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Great Britain

Map of the British Isles. 1910.

English Port Cities ° Bristol  ° Chester ° Dartmouth ° Falmouth  ° Gravesend  ° Harwich ° Hull Docks: Bessemer Steamer ° Liverpool  ° London (Billingsgate) ° Newcastle-Upon-Tyne  ° Plymouth  ° Southampton  ° Portsmouth  ° Weymouth  ° Woolwich (The Hulks)

Crown Dependency of the United Kingdom (Crown Colonys): ° The Channel Islands ° Cornwall  ° Isle of Man  ° Isle of Wight


Southampton is centred directly in the middle of the South Coast, between Hampshire and London. Although the port’s location shows evidence of Stone Age dwellings, there is no evidence that Stone Age citizens used the shoreline as a port.

The first noted use for this purpose was in 70AD when the Romans used the site to ship goods to and from Italy. The Roman’s left in 407AD, leaving the port to the Saxons who used it as a shipping port in 700AD. Predominantly transporting wine and wool, The Saxons thrived at Southampton port until the invasion of the Vikings in 865 AD. The Vikings took hold of England for several years, sapping the Saxon’s resources and killing thousands of their people. Despite this, the port was still in use.

In the Middle Ages Southampton became a military port and was used to transport English troops to France, during the One Hundred Years War, which took place from 1337 to 1453. At this time the port thrived as a ship building site, producing ships to transport English troops across the channel. Typically Medieval ship-builders favoured ‘round ships,’ which were powered by sail or oar, sometimes ships had both in case the wind was not strong enough to propel them across the water’s surface. During the One Hundred Years War, Southampton became the third most important port in the country, after London and Bristol. This was due to its sheer industrial power, scale, and its central location.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, trade to and from Southampton dwindled and the port grew quiet until the late 18th century. From this time, trade slowly increased and goods were once again transported in frequent and large loads. By 1840, the Industrial Revolution had brought railways to London and beyond. This brought a wealth of tourists to the town’s quays and a dock was introduced to the port in 1843. Later more docks were introduced and over the next few decades Southampton saw the arrival of cruise liners and other large ships, including military ships. Due to their scale the relatively small port was unable to cope with the ships' demands and in due course, more docks, including a floating dry dock, were introduced in order to accommodate the growing trade.

Goods shipped in and out of world ports to and from London, Chester, Bristol, Yarmouth, Southampton, Newcastle-upon-Tyne (coal), Hull, Portsmouth, Harwich, Plymouth, Dartmouth, Falmouth, "Dover Castle," and Liverpool.

Under the beneficial influence of the Isle of Wight, the port of Southampton enjoys four periods of high water in 24 hours. Following the completion of the London and South Western Railway in 1840, P & O moved its operations from London to Southampton. The South Western Hotel still stands at the terminus of the railway on Canute Road (since 1940 it has been used for shipping offices). Together with many of the smaller buildings that can be seen in the painting, they miraculously escaped bombing in the Second World War. An extensive area of docks and wharves now exists on reclaimed land stretching downriver, and railway tracks debouch across the road next to the hotel providing direct rail access to the docks. P & O continued to use Southampton until 1881, returning to the port only in the 1960s.

In 1750 Prince Frederick went bathing in the sea at Southampton. He liked it so much he returned again the same year. Although he died the next year his 3 sons came to visit the town. Soon many rich visitors followed. People believed that bathing in seawater could heal many diseases.

In 1762 Southampton was called: 'one of the prettiest and healthiest towns in England, it is rather extensive and well populated and possesses several fine houses'.

Furthermore Georgian Southampton began to recover as a port. In 1753 a writer said that Southampton had 'lately improved its position. Much of the wine trade with Portugal formerly handled by London in now finding its way to the port'. From the 1780's trade in Southampton began to revive even more. Coal from Newcastle was imported in increasing amounts. Wool stockings were imported from the Channel Islands.

From 1770 Southampton began to grow north of the Bargate. By 1802 growth had spread as far as Commercial Road. Southampton's population rose from about 6,000 in 1770 to 8,000 in 1801.

From 1745 the authorities planted trees along the road across the Common. In 1761 an assembly room was opened on West Quay. Balls were held there and games of cards. A visitor described it as 'very elegant, handsomely lighted up with 5 glass chandeliers'. In 1766 Southampton got its first theater in French Street. Southampton gained its first bank in 1778.

In 1770 an act of Parliament set up a body of men called the Improvement Commissioners with powers to pave and clean the main streets of Southampton. From 1782 they provided 150 oil lamps to light some of the streets. In 1775 Eastgate was demolished as it impeded the flow of traffic. In 1765 a passage for pedestrians was cut through the east arch of the Bargate. Later another was cut through the west gate. In 1799 a wooden bridge was built across the Itchen at Northam.

The improvement commissioners in Southampton also towed away carts blocking the streets of Southampton. They were chained to a tree known as the pound tree and the owner had to pay a fine to get them back.

British Troops Depart from Southampton

British Troops Depart from Southampton. Crimea War.

During the Napoleonic wars Southampton prospered because of the soldiers passing through on their way abroad. They spent lots of money in the town.

Furthermore by the early 19th century the port was booming again. Timber was imported form the Baltic, grain from Ireland and Eastern England. Coal, slate and building stone were brought from Scotland. Also wine and fruit were imported into Southampton from Portugal and Spain.

On the other hand Southampton lost its position as a seaside resort to Brighton. By 1820 sea bathing in Southampton had largely ceased. Soon the quays at Southampton were not sufficient for the number of ships visiting the port. In 1838-42 a dock was built.

Also in the early 19th century many new shipyards were built along the Itchen. In 1822 a paddle steamer began running between Southampton and the Isle of Wight. In 1823 paddle steamers began running from Southampton to France and the Channel Islands. By 1830 100,000 people were travelling from Southampton by steamship every year.

Between 1807 and 1809 the novelist Jane Austen lived in Southampton.

In the early 19th century the Saltmarsh, east of Southampton was drained and the land was sold for building houses. At the same time the 4 fields north of Southampton were purchased by the town council and turned into parks. In the 1840's growth spread to Northam. Then in the 1850's it spread to Freemantle and Newtown. In the 1860's many new houses were built in Shirley, St Denys and Portswood and by 1900 growth spread to Swaythling. After 1900 Bitterne Park Estate was built.

In 1840 the railway reached Southampton. Stagecoach building was a major industry in the early 19th century. However with the coming of railways it slowly declined. From the 1840's there were horse drawn buses in Southampton and from 1879 horse drawn trams. The trams were electrified after 1900.

There were several other improvements in 19th century Southampton. Gas streetlights existed from 1820. In 1836 the first modern police force was founded. In 1838 the Royal South Hampshire hospital opened. In 1846 the first cemetery opened near the southern end of the Common. In 1889 the first public library in Southampton opened in St Marys Street.

However in common with most towns in the early 19th century Southampton was dreadfully unsanitary. The improvement commissioners only paved and cleaned the main streets and the back streets were very dirty. Out of 230 streets in the 1840's 145 were without sewers. In one case 77 people shared one toilet. Not surprisingly in 1849 there was a cholera epidemic in Southampton, which killed 240 people.

April 7, 1847, California Star, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

Communication with the Pacific by the Isthmus of Panama.

The English government has granted $100, 000 per annum to the royal company of transAtlantic steam navigation, for the establishment of a post route to the Pacific across the Isthmus. Each month a steamer will depart from Panama for Valparaiso and Lima, touching at Guayaquel, Payta, Islay, Arica, Iquique, Cobija, Copiapo, Huasco, and Coquimbo, arriving at Valparaiso on the 24th or 25th of every month.

Hull, Dover, Southampton. 1907 map.

London Docks: Hull, Dover, Southampton. 1907 map.

The Company at London have published the fallowing notice: -- "A steam packet will leave Southampton the 17th of every month, and, by way of Jamaica, proceed to Chagres, where letters and passengers will arrive the 20th and 21st of the following month. The price of passage is for a forward state-room $250; for an after state-room $300; this price includes everything excepting wines and liquor. At Chagres the vessel will stop for the discharge of passengers and letters destined to ports on the Pacific. On return with passengers and the mail, the steamers touch at Jamaica, Havannah and the Bermudas. At Havannah, the passengers who have paid $80, find a steamer departing every month for New Orleans, and packets to New York. Mr. Perry, the English Consul at Panama is the agent of the company. The rate of freight for precious metals, monies or ingots, comprising all expenses across the Isthmus, and to their delivery at the Bank of England, is 3 3-4 per cent. For precious stones of all species, unwrought and paying no duty, the freight is 2 3-4 per cent ad valorem; payable as before; on jewelry subject to duty, and delivered at Southampton, the freight is 2 1-2 per cent."

Pier at Southampton. 1890s.

Life in 19th century Southampton gradually improved. After 1850 the town council took over the duties of the improvement commissioners. From then on all streets were cleaned and sewers were enlarged and improved. Nevertheless there was another epidemic of cholera in Southampton in 1865, which killed 151 people. At first poor people obtained their water from conduits, wells or pumps but in 1888 a new water works opened at Otterbourne. By that time most people had piped water.

Also in 1888 an electricity generating station in Southampton opened in Back of the Walls. The first electric streetlights were switched on in 1889.

From the 1880's North Atlantic trade increased and in 1907 White Star transatlantic liners moved to Southampton. New docks for ships were built in the years 1890-1911. In 1919 Cunard made Southampton the terminus of their New York service.

November 23, 1850, Daily Alta California, San Francisco, California, U.S.A.

American Line Poster. Southampton to New York.

We are in possession of dates from Liverpool four days later than those received via the United States by the last steamer. We have a copy of Wilmer & Smith'sEuropean Timesof October 2d. it was published for despatch by the Royal West India Mail SteamshipGreat Western, which sailed from Southampton the day of publication. That vessel arrived at Chagres in time to connect with the California, and this paper was procured by Mr. Comstook, Vice President of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company, and kindly furnished to us. It contains no items of interest to the general reader later than those contained inour abstract of the foreign news receivd from the United States. It is gratifying, however, to know that our means of communicating with theold world, independent of the United States, are daily increasing. We hail this first successful experiment with pleasure.

In May 1851, The American Ocean Steam Navigation Company was looking to Southampton the redezvous of the steamers belonging to that company.

In September 1852, the steamship Oronoco had arrived at Southampton from the Pacific with over three million in gold.

September 30, 1854

Improvements in Ships and Boats.

South Shore, Southampton, England 1890s.

The experimental schooner yacht Inclined Plane, 75 tons, constructed upon Lipscombe's new principle, was launched on the 15th ult. from Mr. Cunningham's yard, Southampton. She is a schooner yacht of 75 tons. Great expectations hare been formed with regard to this schooner. She will be fitted out as rapidly as possible, and it is expected that in about three weeks she will be publicly tried at Southampton. An extraordinary speed is expected from this vessel, and it is said that a small boat, constructed on the same prnciple, sails twice as fast as ordinary boats of her own size, and has succeeded in beating a yacht of 8 tons. The boat referred to is 13 feet long and 3-1/2 feet wide.

A jolly-row-boat, thirteen feet long, by three and a half feet wide, lately built upon the same principle, has astonished every one by the excellent qualities exhibited by her. As a rowboat she is remarkably easy to pull, is very stiff and buoyant, and when propelled by canvas alone, sails twice as fast as any other hoat of her own size, and has easily outsailed an eight-ton yacht, hitherto considered fast, that was expressly tried against her. ~ London Paper.

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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

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