With Southampton being ‘the gateway to the world’, hotels have long had to cater for the rich and powerful passing through – South Western Hotel was one of them.

The coming of the railway and the opening of the old docks in around 1840 had a major impact on Southampton.

The railway brought passengers to join the ships to take them to France and the Channel Islands.

Routes soon opened to South America, South Africa and Australia and then North America.

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The North American route started with the transfer of the American Line from Liverpool in 1893 to be quickly followed by others, for Southampton had the advantage of its double high tide and the close proximity of London. Ships leaving Southampton for North America could also take advantage of continental trade by calling at Cherbourg.

Ships sailing from Hamburg and Cherbourg would also stop in Southampton.

Southampton was steadily growing its port business and becoming ‘the gateway to the world’.

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The largest group leaving the port were migrants travelling to North America, South Africa and Australia.

Passengers arriving and leaving from Southampton included royalty, politicians and the very wealthy as well as people from the banking and business worlds.

Later celebrities from cinema and stage would also arrive and depart from Southampton.

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Locally businesses evolved to supply and maintain the ships and dock services and to meet the needs of the passengers.

Many hotels of different grades were opened and foremost amongst these was the South Western Hotel located besides the Terminus Station and close to the main dock gate.

This hotel was originally opened in 1872 as the Imperial Hotel but was renamed having been purchased by the London and South Western Railway in around 1882.

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An advertisement from 1882 describes it as a “Handsome and Commodious Hotel, most conveniently situated, facing the Docks, adjoining the Railway Station” declaring it the “most desirable hotel in Southampton”.

Another advertisement from 1910 described the hotel's large dining hall, lounges, grill room and restaurant and that uniformed porters in red coats met all the principal trains and boats.

To assist guests waiting to meet friends the hotel was wired from Hurst Castle giving notice of a ship’s pending arrival in port.

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First class liner passengers expected the same very high standard of hotel accommodation and service as that aboard ship.

The Hotel Manager’s record book in See Southampton’s archives provides an insight into the day to day running of the Hotel and its many guests.

Many first class passengers who sailed on the Titanic stayed in the hotel as did the ships designer Thomas Andrews.

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Amongst its Royal guests were the Maharajah of Bhavnagar and on another occasion Princess Beatrice, Queen Victoria’s youngest daughter.

A delegation from Japan which included the Ambassador and Prince Chichibu son of the Emperor of Japan was entertained at the hotel in December, 1926.

A delegation from the Ford Motor Company was entertained at the hotel. In 1922 negotiations between the Borough Council and Ford were in an advanced state over the sale of land at Millbrook for a car manufacturing plant which unfortunately fell through when the Council built an isolation hospital on part of the land rendering the site unsuitable for Ford’s use.

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Other business visitors included representatives of the many shipping lines as well as well as business delegations from other port cities and on one occasion a party of International Port Medical Officers.

One of the most famous film stars to stay at the hotel was the American western film star Tom Mix who having arrived on the Aquitania is reputed to have ridden his horse Tony into the hotel lobby and reception area.

During the Second World War the hotel was requisitioned and renamed HMS Shrapnel.

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It is said that President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill met in the hotel to discuss preparations for D-Day.

The writer Rozelle Rains was recruited into the WRENs in WW2 and billeted at the hotel. She was most uncomplimentary about the building and complained about the cockroaches in her room.

After the war the building was renamed South Western House and used for offices by British Railways, Cunard and later the BBC.

For a long time in the 1990s the building remained empty before being purchased by a developer and converted into luxury apartments.

Godfrey Collyer is a tour guide with SeeSouthampton.co.uk .