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Southampton History

The starting point for some of the world’s most famous (and in some cases ill-fated) voyages, Southampton is a maritime city and always has been. It began life as a small fishing settlement in the Stone Age and was inhabited by Bronze Age tribesmen before becoming a hub for the Belgae tribe during the Iron Age.

With the Roman conquest came expansion and the town became known as Clausentum. The Saxons that succeeded the Romans also added their buildings to the town, calling it Hamtun. After a brief period of decline, thanks to the marauding Vikings, the Norman Conquest turned Southampton into England’s major port.

Successive kings added to Southampton’s prestige, with Henry II erecting Southampton Castle and King John turning the city into a major centre for trade. It wasn’t all smooth sailing however. In 1338, the town was sacked by the French pirate Grimaldi and a decade later, and Southampton was one of the first places to succumb to the Black Death.

Nevertheless, by the Tudor period, Southampton had once more re-established itself, this time as a centre for lead and tin export as well as a base for the buccaneers who ravaged Spanish shipping in the Channel. It also became a hub for transatlantic traffic, with the Mayflower departing from the port in 1623. Other colonists followed, heading to the Caribbean, South Africa and Australia among others.

Under the Georgians, Southampton became a spa town as well as a port, although it wasn’t left untouched by the Industrial Revolution and became a hub for shipbuilding. The Victorians cemented its role as the UK’s premier port, opening the first major dock in 1842. Linked to the rest of the country by rail, it became the main point of departure for emigrants heading to the New World, including those on board the Titanic in 1912.

Badly damaged by the Blitz in 1940, Southampton was the main point of embarkation for the D-Day Landings, repeating its WWI role. Today, the city still sends thousands heading to sunnier climes through its docks, only now, they go aboard comfortable cruise ships.

Did you know?
• God’s House Tower became the UK’s first dedicated artillery tower when it was built in 1417.
• Canal Walk, formerly known as The Ditches, was once a stream.
• When the Mayflower left Southampton in 1620, it was accompanied by a second ship called the Speedwell. Unfortunately, the Speedwell sprang a leak and had to dock at Dartmouth.

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Featured Hotels


Mercure Southampton Centre Dolphin Hotel

This large chain hotel has clearly spent a lot of time agonising over the finer details, including individually designed headboards created by artists in each of the 65 rooms. The buildings date from 1790 and 1890, and Jane Austen attended a ball in the hotel's Assembly rooms on her 18th birthday. A hotel with genuine character.

Premier Inn Southampton City Centre

A neat, clean and comfortable budget option well placed for exploring the city. It might not be the most exciting place to stay in Southampton, but if your priorities are location and price then this central Premier Inn can't be beaten.

Jury Inn

Book early to get the best prices at this city centre hotel, which overlooks East Park and is within walking distance of the main rail station. With 270 rooms, Jury Inn is the largest hotel in the city. Plus points include flatscreen TVs and supremely comfortable beds in all rooms, as well as free Wi-Fi.

Novotel Southampton

This hotel has a central location near the main railway station and West Quay shopping centre. It has 121 rooms, including four for disabled guests, and there is a swimming pool with exercise area and a sauna. Wi-Fi access is available. The hotel has a bar and restaurant.

The Mayfair Guest House

Most of Southampton's best budget options are chain hotels, but this neat little guesthouse is a nice exception. Set in an elegant Edwardian building, it owes its excellent reputation to warm service, a cosy lounge area with free Wi-Fi and award-winning breakfasts based on locally sourced ingredients.

Grand Harbour Hotel

Bearing more than a passing resemblance to the Louvre, this iconic hotel stands out both for its architectural style and for its facilities. Many of the 173 rooms have sea views, there are suites with Jacuzzi baths and double balconies for luxury lovers, and the in-house fitness centre has a state-of-the-art gym and a pool as well as several therapy rooms.