The Port of Southampton is located to the immediate north of the Isle of Wight on a peninsula between the Itchen and Test River estuaries in south central England. The Port of Southampton is about 125 kilometers southwest of London and some 100 nautical miles across the English Channel from the Port of Le Havre, France's second busiest port. In 2005, some 222 thousand people lived in the Port of Southampton.
The Port of Southampton has been a shipping center since its beginnings, and the port is a major employer. Between the two world wars, the Port of Southampton handled almost half of the United Kingdom's seaborne passenger traffic. During the late 20th Century, the Port of Southampton's industries became more diverse than the earlier grain-milling and tobacco-processing factories of old.
Vehicle and aircraft manufacturers came to town, as did companies producing cables, petrochemicals, and electrical engineering products. Another major employer in the Port of Southampton is headquarters offices of Ordnance Survey, the United Kingdom's national mapping agency. The city also has active healthcare and service sectors that provide as much as a quarter of the jobs available in the Port of Southampton. The city's hot water is provided through a geothermal power station, and it is one of the lowest carbon-emitting cities in the United Kingdom.
Archeologists have found evidence of prehistoric settlement all over the Port of Southampton, the earliest finds being those of Old Stone Age tools over 70 thousand years old. A Middle Stone Age site was found there in the 1990s, and New Stone Age pottery is also plentiful. In the 19th Century, Bronze Age objects found in a cemetery were so abundant that gravediggers sold artifacts to local historians. Iron Age earthworks, a possible salt production site, and pottery have been found in the area as well. Traces of buildings and artifacts from the Iron Age have been found near the city center.
A Roman settlement, Clausentum, was there in 43 AD. Viking King Canute may have defeated the Anglo-Saxon King Ethelred the Unready here in 1014. Archeologists have found a rich collection of Saxon artifacts here. B efore 1086, the Saxon settlement, Hamtun, was a royal borough. King Henry II granted a town charter in the middle 12th Century. The town was incorporated in 1445, and King Henry VI made it a county in 1447. In 1640, Charles I granted a charter that was effective until 1835.
By the 10th Century, the Port of Southampton was a major English port, and exported wool and hides and imported wine from Bordeaux. It was the Plantagenet kings' chief link to their lands in France. In the 1415, just before Henry V left from the Port of Southampton to fight the Battle of Agincourt, leaders of the "Southampton Plot" were executed for treason outside the city's Bargate. Today, several medieval buildings still stand: St. Michael's Church (11th Century), King John's Palace (12th Century), and parts of the old city walls.
The Port of Southampton declined in the 17th and 18th Centuries, but the arrival of railways brought a revival. The docks were rebuilt in 1838, and the Port of Southampton gained the epithet "The Gateway to the Empire." In 1840, the London-Southampton railway linked the Port of Southampton's docks to London. The Port of Southampton's large harbor and lasting high-water tides (caused by the Isle of Wight) made it a convenient and important trade center. Most luxury liners of the early 20th Century departed from the Port of Southampton. The doomed RMS Titanic sailed from the port in 1912.
The city center suffered much damage during World War II. Local maps were used by the German Luftwaffe to bomb the city. Southampton's oldest building, St. Michaels Church, survived. Construction began in 1070, and many additions had been made. But its central tower, dating from Norman times, was used by German pilots to navigate.
The Port of Southampton experiences a double tide due to the presence of the Isle of Wight just 7 kilometers across the Solent from the mouth of the Southampton Water. This double tide gives the port a longer high-water period, giving it a significant advantage as a harbor for both passenger travel and maritime commerce. In 1951, a major refinery and oil-tanker terminal were constructed on the western shore, and the facility began using North Sea oil in 1978.
By 1980, the Port of Southampton was England's second biggest port. The port's older industries of shipbuilding and repair, tobacco processing, and grain milling were joined by new manufacturing (automobiles, aircraft, petrochemicals, cables, and electrical engineering products).