The Port of Southampton


Approaching the Port of Southampton, Cunard White Star Docks. The Queen Mary Dock is on the Right.

Approaching the Port of Southampton, Cunard White Star Docks. The Queen Mary Dock is on the Right. GGA Image ID # 14254da842


The Southampton docks, 78 miles from London, owned and managed by the London and South Western Railway Company, are situated within a perfectly sheltered harbor, one of the best lighted in the United Kingdom, making the docks as accessible by night as by day, and having the unusual natural advantages of double tides, with practically four hours of high water every tide, thus affording unrivaled accommodation for the largest steamers afloat or now being built.

The Empress Dock, 18 1/2 acres, has an entrance 165 feet wide, with a minimum depth of 26 feet at low water, and it is the only dock in Great Britain where deep-water loading and discharging berths can be reached by the largest vessels at any time of the day or night, irrespective of the state of the tide. There is also an outer dock of 16 acres and an inner dock of 10 acres. The quays at present, complete, equal 15,000 linear foot.

The Steamers depart direct from the Empress Dock, at Southampton, at all states of the tide, embarking Passengers there without subjecting them to the inconvenience and discomfort of being transferred by a Tender. Special Trains from Waterloo Station, London, convey Passengers direct alongside the Steamers in the Empress Dock. (American Line Brochure, 1901)


The Landing Stage at Southampton circa Early 1900s. Magic Lantern Glass Slide.

The Landing Stage at Southampton circa Early 1900s. Magic Lantern Glass Slide. GGA Image ID # 1425e31cb8


The new quay extensions in the rivers Itchen and Test are now completed. The Prince of Wales quay, 2,000 feet long, the South quay, 430 feet long, and the test quay, 1,500 feet long, are all accessible at any time of the day or night.

The new Itchen or Prince of Wales quay has for some time been extensively used for the arrivals and departures of the Union Castle, Norddeutscher Lloyd, and other liners, and the company has here erected double-storeied sheds of the most modern design. There is a minimum depth of 28 feet at the Itchen quay low water of ordinary spring tides, and this depth can be further increased to 30 feet, and 30 feet L. W. O.S. T. at the Test quay.

The No. 5 graving dock was completed and opened on the 3rd of August, 1895, by the Prince of Wales. This is the deepest graving dock in the world, the depth to blocks being 32 1/2 feet H. W. O. S. T., 750 feet long, by 87 1/2 feet wide at sill and 112 feet at cope level, and it is possible to lengthen it to 1,000 feet should the size of vessels ever demand it in the future.


Southampton Is Ideal Port For Passenger Liners (1922)


Modern docks, a sheltered harbor, four tides a day, safe approach channels, deep waters at all states of the tide, and its proximity to London, all combine to make Southampton the ideal home port for the great vessels engaged in the passenger carrying trade, says the Monthly Bulletin of the Department of Overseas Trade.

It is, therefore, a natural consequence that the important steamship companies have selected and regularly use Southampton as the home port for their mammoth ships. At no other port in the world can such vessels be berthed at any hour of the day or night.

For years before the war, Southampton enjoyed the distinction of dealing with the largest liners of the principal steamship companies, and when the port was released by the Government for commercial purposes it regained at once the premier position amongst British ports in respect of the ocean passenger trade. The distance between Southampton and London is only 78 miles, and special trains make the journey between the quayside at Southampton and the London terminus in about 1 1/2 hours.


It is recognized that a large port is not properly equipped unless it has adequate facilities for the rapid bunkering of steamers, whether consuming coal or oil. A coal jetty with hydraulic and electric power cranes and spacious coal barge docks has been constructed on the Itchen, for the purpose of storing coaling lighters for bunkering out-going liners. These coaling docks are capable of floating 20,000 tons of bunkering coal at one time. The best Welsh coal is received by coastal steamers, or by special trains from the South Wales coalfields.

Special facilities are also provided for oil bunkering, and the leading oil companies have constructed large installations of oil and motor spirit.

The great increase in the number of modern steamers consuming oil fuel, particularly the largest class of liners, has demanded special facilities for replenishing bunkers and adequate arrangements have been made to meet these requirements. Several of the principal oil fuel companies have opened branches at the port. Large Atlantic liners such as the Olympic and Aquitania have fuelled under 7 hours. It is expected that in the near future it will be possible for vessels to be oil-bunkered whilst lying in their berths in the docks by means of pipelines laid on from the various companies’ tanks.

The channel from the Solent to the docks has been dredged to a depth of 35 feet, and is lighted by gas buoys. There are double tides at the port, with the result that the water remains at high tide level for about 2 hours twice daily. The docks and quays are fitted with hydraulic and electric installations and provide for numerous cargo sheds and warehouses, also with sidings connecting with the London and South Western Railway main line.

The port is connected by special services with all principal ports in the United Kingdom. The rapidity with which Southampton has gained popularity throughout the shipping world is owing, to a considerable degree, to the excellent railway facilities to and from the port, not only for passengers, but also for goods and all kinds of perishable merchandise.


Southampton To Be Home Port of Great Transatlantic Liners - 1922


Enumeration of Various Services—Development Work Required To Provide Suitable Accommodations For Giant Craft



BY the Spring of this year (1922), Southampton will be home port of the largest liners on the transatlantic run.

Definite assurance was given recently to the Harbor Board and the London Southwestern Railway, owners of the docks, by the White Star and Cunard Steamship Companies that they intend to permanently use the port for their largest vessels, including the Majestic, Homeric, Olympic, Berengaria, Aquitania and Mauretania.

A number of the Canadian Pacific Steamship Company's finest vessels will also use the port with the inauguration of a new service to Canada, the liners concerned including the Empress of Scotland and the Empress of France.

The new service will be opened by the former vessel on May 18; and the company's present Antwerp-Southampton-Montreal service will be improved by the substitution of the Melita for the Corsican, and the Minnedosa for the Scandinavian.

The Cunard Line has also announced its intention of reviving its Southampton-Québec and Montréal service in the coming Spring, and this run will become a very prominent feature in the company's activities. The service will be opened by the Andania and Antonia, which are designed to carry cabin and third-class passengers and large cargoes.


At first the service will be fortnightly, but with the delivery of further new vessels it will eventually become a weekly one. With the addition of the Red Star Antwerp-Southampton-Canada service there will be three direct lines of fine passenger vessels between Southampton and Canada.

These evidences of the growing popularity of Southampton as a port have given rise to a tremendous amount of development work in order that adequate accommodation might be provided for these ships.

In view of the assurance given by the Cunard and White Star Companies that their vessels will call at Southampton the port authorities have concluded an arrangement to carry out certain important dredging works in the harbor which will greatly improve the facilities for handling the ships.

The advent of the Majestic, the largest liner in the world, will make it necessary to enlarge the swinging ground in the vicinity of the Docks, and arrangements have been made for the completion of this project.

The authorities are also concerned as to the future dry-docking accommodation to be provided by the port, where the largest dry dock is the Trafalgar Dock, the original length of which was 897 feet.

Some time ago it was necessary to dry dock the Olympic and this was accomplished by adding a nose piece to the head of the dock. By a skillful process of maneuvering this dock was made to accommodate the Aquitania, the stem of which escaped the end of the dock by a few inches.

Under existing conditions the Majestic could not be dry docked at Southampton, and the port authorities have turned their attention to the largest floating dry dock in the world, now at Hamburg, and which was confiscated by the British Government from Germany.


The authorities have made an offer to the British Government for this dock, and there is little doubt but that it will be secured for Southampton. Its acquisition will give the port the finest dry-docking facilities in the world.

As most of the large passenger liners will burn fuel oil, Southampton has been the scene of great activity on the part of various oil companies who are anxious to provide adequately for the great demand for fuel oil which is bound to arise.

On both shores of Southampton Water developments have been proceeding with great rapidity, tanks and piping being installed at the most advantageous points. The arrangements which have been made for bunkering the vessels in the docks or in the open fairway are highly efficient.

The London and South Western Railway Company has recently decided to make certain reductions in the import, export and transshipment consolidated rates, and in the customs and bonding, warehousing and stores rates at Southampton.

These reductions amount to about 12 1/2 percent, but in a number of instances still greater reductions have been made.

Revised charges for cranage will also be put into effect very soon.


Southampton’s Present Prosperity Due To Railway Company’s Improvements (1921)


Modern Docks Have Replaced Ancient Wharves – Home Port for Express Passenger Liners

By A. Vernon Thomas


From several points of view, Southampton is one of the most interesting ports of the British Isles. It is, for instance, the outstanding example of a port developed by a railroad company for the sake of the passenger traffic commanded by a favorable location.

Then it possesses the extraordinary phenomenon of four tides a day. The explanation of this natural endowment will be understood by a glance at the map. It will be seen that Southampton lies some six miles up Southampton Water and that opposite the end of this deep inlet stands the Isle of Wight.

When a tide comes sweeping up the English Channel it sweeps up Southampton Water also, but when the ebb tide begins through the Channel and sweeps again past the Isle of Wight the flood is held in Southampton Water and cannot get out. The result is that two hours after every high tide in the English Channel it is high tide for a second time at Southampton. Thus Southampton has practically four hours of high tide every twenty-four hours.


Port At Low Ebb

Some thirty odd years ago, the fortunes of the Port of Southampton were at a low level. The first dock had been opened in 1843, though the place had been a port from time immemorial, with old-fashioned wharves. However, the tendency in the seventies and eighties of last century was for ships to take their cargoes as near as possible to the big industrial areas.

Southampton was near no such areas, being 79 miles from London and much further from Britain’s great manufacturing districts. Trade began seriously to leave the port and something of a crisis was reached in the late eighties, when the city definitely decided not to take over the docks or make the port improvements, which further progress called for.

Then it was that the London & South Western Railway Co., which serves Southampton and all the important ports on the south coast of England west of Southampton, came to the rescue. In 1892, the Railway Company purchased the dock estate from the Southampton Harbor Board and during the ensuing period of close on thirty years has spent, on an average, about a million dollars a year on port improvements.

It is perhaps not generally appreciated to what an extent railway control is exercised over marine terminal facilities in Great Britain. While Southampton, and Hull and Immingham on the Humber, are the outstanding examples of railway ports, there are many others.

During the sittings of the parliamentary Committee on Railway Agreements and Amalgamations, in 1910, a list was acquired containing the names of no less than 72 docks, harbors, piers, wharves and quays, either owned, worked, leased or controlled by British railway companies. Many of the enterprises were admittedly small, but substantial proof was afforded that the influence of the railway companies over the foreign and coastwise trade of Britain was increasing and had obtained considerable dimensions.

While there may have been times when Southampton felt it a little irksome to be dominated by one railway company, and while it may often have sighed for competition, it is but fair to say that the London & South Western Railway Co. has given the port efficient service and has been the big factor in building it up to its present proportions.

Southampton is now established beyond all probable rivalry as the express passenger port between Great Britain and the United States. When released from their war-time service, the Aquitania and the Olympic, the two largest British-built ships, were placed on this express ferry between Southampton and New York. These two vessels, as well as the Mauretania and the ex-German Berengaria have all been in the big dock at Southampton at one and the same time, forming a unique spectacle.

By the way, this dock is, from long usage by the White Star Line, called the “White Star Dock.” The Cunard Company, whose big liners are also obliged to use it, of course, not exactly relishes the name. Particulars of the White Star Dock, which is the largest and deepest at Southampton, are as follows: water area, 16 acres; length of quayage, 3,800 feet; length of dock, 1,600 feet; width of entrance, 400 feet; depth of high water, ordinary spring tides, 53 feet; depth at low water, ordinary spring tides, 40 feet.


Harbor Board's Duties

While the Southampton docks are, as stated, owned by the L. & S. W. Railway, the work of dredging, buoying, lighting and collecting dues is undertaken by the Southampton Harbor Board. This body is composed of 26 members, representing a large number of different interests. The city council of Southampton has seven members; owners of foreign going vessels, four; the L. & S. W. R. Co., three; owners of coasting vessels and the Southampton Chamber of Commerce, two each. Several other interests have one member each, including the Admiralty and the War Office.

It should have stated that the London & South Western Railway Co. has itself a considerable fleet of vessels. These are chiefly passenger boats plying to the Isle of Wight, the Channels Islands and the south coast pleasure resorts. The company also owns five cargo boats.

When the writer recently strolled around the Southampton docks it seemed to him as if he were wandering about a huge railroad yard rather than inspecting a steamship terminal.

Tracks were everywhere, and everywhere, too, little shunting engines were as busy as bees.

A plan of these docks shows railroad tracks like a nervous system encircling every building and expanding from time to time into classification yards, sidings, etc. Nor is it freight traffic alone which is handled here, right on the waterfront.

The Cunard and White Star boat trains come right on to the dock and discharge their passengers a few feet from the vessel’s side. These boat trains, it may be remarked en passant, are spectacular affairs. The hustle and bustle at Waterloo, the big London terminus of the London & South Western Railway Co., before the departure of one of these trains, is one of London’s not least interesting sights. The run to Southampton is done in a little less than two hours.


The White Star Line RMS Majestic Entering the King George V Graving Dock at Southampton

The White Star Line RMS Majestic Entering the King George V Graving Dock at Southampton. GG Archives Image ID # 211098b36c


At the time of the writer's visit the great bulk of the Berengaria, undergoing minor repairs, could be seen broadside on in the White Star Dock. Opposite it was the Adriatic, while in the adjoining Trafalgar Deck the ex-German liner Berlin, now the Arabic, was laid up. Beyond the Adriatic were the Kinfauns Castle and the Balmoral Castle, two large liners of the Union-Castle Company.

The latter was being coaled by baskets from barges on either side of the ship. The hoisting power was derived from a kind of box-car on the quay. It seemed a crude and dirty process and one could hardly believe it would survive much longer. In Southampton Water were a long string of Union-Castle liners riding at anchor, testifying to the general slump in shipping.

In one of the large freight sheds was noticed a consignment of boxes bearing the legend Czecho-Slovakia. On inquiry they were found to contain sugar and had reached Southampton via Hamburg. There must have been hundreds of tons in the consignment.

The Kangaroo, a large vessel with its home port at Freemantle, West Australia, was in the docks and not far away rose the Royal Mail steamer Almanzora, looking spick and span in a fresh coat of paint. Across the River Itchen, which bounds the docks on the east, one gains a view of the finely situated Netley Hospital, one of the important institutions of the British army.

Space does not permit a due description of Southampton’s shipbuilding yards.

It may be said, however, that Harland & Wolff built a repair yard at the port in 1907 and have considerably added to it since. This firm does the Southampton jobs of the White Star Line on the west side of the port, while John I. Thornycroft & Co., Ltd., do the work for the Cunard Company on the east side.


The Steamship Struggle with the Port of Southampton, 1907


IT is impossible to mistake the significance of the removal of the White Star line from Liverpool to Southampton. It is a hard stroke in the fight of two great nations for mastership of the Atlantic.

The British-American steamship company, the White Star and the British Cunard, have for some time past more or less impassively watched the German companies. Hamburg-America and North-German Lloyd tap the passenger traffic of the Continent by calling, on the way across the Atlantic, at Cherbourg and Havre. Dover and Southampton.

With somewhat old-fashioned conservatism they have stuck to Liverpool which no Frenchman in his senses would choose as his starting point for the United States, and which is at least as unlikely to allure travellers from other States of Western Europe. Is not Liverpool by all tradition the starting place for America ? And who, when a tradition in our dignified world of English commerce is well established, will depart from it till he is frightened and hustled out by the rude foreigner ?

We must lose a few hundred thousands ere we think of moving, and double the amount at least ere we actually stir. How many pounds and passengers have been lost to the trade of England since the Continental companies made their first great effort for the supremacy of the Atlantic, no one can say; but the amount is not a trifle. For some time past everybody has read of and wondered at the splendid enterprises of the two German steamship companies.

We hear a great deal, in another question of the sea, of two-power strength. There is no doubt as to which country has made the boldest bid to have a two-power strength in seaborne commerce. No finer vessels than Germany's Atlantic steamships, if as fine, exist to-day. Germany has well deserved all the additional trade she has won through I the English lines lingering at Liverpool, when Liverpool in this matter is slightly out of date.


Thanks to the energy alike of her capitalists and working people, and to the restless patriotism of the Emperor—which has inspired this movement particularly—Germany has quickly turned out a little fleet of " floating cities ", matchless some of them for size and fleetness together. She has had the start. But at length one of the leading " Anglo-Saxon " lines is coming south to offer battle.

The White Star will be settled, with at any rate four boats, at Southampton by June; and it is fairly well known that the Cunard will shortly be following in the same direction. Even without any great changes from their state of seven years ago, the Southampton docks might meet the demands made on them by the White Star line.

We remember that in one day—perhaps the day when the "Kildonan Castle" started—nearly seven thousand troops with all their baggage and stores were easily embarked and sent down Southampton Water before dark. But there has been great activity about the docks of late, and preparations are now being pressed on for the reception of a large number of nay: steamships. Some definite statements are, we believe, to be made as to the changes and the new trade at the next meeting of the London and South-Western Railway.

Southampton has been a steadily growing place—too growing quite to suit the taste of those who care for her sea and landscapes—since the docks were made; and recently indeed it has been urged that enterprise has been exaggerated and that the town and its suburbs have been overbuilt : but until quite lately the extraordinary advantage this port enjoys in tides has probably been undervalued. It is an advantage that owes nothing to human enterprise.

Through the Isle of Wight being so near. and extending east and west of Southampton Water, a strong tide sweeps in from either side. Thus twice a day Southampton is fed by a high tide. There may he some other ports favoured as kindly, but there are none in England or along the coasts of neighboring countries.


Passengers Landing at Southampton, Disembarking from a White Star Line Ocean Liner.

Passengers Landing at Southampton, Disembarking from a White Star Line Ocean Liner. Steamers of the White Star Line, 1909. From the Chris Crofts Collection. GGA Image ID # 211033a99c


Now that the passenger ships have grown to such a huge bulk, this has become a very important consideration. For one thing it does away with the wretched inconvenience and delay of tenders. But owing to the dredging work that has been done of late by the Harbour Board. the very largest Transatlantic steamers may steam up to the dock at any hour of day or night.

The Cunard line will shortly add to its fleet the first of its new turbine ships, which in size and speed—twenty-five knots an hour—will surpass even the sea-giants of Germany. It is imperative that ships such as these should on arrival be able to move in deep water up to the point of landing. Size, which with speed is every-thing in a first-class passenger ship to-clay, actually becomes a disadvantage if at the place of arrival it is necessary. to hang about awaiting a high tide and to put travellers to the inconvenience of landing by a tender. Half the difficulty perhaps of the ocean lies in the port.

The Cunard Company is wisely reticent about the arrangements it is coming to, but it has slowly been making up its mind for a long time past to get a share of the Continental and South of England traffic. Having resolved to outstrip all the other lines in size and speed combined, the Cunard would hardly be likely to hold back from the competition in the South.

We are sure to see some of their new ships here within the next year or so. These ships at their launching may appear to touch the absolute high-water mark in size and modern conveniences, if not in speed too. But this is the impression which almost every new " record " steamship makes on us today.


One could name a dozen ships built within recent years of which the general view has been that here we have a type not likely to be improved on for many years. Yet in a few years after their launching these record vessels begin to look old-fashioned if not obsolete. Everyone who has sailed down Southampton Water or in the Solent of late must have been struck by the majestic row of great white liners with their red funnels, the colors of the Union-Castle line.

If you bring your glasses to bear on these ships you see names which a few years ago stood for all that was efficient, huge and fleet in ocean commerce. Magnificent ships they still remain. Yet they now lie at ease. They have had still more efficient successors, and even these successors may at any time in the near future give place to a new class, so short-lived is a generation in the modern world of ocean steamships.

Though an island people we are for the most part born land-lubbers—which is well illustrated by the fact that even gallant admirals readily support a plan for escaping the rig-ours of the crossing of the English Channel.

Most English people live and die sublimely ignorant of all things relating to ships—ships of war and of commerce alike. They hardly get beyond the fact that the " Victory" was the name of the vessel on which Nelson died. It would not be a bad thing if some simple facts about the sea worth and the working of our navies of trade and war were taught in every English school. It would be at least as useful and interesting as some of the schemes proposed by theorists as a means of keeping the people on the land, or as rifle practice for school infants.


Sailing Schedules that Include the Port of Southampton


Sailing Schedule, Hamburg-New York via Boulogne-sur-Mer, Plymouth, Southampton, and Cherbourg, from 7 October 1900 to 19 January 1901.

Hamburg American Line (HAPAG) Sailing Schedule, 7 October 1900 to 19 January 1901

Steamers and Ocean Liners operated by the Hamburg Amerika Linie / Hamburg American Line (HAPAG) were scheduled for transatlantic voyages between 7 October 1900 and 19 January 1901.


Map of the Port of Southampton, 1892.

Map of the Port of Southampton, 1892. Der Norddeutscher Lloyd, 1892. GGA Image ID # 2160c86800. Click to View Larger Image.



“Southampton is Ideal Port for Passenger Liners,” in The Nautical Gazette: America's Oldest Shipping Weekly, Volume 103, No. 3, Whole No.  2656, Saturday, 15 July 1922, p. 80.

Francis Grannel, “Southampton to be Home Port of Great Transatlantic Liners: Enumeration of Various Services – Development Work Required to Provide Suitable Accommodations for Giant Craft,” in The Nautical Gazette, Volume 102, No. 6, Whole No. 2634, New York, Saturday, February 11, 1922, p. 172

Thomas, A. Vernon, “Southampton’s Present Prosperity Due To Railway Company’s Improvements,” in The Nautical Gazette: America's Oldest Shipping Weekly -- Founded 1871, Volume 101, No. 13, Whole Number 2614, New York, Saturday, September 24,1921, P. 204-205

"The Steamship Struggle with the Port of Southampton" in The Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art, No 2,672 Volume 103, 12 January 1907, Pages 38-39 London

Introduction to the Port of Southampton, Extract from Commercial Relations of the United States with Foreign Countries During The Year 1904, By United States Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce, U.S. Department of Commerce and Labor, Bureau of Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Manufactures, by Acting Consul Richard Jones, Southampton, England, 1905


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