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Western Docks


Berths 101-108

View this story in pictures

Western Docks Under Construction
In 1923, control of the docks passed to the Southern Railway Company, who had big expansion plans for the port. Traffic to the docks was still increasing - P&O company ships returned to the port after forty years absence in 1925. The Southern Railway got permission for the largest dock extension scheme in the history of the port. A docks estate was to be built west of the Royal Pier, providing 7500 ft (2.2 km) of deep water quays and the world's largest graving dock. Behind the 'New Docks' would be a trading estate containing warehouses, sheds and railway sidings. Large basins were to be dredged at either end of the dock to allow large ships to turn around in Southampton Water.

Western Docks
Construction began in 1927 and took only five years. 400 acres (162 hectares) of land was reclaimed from the sea by building a long quay wall at the river's edge while pumping dry the marshland behind it. The first ship to use the new dock was Cunard's Mauretania on 19 October 1932. When work was finished two years later, the cost of the dock was £10 million (worth £500 million today) and had raised the status of Southampton and its port. The docks later became known as the Western Docks.

Docks: Sheds 103/4
When the dock opened, eight large single-storey transit sheds were built alongside the eight berths, some up to 900 ft (270 m) long. They were capable of handling all the large cargo passing through the dock. Three pairs of sheds were also equipped for passengers, with waiting rooms, buffets and rest rooms.

Passenger And Cargo Terminal Berth 102: Western Docks: Mural In Waiting Room
The Union-Castle Line company established Berth 102 as their base in Southampton and built a new terminal there in 1956. The two-storey building was designed to manage passengers arriving on the weekly mail ships from South Africa, as well as cargo. The upper floor was dedicated to imported goods, such as wool and fruit. In the 1950s and 60s, over a quarter of a million bales of wool were brought to Southampton each year on Union-Castle ships. The large industrial estate behind the docks was home to many companies, including General Motors who assembled cars and vehicles for shipment to Europe and America. The Rank Solent Flour Mills were the first buildings to be built on the estate in 1934. Grain from ships moored at Berth 101 was transferred automatically to a large concrete silo by overhead conveyor belts. Other companies with storage facilities on the estate included Cadbury's, Montague Meyer timber merchants, Heinz and Danish Bacon Ltd.

Western Docks: Cold Storage Depot Berth 108
Parts of the Western Docks were destroyed by bombing during World War 2 (1939-45). Two large five-storey warehouses were built on the estate behind the quays. They could handle all kinds of goods, including wool, grain, meat and tobacco - there was also a cool vault for storing wines and spirits. The cold store building in the Eastern Docks was also bombed and a new premesis opened at Berth 108. It could handle over 8000 imperial tons (8120 metric tonnes) of meat, fruit and other perishable goods.

Imperial Airways captain poses beside his boat
Ships were not the only craft to use the Western Docks. In 1934 Imperial Airways decided to use flying boats on its route from Southampton to South Africa. A pontoon was constructed at Berths 107/8 for their boats to use after they had landed on Southampton Water. The first service began in 1937 and soon boats were flying to India, Singaport and South Africa. Experimental flights were also made across the Atlantic to America. After World War 2, flying boat services were transferred to Berth 50 in the Eastern Docks.

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