IT was the landmark that seems to have entered the collective consciousness of many Southampton residents - despite the fact it existed for less than 75 years.

This year, 2019, sees the centenary of the demolition of Stag Gates which once stood at the junction of Lodge Road and The Avenue.

People say things like, ’I remember walking past those gates with my gran’.

The likelihood is, they don’t – not unless they’re well in excess of a hundred years old!

New Forest Post:

Stag Gates.

Nevertheless, the legacy of the gate posts lives on in the name of the bus stops, the nearby garage, the many photographs and paintings of them, and in the public imagination.

Engineer William Bates, who had built the Royal Pier in 1833, purchased the Bevois Mount Estate in 1844.

He sold off some land to the south of Mordaunt Road for housing but then set out to make the approach to his house more impressive by building a small lodge where the Travelodge now stands and constructing a set of gate posts fit for a gentleman landowner.

It is assumed that gate posts indicate the existence of gates but no contemporary description of these exists and it has certainly been disproved that they were later moved to become the gates of the cemetery.

At the top of each gate was a finally carved stag – except, of course, they weren’t.

Stags usually have antlers from at least the age of two; either these animals were very young, or they were hinds.

New Forest Post:

Just one of the Stag Gates - the other has been pulled down.

William Betts suffered financial setbacks and had to sell the estate, but the Stag Gates remained.

More of the Bevois Mount Estate was sold off for development and the house had several owners and roles including a school and a hall of residence for Hartley College female students.

By the end of the nineteenth century the Stag Gates were in the possession of William Burrough Hill, a local estate agent and auctioneer but also art collector and connoisseur.

He particularly annoyed the residents of Bevois Mount, but also people of the town generally, by turning the piers and railings of the gates into advertising boards for his business.

He displayed posters for auctions and upcoming property sales with no sensitivity for the blighted appearance of a well-loved monument and the overall appearance of the Avenue.

A Borough Council meeting of May 8, 1889 decried the appearance of the unsightly hoardings and at a subsequent meeting it was suggested that Burrough Hill should be pressured to sell to the council.

As time went on, the problem of the eyesore was overtaken by increased traffic and the view of the council in 1912 was that “the presence of such a structure has become a source of public danger.”

There the matter lay until, in 1919, Burrough Hill gave the gates to the town to mark our ‘Victory year’.

New Forest Post:

William Burrough Hill in his garden.

He gave no stipulation as to what should happen to the gates, commenting: “I shall be sorry to see them demolished but they are not of any material historical or antique value.”Specialist stone masons, Garret and Haysom, looked into the possibility of repairing and moving the southern pier but the council would not countenance the cost. The demolition took place on June 15 and 16, 1919.

The mystery remains of what happened to the stags.

Former stone mason, Peter Shawyer, opines that they are unlikely to have survived removal from the pedestals, particularly as the Borough Engineer said in March 1919 that they were crumbling.

If so, they would have been used, with the rest of the stone, to build the rock gardens in Andrews Park.

Historian, A G K Leonard, believes they were removed to the garden of Bridell Lodge, Burrough Hill’s house and claims that there were witnesses to substantiate this.

Subsequently they were supposedly buried.

An exhibition about the Stag Gates will take place at Blue Door, 102 Lodge Road on June 15 and 16 between 11am-4pm.

By Ally Hayes, tour guide with SeeSouthampton.co.uk.