ONCE the White Star Dock had opened in 1911, ocean travel between Southampton and North America increased rapidly with Cunard transferring their North Atlantic operations from Liverpool to Southampton.

Added to this, German and French transatlantic liners included Southampton as a stop on their sailings from Hamburg and Le Havre for the Americas. The liners became increasingly larger in size and the already lengthened Trafalgar dry dock could not accommodate many of them for repairs.

The London and South Western Railway who owned the docks placed an order, on October 13, 1922, for a large floating dry dock with Armstrong and Whitworth of Newcastle upon Tyne, to be delivered ten months later.

Construction was delayed by industrial action delaying the launch until May 2, 1923. It was finally delivered on April 21, 1924, and was officially opened by the Prince of Wales on June 27 that year.

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It was the largest floating dry dock in the world being 930 feet long, 170 feet wide and having walls over 20 feet high. It could lift vessels weighing up to 60,000 tons and had an internal floor area of more than three and a half acres.

The floating dock was only in use for about ten years before it was replaced by the King George V dry dock which was the largest dry dock in the world at that time.

Discussions had been in progress for some time about a new large dry dock and it was thought this might be located on a site at Sholing.

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The London and South Western Railway Company had purchased this land following an act of Parliament in 1909 but the project did not proceed and the rolling mills were built there instead.

By 1927 it was obvious that shipping was outgrowing the port and that new extended quays were needed. Liners were leaving Southampton for Africa, the Americas and Australia and trade was growing with Royal Mail ships and imports and exports from around the world.

An ambitious plan for the extension of the docks was needed.

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In the late 18th century a certain Mr Hutchinson had proposed to Southampton Corporation that he should enclose the bay of the Western shore from the Westquay to Millbrook point using an embankment of chalk and then reclaim the bay behind it for use as agricultural land. This was a feat he had achieved in other parts of the country.

While the bay was a sight to behold at high tide it became a large tract of mud at other times. The offer was declined with the corporation saying if they chose they could complete such a project themselves.

It was to just such a scheme that Sir Herbert Walker the chairman of Southern Railway, the docks owners, now turned. He proposed that the land between the Royal Pier and Millbrook Point encompassing 400 acres should be pumped dry and one and a half miles of deep water quays created along with the yet to be named King George V dry dock.

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This work began on January 3, 1927 with the creation of a Marshalling area on land reclaimed near the Royal Pier that was to become the future Mayflower Park.

The gatehouse to the Royal Pier had to be removed to make way for a new road and rail tracks and the Royal Pier Gatehouse we are familiar with today constructed.

The new quays were to contain six cargo sheds each 900 feet long and 150 feet wide served by a network of rail tracks and roads. These quays gave great flexibility in terms of the size of ship that could berth.

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A plan to construct a parallel jetty alongside the quays would have given even greater capacity and a second dry dock was proposed but neither was completed.

King George V officially opened the Dry Dock on July 26, 1933 and the Mauretania entered berth 102 on the new quays in October 1932.

The New Docks were finally completed in 1934.

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