In May 1836 an Act of Parliament was passed authorizing the newly-formed Southampton Dock Company to construct a dock at Southampton. The foundation stone of the new docks was subsequently laid on 12 October 1838 (image 1). The Dock Company managed the affairs of the docks until 1892 when ownership passed into the hands of the London and South Western Railway Company. In 1923 after a reorganization of the UK’s railway companies Southern Railways took over management of the docks, this situation lasting until 1947 when the railways and other transport undertakings were nationalized. The docks were then managed by various government bodies until 1963 when the British Transport Docks Board (BTDB) took over their management. In the 1980s the docks were privatized and the BTDB became a private company, named Associated British Ports (ABP). Southampton was one of the ports that passed into the ownership of ABP.

Eastern Docks: Major Developments
The development of Southampton Docks began in the late 1830s with the construction of the Inner and Outer Docks (image 2). The Outer Dock (also known as the Tidal Dock) was opened in 1842. The Inner Dock was opened to shipping in 1851, although it was not completed until 1859. This area changed significantly in the mid 1960s, when the Outer Dock was converted to the Princess Alexandra Ferry Terminal, and the Inner Dock was filled in. The Ocean Village complex was later built over much of this area.

Dry docks 1-3 were constructed between 1846 and 1854, with No. 2 dry dock, the smallest of the three, opened in 1847. All three docks were filled in during the 1960s when the Outer Dock was redeveloped. Dry Dock No. 4 was situated on the south east bank of the old Outer Dock. Constructed in 1879 it was the last to be built by the Southampton Dock Company. In the 1940s it was used mainly for servicing British Railways cross channel ferries and other vessels up to 6000 tons. It too was filled-in in the mid 1960s when the Outer Dock was redeveloped. The Prince of Wales Dry Dock (No. 5), situated south of the Empress Dock and opened in 1895, was the largest dry dock in the world at that time. Number 6 Dry Dock, was opened by the Marquis of Winchester on 21st October 1905, the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. The dock, which overtook Dry Dock Number 6 as the largest in the world, was named Trafalgar Dry Dock in recognition of this. Trafalgar Dry Dock was last used for ship repairs in 1989.

By the 1880s the old Inner and Outer Docks were too small to cope with the increasingly large ships of the time, and it was decided to build a new and larger dock to the south of the old docks. The new dock was opened by Queen Victoria in 1890, and named Empress Dock in her honour.

The White Star Dock was opened in 1911. It was named after the White Star Line, probably the most important passenger line at the time, which had recently transferred its operations to Southampton. With the acquisition of the White Star Line, Southampton overtook Liverpool as the UK's premier passenger port. It was renamed Ocean Dock in 1922. In 1950 Ocean Terminal was built alongside Ocean Dock as a passenger terminal for liner passengers. It was opened by the Prime Minister, Clement Atlee. Built in typical Art-deco style, it was thought to be quite luxurious in its day. It measured 1297 feet in length and contained a railway platform on the lower floor. It was demolished in 1983.

In 1964 the old cargo sheds at berth 38/39 were demolished to make way for the new Queen Elizabeth II Terminal, the building being officially opened by the Queen in 1966. It was refurbished in 2003 in anticipation of the arrival of the Queen Mary 2.

Other developments include the vehicle terminal at berth 34 opened in 2001, and the Continental Grain Silo at berth 47, opened in 1985.

Western Docks: Major Developments
The building of the new Western Docks required the reclamation of 400 acres of mudflats between Western Esplanade and Millbrook shore. It was the largest reclamation scheme ever undertaken in the country at that time. A straight line of quays, measuring over 800 feet, was then constructed. The work started in 1928 and was completed by 1934.

The new dry dock at the western end of the new Western Docks was opened by King George V in July 1933, and named in his honour. It was the largest dry dock in the world at that time, being built to accommodate the 1000-feet long passenger liners that were then being brought into service.

In 1952 the dock's management decided to build a new passenger/cargo terminal for the Union-Castle ships at berth 102 of the Western Docks, the original buildings on the site being destroyed during the war. The new two-storey building had a passenger waiting hall at the eastern end of the ground floor with cargo space at the western side. The whole of the upper floor was used for cargo storage. The new building was opened in January 1956. The building still stands although it is no longer used as a passenger terminal.

The new British Transport Commission cold store at berth 108 of the Western Docks was opened in May 1958. It replaced the old cold store at berth 40 in the Eastern Docks which was destroyed during the Blitz in 1940. The first ship to use the new store was the Blue Star Line's Brisbane Star, bringing a cargo of meat, butter and fruit from New Zealand.

In 1960 a new passenger terminal for P&O ships, particularly the Canberra and the Oriana, was opened at berths 105/6 of the Western Docks. The new building was situated between the cargo sheds at berths 105 and 106 and replaced a smaller passenger hall built when the Western Docks were opened. The new building was opened by Field Marshall Viscount Slim on 29th November 1960. This facility has been gradually improved and has been renamed the Mayflower Terminal.
A third passenger terminal, the City Cruise Terminal, was opened at berth 101 in 2003.

The Mulberry Grain Terminal at berth 107 and the Canary Fruit Terminal at berth 103-104 were both opened in the 1990s.

In 1962 the Rochdale Committee, which had been set up to look at the future of British ports, deemed that Southampton was suitable for development as a container port. Consequently, plans were drawn up in 1965 to build new facilities for the container trade. The plans involved extending the Western Docks by building additional quays between King George V drydock and Redbridge. The first phase, a 900 feet quay, which became berth 201, was opened for business in October 1968. This quay was then extended by another 900 feet, creating berth 202. Since 1986 berths 201-202 have been used mainly for vehicle traffic. As more and more container companies selected Southampton as their main UK port, further quays (203-207) were built to the west.

1. Southampton Docks: Laying the Foundation Stone

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A contemporary engraving of the ceremony on 12 October, 1838

2. The Inner and Outer Docks

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A contemporary engraving published by Newman & Co. showing the Inner and Outer Docks, c.1860.

3. Southampton Docks, 1902

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An aerial photograph of the eastern docks at the beginning of the
twentieth century.

Ocean Terminal

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A front view of the terminal from 1950.

4. Western Docks

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The Western Docks under construction.
Photograph, c.1932.

Union Castle Terminal, Western Docks

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On the wall of the passenger waiting hall was this mural, painted by John Hutton. It was based on a 16th century poem "The Lusiads" by Portuguese poet Camoens. It tells the story of the voyage of Vasco Da Gama round the Cape of Good Hope to India in 1497.
Photograph, 1956

Further reading:

150 Years of Southampton Docks, by Bert Moody. (HS/pb)
Southampton (Docks and Ports:1), by David L. Williams. (HS/pb)
Maritime Southampton, by Alastair Arnott. (HS/pb)
Story of Southampton Docks, by Mike Roussel. (HS/pb)
A Tale of Two Ports, by John Hovey. (HS/pb)


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