SeaCity Museum, Southampton, Hampshire, UK

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Southampton Town Wall & Castle | Southampton Airport | Southampton's QE2 Mile | Southampton's Statues, Monuments & Memorials | SeaCity MuseumA photograph of SeaCity Museum, Southampton.

A £15 million museum in Southampton, the SeaCity Museum opened on 10 April, 2012, exactly 100 years after the Titanic left port. This is in Southampton Civic Centre's Grade II* Listed 1930s Old Magistrates' Court building in Southampton Civic Centre.

Southampton's Role as a Port

One of the world's largest ports, Southampton is located in the centre of the south coast of England. It is a sheltered port, protected from the open sea by Southampton Water. Its close proximity to the Isle of Wight has created a unique double-tide in the north Solent and Southampton Water area, which means that every day for 17 hours out of 24, Southampton has either high or rising tides1. This, coupled with Southampton Water's deep water channel, means that even the world's largest ships can dock at Southampton at any time of day with ease. For instance, when the revolutionary warship HMS Warrior was launched in 1860, Southampton was one of only three ports in the world capable of harbouring her, the other two being Portsmouth and Liverpool.

Southampton was a port in Roman times, the principle port of Wessex in Saxon times when it was known as Hamwic, close to the former capital of England in Winchester. Hamwic became Hamtun in 825AD2 and later Southampton to distinguish it from Northampton. Under Henry II's Angevin Empire, wine and wool trading prospered, with the close proximity to continental ports in France and Flanders making trade common.

From 1842 onwards large ocean lines began to move from Liverpool to Southampton, starting with the Peninsula & Oriental Company followed quickly by the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, who were shareholders in the Southampton Dock Company along with the London South Western Railway. The Union Castle Line also used Southampton, as did the German shipping companies, Norddeutscher Lloyd and Hamburg America Line, calling at Southampton as a stop on their journeys across the Atlantic. When the American Line purchased the Inman Line in 1892, it immediately transferred its service from Liverpool to Southampton. The White Star Line followed in 1906 and Cunard in 1919.

There were many reasons that Southampton began to eclipse Liverpool as a passenger port and gateway to the world. Southampton was closer to London. As the docks were owned by the London South Western Railway, travel to and from London easier as the trains ran right to the docks, alongside the ship departing, making embarking and transfer of luggage simple. Southampton had a deep-water channel so even the largest ships could dock, eliminating the need for smaller tenders to bring passengers to and fro. Southampton had several drydocks, including what was in 1895 the world's largest, the 745 feet long Prince of Wales Dock3.

Civic Centre

Southampton Civic Centre is a quadrangle of buildings in the centre of Southampton, off the QE2 Mile, built between 1928-1939. The north side houses Southampton Central Library and Southampton City Art Gallery, the east side houses the Guildhall, an assembly hall often used as performance venue. The south side contains the Municipal Offices and the west originally was built to contain the Magistrates' Court and Police Station.

The buildings are symmetrical, have a classical appearance and are decorated with columns. The South Municipal offices in the south opened first in 1932, with the west block Magistrates Court and Police Station opening on 3 November, 1933. The west block also is attached to Southampton's iconic clock tower, nicknamed at the time of opening as 'Kimber's Chimney' after the mayor responsible for the Civic Centre's construction. The tower is 156 feet (48 metres) tall. At 8am, 12 noon and 4pm chimes 'O God, Our Help in Ages Past', a hymn written by educationalist Sir Isaac Watts who was born in Southampton in 1674. The park north of the Civic Centre, Watts Park, is named in his honour and contains a statue of him.

The Guildhall opened in 1937, intended as a social function room and the final to open was the north wing, hosting Southampton Central Library and Art Gallery. Outside the entrance to the library and gallery is a fountain.

Southampton Maritime Museum

The SeaCity Museum is the second maritime museum in Southampton, after the smaller Southampton Maritime Museum.

In 1966, Southampton Maritime Museum opened in the Wool House. The Wool House is a Grade I Listed Building and was built in 1417 as a warehouse for the mediæval wool trade with Flanders and Italy. At the time, English wool was considered the finest quality in Europe and the trade brought wealth and prosperity to Southampton for two centuries. After the decline of the wool trade the building became used as an alum store, a substance used to prepare cloth for dyeing. During the 18th Century it was used as a prison and some French prisoners of war carved their names in beams, which can still be seen on the first floor. At the beginning of the 20th Century it was owned by the Moonbeam Engineering Company, owned by Eric Rowland Moon, the first man to fly an aircraft at was to become Southampton Airport in Eastleigh.

In 1966 the Wool House opened as Southampton Maritime Museum and closed in September 2011, when the museum was transferred to the larger SeaCity Museum. Many of the exhibits were transferred from the Maritime Museum to SeaCity Museum, however some were unique to the Maritime Museum, including a detailed model of Southampton's docks in the early 1960s.

Funding Controversy

After it was announced that constructing the SeaCity Museum would cost £15 million, in late 2009 Southampton City Council announced that £5million of this money was to be raised by selling off artwork in the Southampton Art Gallery, whose collection is valued at £180 million, the third highest in Britain outside London after Birmingham and Manchester. The proposed items were two sculptures by French sculptor Auguste Rodin, 'Eve' and 'Crouching Woman' and a painting, 'After The Race', by Sir Alfred Munnings.

This plan immediately attracted nationwide criticism from Britain's art community. It was also feared that if Southampton were to sell off its artwork once, then this would be used as a regular means of finance in the future leading to the destruction of one of the greatest art collections in the country.

The proposed sale would hit the Blind and Partially sighted groups who regularly use the gallery particularly hard, as Keith Hatter explained,

'The figures by Rodin are particularly valuable for blind people because they display the expression of emotion by gesture.'

The Museums Association said that this sale was against their code of ethics and the Tate, the National Art Collection, also condemned the proposal. The Heritage Lottery Fund, who were providing £5 million towards the project, issued a statement in which they stated that they were considering withdrawing the funding should the sale go ahead. A campaign group, Save Our Collection, organised petitions and protests outside the Civic Centre offices, where crowds chanted slogans such as Hands Off Our Arts!. It was pointed out the artworks had been paid for by the Chipperfield Bequest Fund for the 'People of Southampton', not for Southampton City Council.

The sale was curiously supported by Southampton's local newspaper, which seemed fundamentally ignorant of how galleries operate. It stated 'Only 200 works in the 3,500-piece collection can be shown in the City Art Gallery at any one time,' and implied that 3,300 works of art were therefore redundant and should be sold. Although not every item in the collection is on constant display, Southampton Art Gallery does hold exhibitions which change the displays and the paintings to frequently attract return visits, rather than constantly keeping the same static pictures in the same place. Paintings in the collection are also frequently loaned to other galleries, allowing a wide viewership of the artwork owned. As it was boasted that the plans 'will increase [artwork display] capacity by 50 per cent.', Southampton Council were proposing to make their art gallery bigger by selling off the paintings contained within.

After all the protests and national controversy, the sale was abandoned and the funds for the museum were raised by other means. The Save Our Collection spokesman Mary Lloyd announced,

'Our stance has been vindicated. We are not alone in thinking the city council's proposals are unethical, undemocratic and ill-thought through.

SeaCity Museum

Visitors to the Museum, after paying for entry, are given a 'Boarding Pass' and a sticker as a ticket. The SeaCity Museum consists of two upstairs galleries, Gateway to the World and Southampton's Titanic Story, as well as a Learning Deck Education Zone and school lunch room. The entrance downstairs is next to a pram park, where pushchairs and perambulators can be safely and securely stored. Downstairs also contains a corridor of toilets and, as this was the former police station, the toilets are located in the former police cells, with some of the original cell doors remaining in place in the corridor. There is also a café, called 'The Galley' and 'The Stores' gift ship.

The SeaCity Museum is at time of writing very much in its infancy and the intended guide book has yet to be written. The museum does not take up the whole of the west block of the Civic Centre as originally intended and it is hoped that the museum will prove popular enough that the money to enable the museum to expand will be raised. It is also hoped that the clock tower could become an additional attraction, which for an additional fee visitors will be able to climb.

Gateway to the World

The Gateway to the World gallery contains exhibits on the history of Southampton from the Stone, Bronze and Iron ages to today. As a port, the story of Southampton is not just one of the ships coming and going, but also the people departing and arriving on those ships over the last 250,000 years. There are many replica Stone Age tools to touch. The display includes a Roman Altar to goddess Ancasta and other Roman finds including pottery. A wealthy Saxon woman's jewellery is on display next to an interactive screen that allows you to be an archaeologist and simulates the uncovering of such treasures. These were discovered when St Mary's football stadium was being constructed.

On the opposite wall is a bicycle dating from 1865. The room, a former courtroom, is an eclectic mix that somehow encompasses all of Southampton's history. The central exhibit is a large, interactive map of Southampton and surrounding area. It shows Southampton in Roman, Saxon, Mediæval, 1620, 1850, 1912, 1940, 1960 and 2012, changing views every two minutes. This really gives the viewer a sense of how Southampton has developed and expanded over the last two thousand years.

One display is on the history of migration, another evocative one entitled Different War, Same Story shows the effects that war has had on the city over the centuries. For instance, over 185,000 German prisoners of war were carried to Southampton during the Second World War and held in transit camps on Southampton Common.

Of course, as a predominantly maritime museum, there are some exhibits of ships associated with the port.

  • The earliest is the remains of an early Saxon longboat, dated from c668-704AD.
  • There is also a plank from Grace Dieu, a ship built in Southampton in 1418 for Henry V that, at the time, was the largest ship in the world.
  • Another display is a model of the Mayflower. The Pilgrim Fathers left England from Southampton sailing for America in 1620, although as the Speedwell was believed to be unseaworthy, they were forced to divert to Plymouth.
  • There is an intricately carved model man-o'-war dating from 1800. This was carved from bones given to French prisoners of war who were imprisoned in the Wool House.
  • Another model is of the Habana. In 1937 4,000 children, known in Southampton as Los Ninos, fled to Southampton onboard the Habana to escape the horrors of the Spanish Civil War.
  • By far the largest model is that of the Queen Mary, which is seven metres long and over a tonne in weight. This was the first object to arrive at the new SeaCity Museum, moved from the first floor of the former Maritime Museum.

There are also a collection of smaller ship models from the former Maritime Museum. Sadly, unlike their previous home, these exhibits are no longer labelled with the name of the ships, only with a number next to each model. There is a single touch screen display on which the ships' identities can be looked up, however at busy times visitors are expected to queue in order to look up a ship when a simple label next to the model would have provided the information required in an instant.

Southampton's Titanic Story

The museum's main gallery tells the story of the RMS Titanic's link with the city that was her home port on her maiden and only voyage. The exhibit consists of twelve rooms of different sizes, each concentrating on a different aspect of the ship and telling the story of the Titanic, with an emphasis on its relation with Southampton.

None of the exhibits have been stolen from the wreck of the Titanic on the seabed. They have been donated from survivors, their relations or recovered from the bodies shortly after the disaster, when the artefacts were used to aid identification.


The first exhibit room is dedicated to the crew of the Titanic. The first thing seen is a list of the crew onboard the Titanic, from Steward Ernest Abbott to Wine Butler Sig Zarracchi. Those from Southampton listed in red, those from elsewhere in blue. The wall is a sea of red, with many of those in blue from neighbouring towns like Eastleigh or Winchester or the Isle of Wight. Where photographs of the crew members concerned exist, they are provided however most of the Southampton crew are employed in manual labour work, especially the 'black gang', shovelling the coal into the ship.


The second room tells the story of Southampton in 1912, cleverly using contemporary photographs to create a 3D effect, re-enforced with contemporary household artefacts. In Southampton a national coal strike had cost 17,000 men their jobs. Without coal, many ships' sailings in 1912 had been cancelled. As crew were employed and paid for each voyage, without ships moving, no-one was able to earn a living. The Titanic offered almost a thousand people in Southampton the hope of work and wages.


A small room continuing the theme of the Titanic in Southampton. It shows a life-sized photograph of contemporary dock workers. A dressing-up box is provided allowing children and visitors to dress up as dock workers and have their photographs taken.

Preparation Hall

The second-largest room in the Titanic exhibition. This room is dominated by a divide in the middle, and so has an outside wall and the inside wall. It is perhaps best to complete one circuit of the room following the outside wall before looking at both sides of the inside wall.

The first side of the inside wall has a diagram of the Titanic and lists the amount of provisions that she had on board, from coal to grape scissors. There are also many flaps, behind which are surviving artefacts including a poulterer's log of poultry sold to the Titanic, napkins, keys (including one to the D-Deck First Class gents toilets), menu, crockery and a spare tile from the First Class Smoking Room.

The outside wall contains cabinets containing many artefacts relating to the Titanic. These include Captain Smith's dress sword, which he had earned as an officer of the Royal Naval Reserve, a White Star Line flag, tie-clip and whist marker. There is also a painting and model of the SS City of New York, the painting by Jacobsen dating from 1909. The City of New York was launched in 1888 when she was the largest liner on the North Atlantic and had briefly held the Blue Riband4. She almost collided with the Titanic when the Titanic left Southampton.

Also on the outside wall is the painting from Olympic's First Class Smoking Room. The Olympic was Titanic's older sister-ship. This painting, 'The Approach of the New World (New York Harbour)' by Sir Norman Wilkinson has incorrectly been seen in films about the Titanic, including A Night To Remember. A recreation of the painting that was in the Titanic's First Class Smoking Room, 'Plymouth Harbour', was painted by Rodney Wilkinson, Sir Norman Wilkinson's son, based on meticulous research from his father's notes and surviving photographs of the painting.

Next to the paintings is a scale outline comparing the size of the Titanic with a person, a bus and the Civic Centre itself. The Titanic was 20 feet taller than the top of the Civic Centre's tower. Behind this is a 1:25 scale outline of the Titanic, including interactive screens which show film footage from the Olympic of what the interior would have looked like, as well as scale models.


From the preparation room, visitors cross a bridge which has been made to look like a gangway leading to the ship, with a life-size photograph of the Titanic on the opposite wall taken from one of the ship's gangways.

Once the Titanic has been 'boarded', the viewers are led through a small replica of a section of promenade deck, complete with a White Star deck chair. It is also hoped to have games of quoits here, a deck game played onboard the Titanic.

Bridge and 'Honour and Glory Crowning Time'

The next room has a replica of the bridge of the ship, including the ship's wheel. An interactive game allows visitors to steer the Titanic out of Southampton Water and into the Solent. Next to the bridge is the carving 'Honour and Glory Crowning Time' by Charles Wilson. This stood on top of the Olympic's staircase, a similar carving was onboard the Titanic.

Second Class Cabin

A replica second class cabin has been constructed for visitors to see, with furniture taken from the Olympic.

Boiler Room

A dark, black room where visitors are able to simulate feeding the Titanic's engines with coal by shovelling for 30 seconds while a dial informs you what the boiler pressure is.

Marconi Room

The next room has interactive information on the ship's wireless system and her Marconi operators, as well as a display that provides the opportunity for visitors to attempt to send a message in Morse code.


The large Disaster room is a dark, sombre room in which the visitors can sit and hear some recordings from Southampton's Oral History archive describing the sinking. Viewers can watch subtitles on screen as they hear first hand accounts of the ship sinking. Also in the room is the pocket watch which belonged to Steward Sidney Sedunary. For over a hundred years the watch has been stopped at 1:50am, the time his body hit the water and his watch stopped.

Southampton Hears The News

The penultimate exhibition invites visitors to walk on a map of Southampton in 1912. On the floor is a red dot positioned on every house where someone from Southampton had died. The poorest areas of Southampton, Chapel and St Mary's, are covered in red dots. There are also some of the victims' personal effects and newspapers dating back to 1912. There are more of Sidney Sedunary's personal affects recovered from his body as well as his family's notification of death by telegraph. There is also a Carpathia medal, awarded to the crew of the Carpathia by the Titanic's survivors.


The last and largest room in the Southampton's Titanic Story exhibition is a courtroom. As the museum is converted from the 1930s magistrates court, one of its aims was to preserve its original period courtroom and all its furnishings. This has been done by converting the courtroom into the court investigating the Titanic disaster. Actual transcripts of the investigation have been acted in five different 3 minute films, which play as the visitor listens or looks at the evidence and exhibits on display. These are about the Titanic's relief fund, including a copy of 'Be British', one of the earliest charity records released in 1912 to raise money for the Titanic widows and orphans, inspired by Captain Smith's apocryphal final words.

The room has been put to usage perfectly, and visitors can also explore the courtroom, descending from the dock to the level of the cells below (although sadly the actual door to the cells has been blocked).

Just as the first exhibit listed all the crew and where they were from, the last exhibit as you leave reveals how many of the crew survived, who lived and who died.

Temporary Exhibition Space

On the ground floor there is an additional temporary exhibition space, the first extension built to the Civic Centre since the 1930s. Unlike the clean, classic appearance of the rest of the Civic Centre, the extension is an example of modern architecture at its most abstract. Consisting of sharp-cornered, angular 'waves', it presumably has been designed to symbolise the sea. The only other possible explanation is that it was intended on purpose to remind visitors of worn saw blades.

The first temporary exhibition in this space is 'Titanic – the Legend' which runs until 2013. This focuses on the international fascination with the story of the Titanic.

Entry to the gallery shows visitors a wall of televisions showing different films about the Titanic made over the years. These are :

  • 1912 - In Nacht und Eis, a German silent film.
  • 1943 - Titanic, a Nazi propaganda film with the British and Americans shown as corrupt.
  • 1953 - Titanic, Hollywood film.
  • 1958 - A Night To Remember, widely regarded as the best Titanic film
  • 1997 - Titanic, film starring Kate Winslett, directed by James Cameron re-released in 3D for the 100th Anniversary of the sinking.
  • 1999 - The Legend of the Titanic, an animated Italian film about mice.

Key scenes from these films are shown simultaneously to allow viewers to see how the films differ in their portrayal key events, such as the Titanic's launch, departure, passenger life onboard, spotting the iceberg, the sinking and the survivors in the lifeboats.

A display of how Titanic has been used as a brand name can be seen. Exhibits include board games, Titanic Barbie dolls, brochures for the Titanic-themed party organisers 'A Hen Night To Remember', the complete collection of Titanic Brewery's beers, the 'Tubtanic' bath plug and even the 'Gin & Titonic icecube maker'.

There are more educational exhibits too, including models of the ship's side and rivets, a model ship sinking demonstrating how the watertight bulkheads worked and their design flaw and the impact binoculars would have used. Another display shows the ROV5Magnum, a miniature yellow submarine from Southampton's National Oceanographic Centre. Interactive hands-on displays allow visitors to simulate searching the ocean floor while a giant screen shows footage from Ballard's discovery of the Titanic. Another display by the Hampshire and Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology provides information and artefacts from many of the nearby shipwrecks around the Isle of Wight and Hampshire.

1Southampton's Double High Water tide is caused partly by Southampton being the midpoint along the English Channel. The Channel's tide oscillates twice daily, so that when Dover has High Water, Land's End has low water and vice versa. As the English Channel is of different depths, this oscillation, coupled with the position of the Isle of Wight means that Southampton, instead of the two daily oscillations of high and low tide has up to 30.2'Wic' or 'wich' meant port or trading post and can be seen today in towns such as Ipswich and Sandwich. 'Tun', however, meant town.3The world's largest is now in Belfast.4A prize for the fastest ocean liner crossing of the Atlantic5Remotely operated vehicle.

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