For decades they welcomed the rich and the famous, penniless emigrants heading for a new life, and, in recent years, thousands of cruise ship passengers to the port of Southampton.

But now Southampton’s famous dock gates face being consigned to the history books.

Back in the 1950s when the docks were known as the “Gateway the World’’ because of the many ships departing to all corners of the globe, these were the two gates through which people began their journeys.

During the Second World War the structures, especially dock gate eight, stood guard over docksides, especially during the build-up to the D-Day invasion in June, 1944.

The same gate was then the backdrop when hundreds of dispirited German prisoners-of-war trudged from the waterfront before being dispersed to various camps.

Film stars, sporting legends, world leaders, and captains of industry all passed beneath the gates as they either embarked or disembarked passenger liners.

Not far from the gates the legendary, Union Castle liners would leave every Thursday afternoon exactly at 4pm, although on one occasion the departure was delayed by one hour due to the late arrival of one famous passenger, Sir Winston Churchill.

Then came the years of mass emigration when generations of “Ten Pound Poms’’ crossed the quayside heading for Australia and a new beginning.

These days the gates are some of the first signs that cruise ship holiday makers, from all over the country, are approaching the city’s waterfront.

However, in just a few weeks time, the brick and concrete, art deco style gateways, which have been part of the city since the development of the Western Docks in the 1930s, could be turned into just piles of rubble.

Opposition to the plan has already been voiced by a local heritage watchdog which maintains the gates are a significant part of the city’s maritime history.

Associated British Ports (ABP), owners and operators of Southampton Docks, is seeking permission to demolish the two distinctive structures and, if granted, could have disappeared by the end of next month.

The long standing entrances at dock gates, eight and ten, are now seen as obstacles standing in the way of progress.

Demolishing the gates, say ABP, will allow bigger loads to enter the port, ease traffic delays, and provide extra security for the docks.

Southampton port director Doug Morrison said it was vital to keep customers moving smoothly through the port.

“We can see people having strong views on this but in practical terms it’s not practical to keep them,” said Mr Morrison.

ABP argue that demolishing the gates will help establish better security check points, and speed up access into the port for cruise passengers and car exports.

A planning application for demolishing the two structures as well as a workshop on berth 101 has been lodged with the city council with a provisional decision date of May 2.

If given the green light the structures would be knocked down on May 28.

Arthur Jeffery, vice chairman of the City of Southampton Society, said he was against the removal of the gates.

He said: “It is part of our heritage and matches other buildings in the city from that era like the Civic Centre.

“If they cannot be saved the gates should be taken brick by brick and erected perhaps at the Mayflower Terminal?”