When the ill-fated Titanic set sail, she took with her 45,000 clean table napkins and 18,000 clean bed sheets.

With no laundry facilities aboard the White Star liner, clean linen had to be taken for both legs of the voyage when she set sail from Southampton in April 1912.

Southampton’s Ocean Dock was built for the White Star line with a dry dock surrounded by Harland and Wolff’s maintenance workshops.

The workshops included a laundry for washing the linen of White Star ships calling at Southampton.

The laundry was entirely electric with various washing stages able to clean up to 130,000 items of linen per week.

Daily Echo: Yacht laundry workers.Yacht laundry workers. (Image: Echo)

One advantage of the port of Southampton was the speed with which a liner could be turned around for its next sailing making it essential that laundry was collected, laundered, packed and returned to the ship quickly, sometimes within hours.

An example is the White Star’s Berengaria. She arrived at 11.30pm on July 4, 1936 and sailed the next day at 3pm. Liners’ Laundry in Pitt Road, Freemantle collected 30,000 items of her used linen which arrived at the laundry at 1am with washing starting immediately. They had 12 hours in which to get the items dried, ironed and returned to the ship. A feat they easily accomplished with time to spare.

Not all ships’ laundry had to be cleaned with such haste. The Queen Mary for example required around 125,000 pieces of linen for each return crossing but held stock of nearly half a million items in three sets.

One set in use on the ship, one set in store in Southampton with the third set being laundered.

Linen collected from the Queen Mary for laundering had to be returned to the store in time for her return from New York.

One Liners’ employee won a substantial amount of money but still reported for work as the Queen Mary’s laundry was due and she didn’t want to leave her colleagues shorthanded with possibly 50,000 napkins to launder.

A member of See Southampton remembers, as an office junior 60 years ago, being sent with a team to one laundry to audit United States Line linen.

Using click counters they counted more than 160,000 soiled and freshly laundered items at the laundry in a day and a half.

But things didn’t always go to plan.

In September 1934, the linen from several yachts and the Arandora Star cruise liner did not survive a serious fire which damaged the Sunlight Laundry in Winchester Road.

Daily Echo: Liners' Laundry delivery van.Liners' Laundry delivery van. (Image: Echo)

One wonders how the Blue Star Line, owners of the Arandora Star, quickly replaced the lost linen.

Interestingly, the Sunlight Laundry was used as a Shadow Factory manufacturing Spitfire components after the bombing of the Supermarine Works in 1940.

Nearby in Freemantle, off Payne’s Road, was the Yacht Laundry, opened in 1900 by the Mayor.

This laundry had been designed by Sidney Tebbutt, its Managing Director, who was an engineer and owned a laundry in Leamington.

The Yacht Laundry was managed by a Miss Monteith (who had managed Tebbutt’s Leamington Laundry) and undertook work for Cunard.

Daily Echo: Table linen in Queen Mary second class dining roomTable linen in Queen Mary second class dining room (Image: Echo)

In 1918 the building was purchased by the American Red Cross when some of the laundry supplies were auctioned off.

The site subsequently became the home of Liners’ Laundry.

Some Portswood residents will likely remember Amey’s Laundry in Portswood Road with its familiar tower.

This business was established in about 1890 by William Amey who also had premises in Marsh Lane and provided laundry services to the liners as well as local hotels.

It finally closed in 1974 and the tower and works in Portswood were demolished to make way for Thomas Lewis Way.

The laundries provided all kinds of employment for many Sotonians who were often very loyal to their employers - many of whom organised work outings and supported local charities.

Laundries were dotted around the city but mostly in the suburbs close to the port such as Shirley and Freemantle.

One road in Shirley is still called Laundry Road today after the number of laundries once located there.

Daily Echo: SeeSouthampton logo. Image: Echo

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