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A walk along Holly Brook and Tanners Brook, Southampton

by Karen Wardley

Even the most unprepossessing urban areas can throw up unexpected opportunities for walks which encourage us to discover more about our local history. Confined to my local area during lockdown I made one such discovery. An insignificant path leading off Dale Road in Southampton is the start of one of the city’s Greenways: Lordsdale Greenway. Promoted for its natural habitats and species, the route also opens up clues to the area’s past through place names and topographical features.

The footpath follows the stream valleys of Holly Brook and Tanners Brook, both of which give their names to districts in the city. Walking through damp woodland, past back gardens, allotments and a skateboard park and then crossing Warren Avenue by the Ice House pub, I came upon Shirley Pond (Photo 1, below). This was one of the original three millponds which powered Shirley Mill and was fed by these two streams. The mill stood at the north-east corner of the junction of Winchester Road and Romsey Road, now the site of a van salesroom. The only trace of it today is this large pond, invisible from the road and to those waiting in their cars at the nearby traffic lights.

Shirley Pond

A mill was recorded in the Domesday Book as one of the holdings of the manor of Shirley and was valued at 30d. Originally a corn mill, by the early 19th century it housed an iron foundry and later a brewery. By 1900 it was owned by the Royal Mail Shipping Company and operated as a laundry.

The Ice House pub, with its misleading igloo pub sign, marks the site of a large ice pit, now preserved within the pub cellar. The pit was constructed c1850 for ice cut from the pond which would have been stored here and delivered to hotels, better off householders, dealers in perishable food and steamship companies. The house adjacent to the pub became an inn for thirsty carters and ice house workers, but was replaced by the current pub, built in 1912.

Holly Brook is thought to have been the “holanbroc” or hollow brook mentioned in a land charter of 932. Tanners Brook was originally Mill Brook (another local district) but probably acquired this name in the 17th or 18th century when the existence of running water and nearby forests supplying oak bark led to the rise of commercial tanning activity along its banks. By the 19th century there were many small manufacturing industries here, forming a suburban industrial zone echoed today by the number of small industrial units existing incongruously within this area of domestic housing.

Details of the different 'Greenways' can be found on the Southampton City Council webpages:

 

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