Bronze tools have been found east of the River Itchen and there are many burial mounds, or tumuli, in the area. An 1810 map depicts one on Sholing Common. The earliest mention of Sholing, however, is in 1251, when Henry III granted it to the Abbot of Netley Abbey. Another reference to it is contained in the Register of the nearby Priory Church of St Andrew, Hamble, where, in 1679, it refers to 'Sholin'. A further entry, in 1795, states 'There are two hundred and forty souls in this parish, in Sholing 43, …….' The area was then rather desolate, mainly gorse land and heather, and was part of the Parish of Hound, which also included nearby Hamble and Bursledon. The undeveloped Sholing Common was used as a holding area for troops awaiting embarkation in the late 18th and early 19th century wars with France. It was home to a Volunteer Rifle Range in the 1880s, recalled in the local road names of Butts Road, Dragoon Close, Shooters Hill Close and the local public house, 'The Target'.
Several factors contributed to changing the character of the small country villages east of the Itchen, the first being the inauguration of the Floating Bridges across the River Itchen in 1836, coupled with the construction of Southampton Docks in 1840. The resultant creation of the road to Portsmouth made the entire district more accessible, adjoining, as it did, the Woolston and Itchen areas. The latter had become fashionable for the gentry, who wanted to get away from the rapidly developing industrial area of Southampton and live in the nearby countryside.
Sholing never existed as a village but a small hamlet of brick bungalow type cottages were built in the 1790s in the Botany Bay Road area. The first inhabitants were poor and of Romany background. Many of them retained their caravans and they formed their own tight-knit community, one that continues to this day. These gypsy families would spend the winter in houses, with their caravans in the garden, and travel away in summer hop picking or fruit picking. The men would also race their horses on the local roads during their regular horse sales, to the great pleasure of the villagers and extreme frustration of the local police, who rarely managed to outwit the frantic riders.
The opening of Netley Hospital in 1863 also created a need for housing for the hospital staff, and many came to live in Sholing, together with the servants and tradesmen who served the gentry. Buildings and new roads spread throughout the area and the new residents' spiritual needs were soon served by a Primitive Methodist Chapel, erected in 1856 at a cost of £106 and capable of seating 120 persons.
Sholing was ideal territory for the predominantly working-class dissenting Primitive Methodists at this time, with its high proportion of labourers. The main local industries were brick making, well digging (with everybody either owning or sharing a well), and strawberry growing. There were six brickyards scattered about the area, their presence revealed at night by the fires glowing in the kilns and clamps. Many inhabitants were in service, went to sea as stokers or stewards, or laboured in the docks, and their wives frequently took in laundry, often working together. Donkeys were a common form of transport for the numerous laundries and for the pedlars who carried out a thriving trade in the district. This gave rise to yet another nickname for the area, 'Donkey Common'!
Around the start of the 20th century Sholing was surrounded by five toll gates, the Floating Bridge; Northam Bridge; Lances Hill, Hedge End and Bursledon Bridge. The only toll free exit meant a journey through Bitterne via Mousehole to the free Cobden Bridge and this tended to make Sholing a rather isolated community.
However, in 1898 the Parishes of St Mary Extra, Sholing and Hound were formed into Itchen Urban District, and this in turn was absorbed into the County Borough of Southampton in 1920, together with Bitterne and other areas east of the Itchen. The combined population of Bitterne and Sholing was then just under 10,000. This meant profound changes to the nature of all these areas, transforming their deeply entrenched rural attitudes.
A small railway station had been provided at the junction of Station Road and Cranbury Road in August 1866, with a single line, doubled in 1910 and with longer platforms. This proved to be of great value to the many local strawberry growers, market gardeners and brick makers and helped the area to prosper. Further business opportunities were created, such as Mr Darley's basket works in Spring Road, opposite Cranbury Road. This employed as many as fifty young women making baskets for the local fruit growers.
The railway line ran from Southampton to Fareham and on to Portsmouth, and this greatly improved their trading opportunities. Sholing Station has been unstaffed since 1965 and in 1990 the old vandalised buildings were demolished and replaced by a waiting shelter.
Sholing did not suffer extensive damage during World War Two, although a number of houses were struck and a train standing between Sholing and Woolston received a direct hit, causing nine casualties. It was also the recipient of Southampton's first flying bomb, above the top of North East Road on 12 July 1944, although there were no fatal casualties.
Extensive post war council development was carried out, arising out of the urgent need to house the hundreds made homeless when large areas of the town were devastated during the many heavy 'blitzes'. Council estates were developed between North East and Kathleen Roads and between Butts Road and Botley Road, transforming the former gravel pits, brickyards and market gardens into widespread residential areas.
Building a new Sholing Girls School in Middle Road started in 1938, but because of wartime problems in obtaining building materials, and the evacuation of pupils, it was not taken into use until July 1945. During the war the girls were temporarily based in the nearby Merry Oak Boys School, built in 1935, as well as in St Monica Road Boys School. Sholing Girls School completed its transition to a specialist College of Technology with an official ceremony in May 2003. This school is in the vanguard of advanced information technology, with sophisticated computer networking, wireless computers, laptops, video conferencing and interactive whiteboards.
In 1961 the scenic area of Miller's Pond, in the southwest corner of Sholing, was scheduled for largescale development. The plans incorporated seven hundred houses, a new school, library and a shopping centre, but although the pond was culverted in 1965 the plans never came to fruition. It is now home to the Sholing Valley Study Centre, a voluntary environmental group with an interest in the local wildlife.The area was designated as a Local Nature Reserve in 2011 and now actively managed by the Study Centre.