I follow a few Southampton history pages on Facebook and love the variety of posts about people, places and events. I particularly love the stories of local folks who didn’t become nationally or internationally renowned but were important in their own little communities and contributed to the rich fabric of them in their own special ways.
I also love comparing old photos of the city and surrounding areas with photos of how the place is today. Some of the old photos were taken well before my time and some I fondly remember.
Nostalgia and reminiscence are wonderful. I learned the true value of reminiscence while working as an activities coordinator in dementia care. Watching people with poor short term memory become animated, wistful, relaxed, talkative, emotional, when their long term memories of their past sprang into renewed life for them; folks who rarely contributed to conversation suddenly recounting stories from their youth and sharing interesting anecdotes. Those were special moments for them and for me. I value reminiscence with all my heart. Those memories cannot be destroyed while the stories are being retold.
However, it does irk me then when so many dissenting voices on these local history pages automatically paint change as a bad thing. There’s a very vocal element wishing the city they knew in their youth had remained unchanged because it was better back then. Architecture was more appealing, apparently, just by virtue of being old. All post war buildings are awful according to them. Ugly monstrosities supposedly. I know that Hitler and his gang were responsible for many of the drastic changes in Southampton city centre, but did anyone really want all the old bombed buildings painstaking rebuilt as they used to be before? Imagine if newly trained architects were all sitting at drawing boards designing nothing new and churning out Victorian and pre-Victorian facsimiles to be built all over the city.
The types of shops/pubs/schools/entertainment/ modes of transport /parks and other public spaces, were better back then too, according to many on these groups ( and it depends on who you ask when “back then” specifically was). They conveniently forget that it’s our daily habits that shape our environment. Which businesses we frequent and spend our money in, the increase in car ownership, television ownership etc all shape our surroundings.
It’s no good bemoaning the loss of this place and that place, when you haven’t shopped there since 1965! That cinema that you were so sad to see disappear vanished because people were at home streaming films instead of spending their money on cinema tickets and refreshments. If we want to keep places open, we need to spend our money with them. By not doing so we are actively proving how important those places are/are not to us.
As for local, independent shops, the mass production of cars, which huge numbers of working class people flocked to buy, put paid to those. Car ownership is the main driving force (pun unintended) of out of town mega stores. We caused it ourselves. It’s not been done to us. If we’d continued to shop on the high street instead of toddling off to Hedge End or Millbrook or Chandlers Ford etc, the high street shops would have survived. Ditto the pubs.
Many changes have been for the better. Yes, I remember those old open backed buses, with the springy bench seats and conductors, with fondness, but as a passenger, now in my 50s, I’m immensely glad I don’t have to sit on one in the middle of winter with icy wind and rain whooshing up my skirt.
As we change and evolve our lifestyles, change in our built environment is inevitable. As delightful as it might seem to be able to pop our past into a snow globe and relive it whenever we wish, it’s not practical in real terms. We can get great pleasure and comfort from nostalgia and reminiscence while not framing change as something that’s out of our hands and/or inherently bad.
There used to be a tailor’s shop in Bedford Place that had been there for as long as I can remember. I never once had a need to step inside it or spend any money there. Apparently it’s being replaced by a Caribbean takeaway. Instead of bemoaning yet another takeaway in that street to cater to the much maligned students, who contribute greatly to our economy and culture, I’m celebrating that somebody is taking a punt at opening up an independent concern and looking forward to sampling some of their wares in the near future. Cheers to change. Long may it continue.
- In Common is not for profit. We rely on donations from readers to keep the site running. Could you help to support us for as little as 25p a week? Please help us to carry on offering independent grass roots media. Visit: https://www.patreon.com/incommonsoton