IT’S unique aesthetics and grand charm make it instantly recognisable to all those who know Southampton. But, there’s more to South Western House than meets the eye.

1. Opened in 1865

The building, designed by John Norton in a French Renaissance style, was opened in 1865.

Designed to be the most opulent hotel in the South East of England, the Imperial, as it was originally named, was located on the corner of Terminus Terrace and Canute Road - just a stone’s throw from the bustling docks.

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2. The hotel had 200 rooms

The red brick hotel contained 100 suites and was an instant hit with Southampton society, quickly becoming a hive of social activity.

In 1925, an ashlar stone-clad, eight-storey extension was added to the hotel to provide a further 100 bedrooms in order to meet with heavy demand.

3. Many Hollywood stars stayed there

The hotels decadence was a major draw to the constant traffic of the rich and famous who passed through the city to use the numerous liners.

The hotel’s guest book would no doubt have been a sprawling checklist of who’s who, including names such as Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, Rex Harrison and Amy Earhart.

It’s even said that Tom Mix, Hollywood’s first Western star, rode a horse through the foyer.

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Rex Harrison in Southampton

4. Purchased by South Western Railway in 1871

The Grade II listed building, which has always managed to stand firm through a rapidly changing Southampton landscape, was acquired by the London and South Western Railway Company in 1871.

Red uniformed porters would scramble to meet and greet passengers from trains which arrived on the railway platforms just outside the hotel’s main entrance.

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5. People set their watches by it

Local people would rely on the hotel whenever they wanted to check the accuracy of their watches as, in the early part of last century, a “time ball” was fitted to the mast on the roof of the building.

At exactly noon each day the large five foot black ball would be dropped down the mast so that ships in the docks and the Solent could verify their chronometres.

6. Titanic passengers stayed there

Guests stayed overnight before embarking on the ill-fated Titanic in 1912.

These included Joseph Bruce Ismay, White Star Line’s managing director, Thomas Andrews, the liner’s designer, and The Countess of Rothes.

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7. A prominent final farewell took place there

It was in South Western House that Empress Eugenie watched from the window of the ladies’ drawing room as she said a tearful farewell to her son, Louis Napoleon, as he left for the Zulu War.

He never returned.

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8. It played its part in the Second World War

Not many will remember the building serving as a hotel - the outbreak of the Second World War put an end to that.

The premises were taken over by the Royal Navy and became HMS Shrapnel until September 1946.

It’s believed Winston Churchill and Dwight Eisnenhower met up at the building during this time and discussed plans for the D-Day invasion in one of the small public rooms on the first floor.

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9. Served many purposes since the Second World War

In more recent years the building provided offices for British Railways and then later on for Cunard and studios for the BBC.

The hotel was converted into flats by Berkley Homes and, in 1999, renamed to it's original moniker Imperial House.

The exterior remained and thus the building has survived as an instantly recognisable Southampton landmark.