The Union Steam Ship Company began operating the government monthly mail service from Southampton to South Africa in 1857. In 1900 it merged with the Castle line to form the Union-Castle line and continued to operate a passenger, freight and mail service between Europe and Africa until 1977. The ships were well known for the lavender hulls and red funnels topped in black. From the 1950s to 1965 the company operated a rigid timetable between Southampton and Cape Town. Every Thursday at 4.00pm a Union-Castle ship would leave Southampton bound for Cape Town and at the same time a Union-Castle ship would leave Cape Town bound for Southampton. After 1965 the Southampton departure was Friday at 1.00pm.

In the 20th century the company’s offices were housed in the old Customs House on Canute Road, which became known as Union Castle House. 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 having been 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 upper floor was used for cargo storage. The new building was opened in January 1956. It still stands and is now part of the Free Trade Zone (the docks area where non-European Union goods may be stored without being liable for tax).

Pretoria Castle: Union-Castle Line Ship

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Pretoria Castle (1947-1965) showing the distinctive red and black funnel.

Union-Castle Line

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Union-Castle Passenger Terminal, Berth 102. Photograph, 1956

see also

Union-Castle House

Further reading:
History of Southampton Vol 2, by A. Temple Patterson, p116-117. (HS/h)
History of Southampton Vol 3, by A. Temple Patterson, passim. (HS/h)
Union - Castle Chronicle 1853-1953, by Marischal Murray. (Shipping Lines)
150 Years of Southampton Docks, by Bert Moody. (HS/pb)
Southampton Shipping Guide, February 1956, p31-33. (HS/pb)


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