68th European Study Group with Industry

| University of Southampton | 30 March - 3 April 2009 |


The City of Southampton.

Southampton started its chronicled life as the Roman port of Clausentium, serving the Roman military as a sheltered port for resupply.  As nearby Winchester developed as the capital of Wessex, Southampton’s port status grew.  However strategic growth was not without cost and the city has been ransacked regularly in turn by the Saxons, Vikings, French and most latterly during World War II.  During the Regency period, Southampton was second only to Brighton as a sea resort for fashionable society, and Jane Austen relocated here.

The event that everyone remembers Southampton for is the sinking of the Titantic in April 1912.  Many of the crew that were lost came from Southampton and whole neighbourhoods lost the main wage-earners with the sinking.  Even 90 years on this is still a sensitive scar for the city.  What is not remembered so well in classrooms across the world is that the Mayflower in fact set sail from Southampton.  Plymouth was only a pit stop for repairs and for picking up the remaining passengers before the long Atlantic haul.  This transatlantic link was developed and the city became the focus of a thriving passenger liner trade, supplemented by flying boats in the 1930s, then the only convenient way of reaching far flung corners of the globe by air.

In the pre-nationalisation era of the 1920s-1930s a significant aero-industry sprang up around Southampton.   The most famous company, Supermarine was based on the dock front in Southampton at Woolston, using the runway at Eastleigh (now Southampton airport) for land-based testing.  Building on its success with winning the Schneider speed trophy with the Supermarine S-6B float-plane, the company adapted the design to develop its more famous cousin, the Spitfire.   Designed and built in Southampton, the first Spitfire flew from Eastleigh on 5th March 1936.  Coupled with its role as the pre-eminent port on the South coast, the connection with the Spitfire made Southampton a prime military target during WWII. The production of the Spitfire was first split up into a mixture of light industrial and domestic sheds around the city, before being transferred elsewhere.  Bombing was so heavy that the City came within a week of being officially emptied of people and abandoned until after the war.  Most of the remaining Mediaeval and extensive Georgian quarter was destroyed.  Later in the war it became one of the prime embarkation points for US forces to Normandy.

After the war, the aero-industry was nationalised and moved elsewhere, Britain gave up its empire and associated trading links and air-travel took over from passenger liners as the principal form of long-distance travel. Southampton nevertheless maintained its role as one of the principal UK ports with something like a third of the UK’s imported food supplies and a significant proportion of other import and export goods passing through the city (White Van Man’s spiritual home is Swaythling, the suburb where the Ford Transit is made).

The city is undergoing a massive rejuvenation scheme that has seen significant leisure activity developments along the dockside and the construction of West Quay, the largest in-town shopping centre complex in the South of England.   Over £20m has been allocated to the development of an artists’-quarter that will make Southampton the regional cultural centre. 

An historical place?

...Oh yes!

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