Industrial seaport and administrative centre of Southampton City unitary authority in southern England, at the head of Southampton Water, 128 km/80 mi southwest of London; population (2001) 234,200. Industries include marine engineering, chemicals, plastics, flour milling, and tobacco. It is a major passenger and container port.
History Southampton is first mentioned as the place where the Viking Canute defeated Ethelred the Unready in 1016 to become king of England. (According to legend it was here that Canute commanded the mighty waves of the Solent to retreat.) Following the Norman Conquest in 1066, Southampton grew prosperous as the main port of trade and transit between Winchester and Normandy, and a walled town was established on the peninsula between the rivers Test and Itchen to guard it against attack. In response to a devastating raid by the French in 1338, the town became one of the best-defended fortresses in England. Henry I granted a charter of incorporation to the town, and it was made a county by Henry VI. Trade with Mediterranean ports was the basis of the town's economy by the 15th century. The Mayflower, the ship that took the Pilgrims from England to America in 1620, originally set sail from here (bad weather forced it to stop at Plymouth). By the middle of the 18th century the town had also developed as a spa (Frederick Prince of Wales bathed here in 1750). The building of the modern system of docks began in 1838. The Old Docks, covering some 80 ha/198 acres, contain three large tidal basins known as the Ocean, the Empress, and Outer Docks. The New Docks, which face the River Test, were completed in 1934. At the western end of the New Docks is the King George V graving (dry) dock, which was built primarily for the Queen Mary. The Princess Alexandra Dock has been redeveloped as a marina and shopping centre. The Titanic began its fateful maiden voyage from here in 1912. The port was frequently bombed during World War II but, despite the damage it suffered, it was still the principal point of embarkation for troops for the D-day operation – over 3 million troops left Southampton for the Normandy beaches.
Features Southampton port is a home base for many liners and cruise ships (the QE II was formerly based here); it also has ferry links to the Isle of Wight. Norman House and Canute's Palace are among the oldest examples of Norman domestic architecture in Britain. Part of the medieval town wall has survived, including four of the towers and Bargate, the former north gateway to the city. The 14th-century Wool House has been converted into a maritime museum, and the Tudor House Museum is sited in a half-timber 15th-century Tudor building. The Hospital of God's House was originally founded in 1185 for pilgrims who were going either to the shrine of St Swithin at Winchester or to Canterbury; it now houses a museum of archaeology. The partly Norman St Michael's Church has an 18th-century spire 50 m/164 ft high. Southampton University was founded in 1952.