St.James’ Park began life as part of the vast Shirley Common, lands which originally belonged to the Lords of the Manor of Shirley.
In Shirley: Domesday to D‑Day, Rosaleen Wilkinson reveals that the Manor of Shirley, which included a mill and mill ponds, was probably situated at the junction of Romsey Road, Winchester Road, and Redbridge Hill, at the confluence of two babbling brooks: the Hollybrook and Tanner’s Brook. The significance of these brooks is recognised in the names of local schools: Hollybrook and Tanner’s Brook Infant and Junior Schools. The Manor of Shirley is documented in the Domesday Book of 1085, at which time the Lord of the Manor was Ralph de Mortimer. The borders of his land at that time stretched far beyond the present day borders of Shirley.
In 1228 it is cited that there was a dispute between Nicholas of Shirley, the then Lord of the Manor, and the Burgesses of Southampton over cattle grazing rights. Nicholas claimed that lands east of the present Hill Lane were also part of the Shirley Manor lands, and hence he had the right to graze his cattle. The Southampton Burgesses disagreed, and Nicholas of Shirley was paid to relinquish his rights to the land. This defined not only the grazing rights, but also the borders of the town. Lands east of Hill Lane became for the use of residents of Southampton (now part of Southampton Common that we know today), and lands to the west of Hill Lane were defined as belonging to the Manor of Shirley.
Rosaleen describes the early Lords and Lands of the Manor in vivid detail; Shirley: Domesday to D‑Day is highly recommended for further reading on this early history. Shirley was outside the then town of Southampton, and didn’t become part of Southampton until 1895.
Following the enclosure of Shirley Common, granted on 22nd May 1829, “New Shirley”, on Shirley Common, began to emerge: a fashionable and genteel Shirley, with impressive country houses, villas, lodges, and estates.
“Villas are fast rising there, creating the appearance of a populous and genteel occupation of what is well known to be one of the most beautiful and healthy spots in our picturesque neighbourhood.” 
At this time Shirley was considered a genteel area in which to take a country walk, especially towards the Hill Lane area. Shirley became a popular place for retired sea captains, such as Admiral Sir Charles Bullen at Trafalgar Lodge and later Commander Edward George Baynton, also of Trafalgar Lodge, and Commander R Revett of Ankerwicke House.
In the Parish of Millbrook lived another captain from the famous battle, Captain George Bligh. Bligh had been Nelson’s flag lieutenant aboard The Victory, and he had a large house built for himself, called Blighmont, in the early 1820s.
As befitting any genteel area, the residents required a church in which to worship and in 1835 Nathaniel Jefferies, a local philanthropist, of Hollybrook House, donated land on which Shirley Parish Church (now also known as St.James’ Church) was erected, mainly with funding from its first vicar, the first Reverend William Orger. It was consecrated by the Bishop of Winchester in August 1836. This building is now Grade II‑listed and sits within the St.James’ Road Conservation Area.
In 1840, Nathaniel Jefferies also owned the land which is now the Park and it was used for pasture. By the mid 1800s, as Shirley developed, the area now known as St.James’ Park was surrounded by beautiful Victorian and Georgian villas, some still standing adjacent to the Church, built as early as 1835. What is now the Park was spared from development itself, as in 1851 Mr Jefferies had the foresight to place a covenant on the land which stated that it could be used for arable or pasture, but it could not be built upon.
In the 1860s the land on which is now the Park became a garden nursery; one of many in this primarily rural area. Upper Shirley and Hill were well-known for their flowers and market gardens. By the late 1890s the land had somehow become a gravel pit. This explains the sunken appearance of the Park, as the land was excavated below street level. Although gravel was used in the building industries and in the playground of nearby Shirley School, it was primarily used for maintaining the roads, which in those days were unmade. This required vast amounts of gravel and was an undertaking of the Shirley Local Board of Health, established on 25th February 1853, the members of which were twelve of Shirley’s most respected gentleman.
The proprietor of the gravel pit at the Park was a Mr George Harris, of “Whitedwood” (the former “Red House”), Wilton Road, Shirley. A local man, born in Bassett, he led an active and productive life and was described as a “keen and active business man”. He was a local builder and owner of both gravel pits and brickworks in Shirley, Wimpson, and Rownhams.
Mr Harris was a also a respected farmer, renowned as the largest single owner of prize winning Guernsey cows in the country. Dairy farming was predominant in the Shirley area (see Mrs Crates’ story on our Your Stories page) with the Brown Dairy on Hill Lane and the Harrison Dairy on Vaudrey Street (though they did eventually merge to form the Brown and Harrison Dairy). The stables for Harrison’s Dairy were on Stratton Road and the rings to tether the horses can still be seen within the premises of the Dairy Crest Dairy Depot, also on Stratton Road (2010). Now there are delivery trucks passing the Park, where once handcarts and pony and carts were used to bring the milk. Many locals wonder why a Dairy Depot has been built in such a populated area as today’s Shirley, when in fact the dairy farming came first.
Towards 1907, Alderman Cawte proposed that the land be purchased by the council “for the children of Shirley”, and in March 1907, the council paid £1000 for the six-acre site and for the costs of transforming it into a recreation ground. The centenary of this purchase was celebrated by FoSJP at our Park100 event in July 2007.
There had been much fierce debate about whether this purchase was wise, given the extra expenses needed to convert the gravel pit for recreation, and the proximity of Southampton Common as an alternative. One of the clinching arguments in favour of the purchase was the possibility that the land might not be available again – as far back as 1881 there had been plans to build a railway station nearby, although these never came to fruition.
It took four years for the gravel pit to be cleared and the land prepared as a recreation ground, so it was 1911 when the land was finally opened for public access. The original “Shirley Recreation Ground” was eventually renamed “St.James’ Park”; the exact date of this is still to be confirmed.
In the late 1920s the Park was all one open space, with nothing but a football pitch, home to Shirley Wanderers, who played in blue and white and whose headquarters were a shed at the nearby end of Stratton Road.
Later, tennis courts were built, and during World War II, the “Rec” (as it became known) was home to barrage balloons and a bombproof structure which was built to house the local ARP wardens. This building later became the Park wardens’ canteen and public toilets, and in September 2006 was partly converted by FoSJP into a kiosk, serving refreshments to visitors to the Park.
As the 21st Century got under way, and the Park starts its second century as a place of recreation, FoSJP set in motion plans to further develop the Park for the benefit of the people of Shirley.
  
|“Shirley from Domesday to D-Day”, Guilmant J and Kavanah H (eds) 1997, published by Southampton City Council.|
|||Hampshire Advertiser, 8th August 1836.|
|||Death certificate of Admiral Sir Charles Bullen, died Traflagar Lodge, Shirley, July 1853.|
|||Rosaleen Wilkinson, May 2010.|
|||Parish of Millbrook Records, City Archives, Southampton City Council.|
|||Information provided by Mrs J Catling, resident of Bellemoor Road.|
|||Covenant of 1851.|
|||Leonard, AGK: “Shirley Nuisances and Services: Shirley Health and Local Government in Victorian Shirley”,
published by Southampton City Council (undated), p.20.
|Obituary newspaper cutting provided by Mrs Quick (source to be confirmed).|
|click on footnote number to return to text|