Isaac Watts was born in Southampton to a non-conformist family in 1674. His mother was Sarah Taunton the daughter of a Huguenot family and Isaac was the cousin of Richard Taunton who founded a school in Southampton. The site of the house is remembered in a plaque at the rear of the Primark store.
The family moved to 41, French Street and his father ran a boarding school. As a non-conformist the elder Watts had been imprisoned. Isaac was seen as such a talented young man that some locals included Dr John Speed offered to pay his University fees but non conformists were not allowed to attend. He was therefore educated at a non-conformist college in Stoke Newington, North London. He had poor health but embarked on a preaching career in 1698.
Apart from preaching, writing books on logic and poetry he is best remembered today as a prolific hymn writer. He wrote over 500 hymns and many will be found in Hymns Ancient and Modern and the Methodist Hymn Book. ‘Oh God our Help in Ages Past’ is still played from the Civic Centre clock tower three times each day. One of his favourite hymns was “There is a place of Pure Delight” the inspiration for which came from the view that he would enjoy looking across the river Test to the new Forest from the town walls. His school was King Edward VI and a house is still named after him.
The statue to him in Watts (West) Park was unveiled on his birthday 17th July by the Earl of Shaftesbury in 1861