June 13, 2021

Cunard and Southampton

Cunard has been operating ships out of Southampton for almost 100 years.

Southampton has been a port since at least Roman times. During the Middle Ages, it was particularly important for wool and wine trade, which finally dwindled away almost completely by the early 18th Century. After a brief period as a spa resort, the port sprang into new life with the coming of the railway; and by 1840 – the year Cunard service from Liverpool to Boston began – it was obvious Southampton’s future prosperity as a passenger shipping port was assured.

During the 19th Century, the docks at Southampton gradually expanded, and many shipping companies came to use the port regularly. Liverpool remained the Cunard port, although an occasional call at Southampton by a Cunarder was not unknown.

White Star Line had been using Southampton since 1907 and had an office there. Cunard made occasional calls before World War One; but after that Cunard found it politic to operate its express liner service from Southampton and, in 1919, an office was established at Maritime Chambers. Soon Cunard’s “Big Three,” Mauretania, Aquitania and Berengaria, were running from Southampton to New York via Cherbourg, with the first Cunarder to use the port being Aquitania. However, Mauretania inaugurated the new service on 18 November 1919.

The increased prosperity made the Southern Railway Company, who then owned the docks, consider plans for greatly enlarging them, and by the late 1920s the New Docks was under construction. News of the proposed new superliner, Queen Mary, prompted Southern Railway to include a giant dry dock in its plans – one large enough to accommodate Queen Mary. The New Docks was largely finished during the early 1930s, and on 26 July 1933, the dry dock was officially opened by King George V, whose name it bears.

Cunard Headquarters in the mid-1960’s.

The decision in 1965 to make Southampton the Head Office of Cunard meant that the premises at Maritime Chambers, used since 1919, were no longer adequate, so South Western House became the new home of Cunard. The former hotel building had been converted to provide office accommodation for the company. About 120 staff members and their families moved from Liverpool to Southampton, the existing staff of some 200 persons was retained and about 200 extra personnel were engaged, many locally.

On 4 July 1966 – 166 years to the day Britannia departed on the voyage that changed ocean travel forever – Cunard Managing Director Philip Bates with his fellow Directors watched the Cunard flag unfurl above South Western House.

When QE2 entered service in 1969, she was the first Cunard passenger ship to have Southampton on her stern.

Cunard remained at South Western House until 1996 before relocating to Mountbatten House at Grosvenor Square ,and then to Harbour Parade in 2009.

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