The Manor of Southam was first mentioned in 998 when King Ethelred granted it, together with the ‘Haliwell’, to the Priory of Coventry. Until the Reformation, Southam had a strong connection with Coventry. The ‘Haliwell’, now known as the Holy Well, is the oldest surviving structure in Southam, situated near the river about half a mile west of the town.
The principal reasons for Southam’s development were its location on the east-west drovers’ road and the north-south Coventry to Oxford road, and its ownership by the Priory. The small medieval settlement to the east of the church was soon enlarged by development north-south.
In 1227 the Prior obtained a stature allowing Southam a weekly market, giving it town status. Later, permission was also granted for a monthly market and four fairs which increased the size of the community with inns and trades connected with livestock. Southam became an important stagecoach stop with many hostelries catering for this trade.
The town was encompassed by 13,000 troops in 1642 when Royalist and Parliamentary forces skirmished in the area. Later, King Charles I stayed in the Manor House (now Southam Pharmacy). Much of medieval Southam was destroyed in four disastrous fires in the 1740s when 30 houses were burnt. Small cottages and several three-storey Georgian houses replaced these. Unusally in mediaeval times, the town minted its own local currency. This was done because local people found ordinary coins too high in value for everyday use. During the Civil War King Charles used the mint to make new coins to pay his soldiers. The mint house is now a pub called ‘the Old Mint’.
In 1818, Mr Lilley-Smith, a local surgeon founded the Eye and Ear Infirmary, now the Stoneythorpe Hotel. In 1823 he also founded the country’s first free dispensary nearby. Some German Sisters founded a Roman Catholic orphanage and school in 1876 – the latter is still one of the town’s three primary schools. The secondary school, Southam College was built in 1957.
Southam’s first gas supply came in 1853 and electricity was supplied in 1924. Later in the 1960s natural gas arrived. The Holy Well and other springs were used for water until mains water supplies were connected in the 1920s.
St James’ thirteenth century church was pre-dated by a Saxon one, possibly a wooden structure. During the nineteenth century, an independent chapel was built in Pendicke Street, and also the Congregational church in Wood Street. The Catholic church existing today was built in 1925.
Southam has evolved into a modern day market town with a varied range of small shops including a hardware shop, a pharmacy, library and grocery shops. There is a weekly market on Tuesday mornings and a monthly farmer’s market selling local produce. There are lots of activities, groups and clubs in the town including Southam Lions, Rotary, Guides, Cubs and a very active choir. On the outskirts of the town is a well equipped Lesiure Centre.