Southampton first developed its shipbuilding industry in the Middle Ages when the king's demand for a naval fleet was increased by the Hundred Years War. Southampton remained an important port through the centuries with Vosper Thorneycroft being the largest shipbuilder and employer in the town. They built ships from destroyers and ferries to luxury yachts. In the nineteenth century the passenger liner business developed with White Star Line and Cunard both making their base here. Despite the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, the passenger liner business continued going strong until its peak in the 1930s. Southampton's SeaCity Museum has some fascinating displays about the shipbuilding industry and also contains a Titanic Exhibition that brings home the personal aspects of the tragedy. Solent Sky Aviation Museum also looks at the variety of inventions and innovations heralding from the Southampton area.
The White Star Line established a base in Southampton in 1907. As the size of cruise liners increased, their existing docks were too small so necessitated the building of a 16 acre, forty feet deep, dock to house the Olympic class liners. The White Star Dock launched three sailings a week to New York and in 1911 The Olympic, the Titanic's sister ship, made its maiden voyage across the Atlantic without incident. The Titanic arrived in Southampton on 3 April 1912 and her maiden voyage left Southampton's docks on 10 April 1912. It would be just five days later that this enormous "unsinkable" ship would sink.
Southampton at this time was a busy, hardworking town with the vast majority of people working in shipbuilding and the docks. Four out of every five of the Titanic's crew members were actually from Southampton so the incidents that followed had a profound effect on the town. It is estimated that over 500 households lost at last one family member! You can still see graves in the churchyards of Southampton in memorial of those who lost their lives in the sinking of the Titanic, but there are also those who were never recovered and are remembered in a variety of memorials around the city.
For an interesting and personal look at life for the crew and passengers on the huge ocean liners and the Titanic and its tragic demise, visit Southampton's SeaCity Museum. It has models and photos of the layout of these vast ships as well as the Titanic Exhibition which is well worth a visit. Here you can see many personal accounts and possessions of those who worked and travelled on the Titanic as well as oral accounts of those who actually survived the disaster.
Southampton is also famous for being a centre for aircraft production from 1913. Nearby in Farnborough Samuel Cody achieved the first flight of a powered aircraft in the UK as early as 1908. Then in 1911 a monoplane was constructed and flown at Eastleigh. But it wasn't until 1913 that the eccentric millionaire Pemberton-Billing and an engineer named Hubert Scott-Paine created an aviation company, Supermarine, at a disused coal wharf in Woolston, on the banks of the River Itchen at Southampton. Their main aim was to build a "boat that flew" which they achieved and developed through the two World Wars to produce aircraft used for passenger routes across the world.
At one time a regular sea plane service ran between Southampton and the Channel Islands. The museum, Solent Sky, traces the history of aviation in the Hampshire area and the contributions made by 26 aircraft companies that were based here and made the area one of the most important centres of aviation in the world. The museum displays a range of aircraft including a Supermarine Spitfire, a Tiger Moth and many others as well as engines like the Bristol Siddeley Viper and a Rolls Royce Merlin.