Southampton is the largest city in the ceremonial county of Hampshire on the south coast of England, and is situated south-west of London and north-west of Portsmouth. Southampton is a major port and the closest city to the New Forest. It lies at the northernmost point of Southampton Water at the confluence of the River Test and River Itchen, with the River Hamble joining to the south of the urban area. The local authority is Southampton City Council, which is a unitary authority.
The city represents the core of the Greater Southampton region, and the city itself has an estimated population of 239,700 Southampton combines with Portsmouth to form a single metropolitan area; with a population of over a million this makes the region one of the United Kingdom's most populous metropolitan areas. The city's name is sometimes abbreviated in writing to "So'ton" or "Soton", and a resident of Southampton is called a .
Significant employers in Southampton include the University of Southampton, Southampton Solent University, Southampton Airport, the Ford Transit factory, Ordnance Survey, BBC South, the NHS, ABP and Carnival UK. Southampton is noted for its association with the , the Spitfire and more recently a number of the largest cruise ships in the world.
Archaeological finds suggest that the area has been inhabited since the stone age. Following the Roman invasion of Britain in AD 43 and the conquering of the local Britons in 70 AD the fortress settlement of Clausentum was established. It was an important trading port and defensive outpost of Winchester, at the site of modern Bitterne Manor. Clausentum was defended by a wall and two ditches and is thought to have contained a bath house. Clausentum was not abandoned until around 410.
The Anglo-Saxons formed a new, larger, settlement across the Itchen centred on what is now the St Mary's area of the city. The settlement was known as Hamwic, which evolved into Hamtun and then Hampton. Archaeological excavations of this site have uncovered one of the best collections of Saxon artefacts in Europe. It is from this town that the county of Hampshire gets its name.
Viking raids from 840 onwards contributed to the decline of Hamwic in the 9th century, and by the 10th century a fortified settlement, which became medieval Southampton, had been established.
Following the Norman Conquest in 1066, Southampton became the major port of transit between the then capital of England, Winchester, and Normandy. Southampton Castle was built in the 12th century and by the 13th century Southampton had become a leading port, particularly involved in the import of French wine in exchange for English cloth and wool.
Surviving remains of 12th century merchants' houses such as King John's House and Canute's Palace are evidence of the wealth that existed in the town at this time. In 1348, the Black Death reached England via merchant vessels calling at Southampton.
The town was sacked in 1338 by French, Genoese and Monegasque ships (under Charles Grimaldi, who used the plunder to help found the principality of Monaco). On visiting Southampton in 1339, Edward III ordered that walls be built to 'close the town'. The extensive rebuilding—part of the walls dates from 1175—culminated in the completion of the western walls in 1380. Roughly half of the walls, 13 of the original towers, and six gates survive.
The city walls include God's House Tower, built in 1417, the first purpose-built artillery fortification in England. Over the years it has been used as home to the city's gunner, the Town Gaol and even as storage for the Southampton Harbour Board. Until September 2011, it housed the Museum of Archaeology. The walls were completed in the 15th century, but later development of several new fortifications along Southampton Water and the Solent by Henry VIII meant that Southampton was no longer dependent upon its fortifications.
On the other hand, many of the medieval buildings once situated within the town walls are now in ruins or have disappeared altogether. From successive incarnations of the motte and bailey castle, only a section of the bailey wall remains today, lying just off Castle Way. The last remains of the Franciscan friary in Southampton, founded circa 1233 and dissolved in 1538, were swept away in the 1940s. The site is now occupied by Friary House.
Elsewhere, remnants of the medieval water supply system devised by the friars can still be seen today. Constructed in 1290, the system carried water from Conduit Head (remnants of which survive near Hill Lane, Shirley) some 1.7 kilometres to the site of the friary inside the town walls. The friars granted use of the water to the town in 1310 and passed on ownership of the water supply system itself in 1420. Further remains can be observed at Conduit House on Commercial Road.
In 1642, during the English Civil War, a Parliamentary garrison moved into Southampton. The Royalists advanced as far as Redbridge, Southampton, in March 1644 but were prevented from taking the town.
During the Middle Ages, shipbuilding became an important industry for the town. Henry V's famous warship was built in Southampton. Walter Taylor's 18th century mechanisation of the block-making process was a significant step in the Industrial Revolution. From 1904 to 2004, the Thornycroft shipbuilding yard was a major employer in Southampton, building and repairing ships used in the two World Wars.
Prior to King Henry's departure for the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, the ringleaders of the "Southampton Plot"—Richard, Earl of Cambridge, Henry Scrope, 3rd Baron Scrope of Masham, and Sir Thomas Grey of Heton—were accused of high treason and tried at what is now the Red Lion public house in the High Street. They were found guilty and summarily executed outside the Bargate.
Southampton has been used for military embarkation, including during 18th-century wars with the French, the Crimean war, and the Boer War. Southampton was designated No. 1 Military Embarkation port during the Great War and became a major centre for treating the returning wounded and POWs. It was also central to the preparations for the Invasion of Europe in 1944.
Southampton became a spa town in 1740. It had also become a popular site for sea bathing by the 1760s, despite the lack of a good quality beach. Innovative buildings specifically for this purpose were built at West Quay, with baths that were filled and emptied by the flow of the tide.
The town experienced major expansion during the Victorian era. The Southampton Docks company had been formed in 1835. In October 1838 the foundation stone of the docks was laid and the first dock opened in 1842. The structural and economic development of docks continued for the next few decades. The railway link to London was fully opened in May 1840. Southampton subsequently became known as The Gateway to the Empire.
The port was the point of departure for the Pilgrim Fathers aboard the Mayflower in 1620. In 1912, the sailed from Southampton. Four in five of the crew on board the vessel were Sotonians, with about a third of those who perished in the tragedy hailing from the city. Southampton was subsequently the home port for the transatlantic passenger services operated by Cunard with their Blue Riband liner and her running mate . In 1938, Southampton docks also became home to the flying boats of Imperial Airways. Southampton Container Terminals first opened in 1968 and has continued to expand.
The Supermarine Spitfire was designed and developed in Southampton, evolving from the Schneider trophy-winning seaplanes of the 1920s and 1930s. Its designer, R J Mitchell, lived in the Portswood area of Southampton, and his house is today marked with a blue plaque. Heavy bombing of the factory in September 1940 destroyed it as well as homes in the vicinity, killing civilians and workers. World War II hit Southampton particularly hard because of its strategic importance as a major commercial port and industrial area. Prior to the Invasion of Europe, components for a Mulberry harbour were built here. After D-Day, Southampton docks handled military cargo to help keep the Allied forces supplied, making it a key target of Luftwaffe bombing raids until late 1944.
630 people lost their lives as a result of the air raids on Southampton and nearly 2,000 more were injured, not to mention the thousands of buildings damaged or destroyed.
Pockets of Georgian architecture survived the war, but much of the city was levelled. There has been extensive redevelopment since World War II. Increasing traffic congestion in the 1920s led to partial demolition of medieval walls around the Bargate in 1932 and 1938. However a large portion of those walls remain.
Image Gallery: STS Lord Nelson