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A History of Movement

Swaythling, Southampton
Isabella Martin
Host Productions worked with ‘a space’ arts to produce the public artwork A History of Movement by Isabella Martin and was commissioned by Mountpark Properties Limited on the occasion of the redevelopment of the former Ford Factory site on Wide Lane, Southampton. The commission was supported by Southampton City Council and Now Heritage through the community history project TRANSITion.

The artwork of 20 polished steel signs running along Wide Lane presents a history of movement at the former Ford Motors Factory Site by referencing actions that have taken place on this site over the last 11,700 years.

Each word is an action verb inspired by the long and varied history and is placed in chronological order to create a timeline that reflects this history and evokes the past uses of the site. The shape of the individual signs are inspired by the rounded rectangular front grill on the classic Ford Transit Van, the yellow posts of the signs match the machinery fencing used throughout the Ford Motors Factory, the font is inspired by the lettering on RAF aircraft first used here during World War II.

However, the artwork is more than a linear account of history as the viewer is invited to see themselves in the words and read them as an instruction, description or an account. Most importantly the artwork demonstrates that what constitutes the past, present and future is constantly changing.

The history of the site
The earliest recorded use of the site was farmland that formed part of North Stoneham Park Estate, the seat of the Willis Fleming family. The estate no longer exists, however in its heyday North Stoneham Park included gardens designed by the pre-eminent 18th Century landscape architect Capability Brown. The avenue has been preserved by the Friends of North Stoneham Park and can still be viewed.

From the early 20th Century onwards the site shifts from purely rural activities to being deeply connected with the aviation and transport manufacturing industries spurred on by two World Wars.

Life changing and inspirational events have taken place at this site. Southampton’s pioneering aviator Edwin Rowland Moon took his first flight on 1st June 1910 in his monoplane ‘Moonbeam II’ and the site became a place of sanctuary for 3,840 Basque Children escaping the ravages of the Spanish Civil War.

The site’s significance grew with the start of World War II when Cunliffe-Owen Aircraft factory opened in 1939 as a shadow factory to assemble aircraft components. By 1940 the factory had switched to producing parts for the Supermarine Spitfire and became a strategic part of the British war effort. At 16.13 on Wednesday the 11th of September 1940 eight Messerschmitt bf110 fighter-bombers dive-bombed the factories. The Cunliffe-Owen Aircraft factory was hit and the accompanying commemorative sign is testament to the 52 people who were killed playing their important part in the British war effort.

In 1953 Ford purchased the factory from Briggs Motor Bodies and by the 1980’s the factory reached its peak of production, employing 4,500 people, a major employer for Southampton and source of British manufacturing output. However, by 2002 the iconic Ford Transit Van was the last remaining British made Ford vehicle, signalling the transfer from manufacturing to importing.

The activities of making and moving have shaped the local area and reflect the changing history of the UK.

In 2015 Mountpark purchased the site from Ford. The redevelopment of the land is for a logistics park providing employment opportunities for all. This is the next chapter in the land’s future in continuing a vibrant and important industry in the Swaythling area.

About the artist
Isabella Martin is a British multidisciplinary artist who explores how we fit in the world and how we relate to the spaces around us. She uses language as a means of navigation, in an approach shaped by questioning, conversation and collaboration with others.