is CEO of Heron Group International, the developers of the Marlands.

Due to his involvement in a trading fraud scheme as one of the Guinness Four conspirators, Sir Gerald was unable to participate in the ceremony as he was incarcerated at the time.

Filling the units for opening day were The Disney Store, Index catalogue shop and Dunnes to name but a few.

Daily Echo: Marlands shopping centre shortly after openingMarlands shopping centre shortly after opening (Image: Echo)

Marlands held the title of Southampton’s biggest shopping centre for a while before being surpassed by Westquay in 2000.

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