Holyrood Church is an unmistakeable landmark that sits on the corner of High Street and Bernard Street in the city centre. Once a busy parish and the centre of city life, the church was destroyed by German bombs on November 30th 1940. Today, the ruins of the church stand as not only a reminder of the Southampton Blitz, but also as a memorial to the various people, ships and events that are part of Southampton's maritime past.
A rare photo of the church before the bombing. Courtesy of Southampton City Council
Holyrood Church originally sat in the centre of Southampton's High Street, but in 1320 it was relocated to the spot where it stands today. The name comes from the Saxon language, with rood being the Saxon word for cross. Throughout the years it served as a place of worship for crusaders, soldiers and even royalty. Holyrood was also the place of worship for many seamen who worked around the city's harbours and docks, eventually earning it the unofficial name of the "Church of the Sailors".
On November 30th 1940 the church was one of seven churches hit by the German bombing of Southampton. It left the church in ruin, with only the main tower and smaller sections of some of the walls remaining. For a while the church sat as a bomb site, but in 1957 the decision was made to restore the church as a memorial to Southampton's merchant sailors. Instead of rebuilding the church, the restoration preserved the ruins, and the site was scheduled as an ancient monument.
The site of Holyrood Church is free to visit, and is open year round from dawn until dusk. The church gates are locked at night time, but during opening hours you can just walk inside to view the ruins and the memorials.
The entire site acts as a memorial to Southampton's sailors of the Merchant Navy. A large anchor sits inside the corner of the church nearby a plaque dedicated to the sailors, and wreaths are often placed at the old chancel. Around the site you can find other memorials to certain captains or crews. They are all fairly simple, but it does emphasise the importance the ships and sailors have had to Southampton through its history. Another memorial sits behind a metal fence, remembering those who lost their lives on the RMS Titanic.
Outside of the church walls a bench describes more of the churches history, and another anchor sits nearby. You can also learn more from the audioposts inside the church. Press the button and you'll hear stories from people who remember the church before the bombings, and they'll help to paint a picture of its former life. Try and visit on the hour, as the church bells still ring despite the rest of the church sitting in ruin. Stand outside and you can watch two small figures hit the bells as they chime.
At most times of the day the church is a quiet place to pass the time, but it can get busier during school holidays or when cruise ships dock in Southampton. The large anchor may sometimes provide too much temptation for younger visitors.