The Royal Southern Yacht Club House was opened on 3 August 1846 (it was depicted almost immediately by the Illustrated London News in a report of the British Association meeting at Southampton, attended by Prince Albert. Image 1 below). The architect was Thomas Sandon Hack, whose designs were selected by the yacht club committee over those of fellow Southampton architect William Hinves. It stood on one of the most commanding sites in the town: at the corner of Bugle Street opposite the Royal Pier. It was a prestigious commission for Hack, and his designs reflected the social aspirations of the members of the club. At the building's core was a magnificent state room, doubling as a ball room. The windows opened on to a handsome balcony which extended along the whole front of the building. Surmounted by an awning, the balcony gave unparalleled views of the sailing regattas and afforded a cool retreat during long summer evenings. An "infinity of other rooms" - to quote the Hampshire Advertiser, 8 August 1846 - included a coffee room and committee room. An observatory on the roof gave magnificent views extending from the hills behind Winchester to the Isle of Wight and the New Forest.
Externally, the building was stuccoed and in the palladial style. In front was a piazza, covering the footway to Cuckoo Lane, behind a Tuscan colonnade. In front, and somewhat obscuring the facade, was a huge signal mast and rigging. A flag-staff stood atop the observatory. A half-moon battery of 11 guns immediately fronted the club house: used to signal the start of races and to celebrate their royal patron's birthday, especially when the Corporation refused to pay for a salute from the town guns on the Platform. The interior decorations, by R H Perkins of the High Street, reflected the grandeur of the exterior. The state room was fitted up in the style of Louis Quatorze. The drapery was of the richest embossed crimson and gold. The walls were covered with burgees of the commodores of various yachting clubs as well as numerous other flags and banners. The cost of building and furnishings was £5,000, raised by members' subscriptions.
A glorious beginning quickly turned into a disaster. Within 20 years, the club had to move to cheaper accommodation in the town. The building however still exists, a tribute to the potential, if later unrealized, talents of its young architect.
This club itself was formed in 1837 as the Southampton Yacht Club and held its first regatta in the July 1839. From 1841 the regatta became an annual two day event. In 1843 it received royal patronage and in 1844 it changed its name to the Royal Southern Yacht Club. In its early years the club was often in financial difficulties and was forced, probably on more than one occasion, to move temporarily out of its impressive club house. An advertisement in the Hampshire Independent in March 1856 offering the club house for sale or let described the building as a “magnificent, substantial freehold building” which “commands uninterrupted views over the Southampton Water, the Isle of Wight and the New Forest”.
The building was subsequently used as a school and a merchant’s office. Later in the century the yacht club moved back into its club house and remained there until the outbreak of World War Two when it was taken over by the Admiralty. The club moved to Hamble in 1947 and since then the building has been used for a variety of purposes. As of 2016 the exterior looks dilapidated.
Buildings of England: Hampshire and the I.O.W., by Nikolaus Pevsner and David Lloyd, p542. (H/i)
Picture of Southampton (1849), by Philip Brannon, p56 (HS/h)
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