THE home of Southampton’s Maritime Museum is being sold off to become a pub or cafe, the Daily Echo can reveal.

The Grade I listed Wool House, which houses the city’s Titanic display, is being marketed by Southampton City Council.

It is the only surviving freestanding medieval warehouse in Southampton, built in 1415 as a storehouse for wool to be exported to Europe.

The Wool House in Town Quay Road has hosted the Maritime Museum since 1961. It tells the story of the city’s links with the Titanic.

But in recent years the museum has been propped up by a hefty subsidy as visitor numbers have plummeted.

Southampton City Council is now inviting expressions of interest in a commercial lease to conserve the building while bringing it back into the commercial life of the city.

Under the deal the building could become an office, a pub, cafe, restaurant, art gallery, or an exhibition centre under the minimum 20-year lease being offered by the council.

Figures obtained by the Daily Echo showed Maritime Museum visitors plummeted by a third in three years leaving the council with losses of £500,000.

The council has been paying up to £5 in subsidy for each visitor, despite adult tickets costing only £2.50.

Leisure and heritage boss councillor John Hannides admitted last year that the level of subsidy was too high and that a “suitable alternative use” was being considered.

Cllr Hannides said the council recognised its historic role but this would now change as it is replaced by a new £15m Sea City Museum next to the Civic Centre in time for the centenary of the Titanic disaster next April.

“We are keen to ensure the Wool House still has a future and one in which people have access to it.

“It’s a fabulous building with a lot of character and I’m optimistic there will be operators who would see a useful future for the building.”

Ian Ferguson from the City of Southampton Society said: “In an ideal world we would rather it remain in public ownership for public enjoyment.

“It is important that it is used and maintained but most importantly that it’s respected. We would be very concerned if a commercial operator put up bright light hoardings on the outside.

“We would be looking for a sympathetic use and something to which the public have access.”

The Woolhouse Factfile

• The Wool House was constructed in 1415 by Cistercian Monks as a storehouse for wool to be exported to Europe. It is the only surviving freestanding mediaeval warehouse in Southampton.

• The 4,419 square feet property is dominated by a 14th Century arched collar braced roof of Spanish chestnut.

• It was altered in the 18th century and was used to house French prisoners of war during the Napoleonic Wars, some of whose names can been seen carved on the beams of the roof.