For nearly 2000 years Southampton has existed as a town and later a city, whose fortunes have always been closely linked with its port and docks. Going back to Roman times, Southampton's prime coastal location has meant it's been used as a port for trading, and later as a successful cruise ship terminal too. The interesting history of Southampton port is described here in more detail...
Birth of Southampton Port
Although it's believed the area of Southampton has been inhabited since the stone age, the first major settlement, and establishment of the town, came with the Romans in 43AD. They liked the strategic position of Southampton and began using it as a trading port for the inland city of Winchester.
When the Romans abandoned the town around the year 410 the Anglo-Saxons came in and built a new and larger town, but it wasn't until after the Norman Conquest in 1066 that Southampton Port really began to develop and prosper.
The Growth of Southampton and the Port
When the port became busier following the Norman Conquest the town began to grow too. More and more people were attracted to live here, moving from the countryside in search of work in the growing town. This had a knock-on effect as more homes, shops and other buildings were constructed to serve everyone's needs.
Southampton Castle was one structure that was built in the 12th century as Southampton Port began to grow, and by the 13th century Southampton had become one of Europe's most important ports. It was particularly popular for the import of French wine and the export of English-made cloth and wool.
Shipbuilding in Southampton
Southampton was the entry point for the Black Death into England in 1348, but despite this terrible plague, raids, attacks and wars, Southampton and its port continued to prosper over the following centuries.
From the 1400s onwards Southampton's status as a port town was taken one step further and a flourishing ship building industry began. This included one of the world's largest wooden ships of its time, the Grace Dieu. The Grace Dieu was the flagship of Henry V and was built between 1416 and 1418 here in Southampton as a warship to fight the Genoan carracks. It seems the ship never went to war though and was laid-up in the River Hamble just outside Southampton where it was struck by lightning and burned. The bottom part of the wreck still lies in the river to this day and you can actually see parts of it during a very low tide.
Major Events in the History of Southampton Port
As if all of the above wasn't enough history for Southampton Port, there was far more still to come! One significant piece of history is that Southampton can be considered the birthplace of the New World because it was from here that the Mayflower set sail in 1620 with the Pilgrim Fathers onboard.
The Southampton Docks Company was formed in 1835 and the first docks at Southampton were opened in 1842. This marked the start of another important era in Southampton's history that included the sailing of the RMS Titanic in 1912; a terrible tragedy for the town because about a third of those who died in the sinking of the Titanic were from Southampton. By the 1930s about half of the passenger ships that left the UK departed from the docks at Southampton, and Southampton docks became the home of Cunard and their famous cruise liner, the RMS Queen Mary. In addition to the passenger ships there were of course millions of tons of cargo leaving from Southampton docks too.
Through many ups and downs across the nearly 2000 years of history of Southampton port, the port continues to flourish to this day and remains a very important part of the history and culture of Southampton.
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