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Bow Square Public Artwork

Host Productions worked with ‘a space’ arts to produce a public artwork for the mixed-use development Bow Square in Southampton city centre. The artwork was commissioned by PMC Construction and Rockspring in 2017 with generous funding provided by Hampshire Regional Property Group as part of the 106 per cent for art scheme.

A reimagining of Southampton’s medieval town walls
Bow Square was once home to the former Fruit and Vegetable Market, which was developed following the Second World War in the 1950’s and operated until 2015. It is a significant historical site within Southampton City Centre, which resides in what is called the Old Town of Southampton, a term now used to describe the oldest part of the city, an area that incorporates a significant collection of historic buildings, vaults and walls.

The artwork responds to the rich history of ‘The Back of the Walls’ (BOTW) Street, which runs through Bow Square. At one time there would have been an extensive section of old town wall that ran down BOTW Street, which would have incorporated a tower at the point where BOTW Street intersected Bernard Street. This tower is referred to as ‘The Square Tower’ and commonly known as ‘The Pig Pound’, as it was reserved for keeping pigs. You can see an example of what the tower might have looked like by viewing the ‘dovecote’ tower, which still exists in the stretch of wall to the south of BOTW Street running down towards God’s House Tower.

The public artwork is a 30m long reimagining of the old town wall constructed from laser cut corten steel. The artwork is a tribute to the remaining parts of the walls, which are still some of the best surviving examples of defensive medieval town walls in Europe.

The artwork has been designed to be a physically imposing structure like the existing old town walls with the highest point being the tower standing at 4.5m height. The laser cut design gives the impression of cut stone and mortar work, which when reacting with the natural light as it changes throughout the day, transforms the two-dimensional structure into an immersive installation. Over time through exposure to the natural elements the corten steel material will form a stable rust-like appearance referencing the variety of sand stone colours found in the existing old town walls. These colours would have been much more vivid when the walls were first constructed in the medieval period.

The artwork also pays tribute to the social history of the site by commemorating residents from the late medieval period such as John Godefelow, Arnold Hert, John Estwell, Robert Oglonder and William Chirston, who once lived in properties that lined the High Street, which used to be known as English Street in 1454. These properties had long gardens, which ran down to the BOTW Street where the Bow Square development now stands. At the corner of Bernard Street, opposite the historic 1320 Holyrood Church, you can walk south past the location of the properties where the residents once lived and in some cases the buildings still stand, such as The Red Lion Inn.