Ocean Village wasn’t always the exciting marina it is today, surrounded by a wealth of restaurants, cinemas, bars and homes. Strolling around Ocean Village looking at all that is on offer today, you may have paused for a moment and pondered how all of this came about. If you have then hopefully we can provide the answer and share with you the fascinating history of Ocean Village Marina. A place, it might surprise you to learn, that has played a key role in the development of both Southampton as a major city and Britain as a trading nation.
The Arrival of the Railway
Southampton was already a busy port in the early nineteenth Century but the arrival of the London & South Western Railway (LSWR) in 1840, linking London to Southampton Terminus Station (now the casino adjoining South Western Hotel) promised to make it busier still. Up until then the Town Quay and wharves had been adequate to handle the volume of trade but it was recognised that the arrival of the railway would mean that more ships would arrive in Southampton and something had to be done to accommodate them.
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Consequently, two years before the railway arrived, across the road from the site of the proposed station terminus, work began on the construction of the first Southampton dock. This location was chosen because the water was deeper than at Town Quay so larger ships could berth. It opened in 1842, with the first ships to use it being the P&O liners Tagus and Liverpool, ten months before the official opening in 1843. With the London–Southampton railway now open it was possible for these ships to offload their cargo into rail wagons alongside the quay before being transported to London. Where was this dock built? You guessed it: that very dock is today the marina at Ocean Village. Today parts of the wall are listed and protected from development.
What surrounded the original dock? When the original dock was built a long warehouse building stretched along one side, between what is today the Mocha Marina Coffee Shop and the Pitcher and Piano Bar – the Admirals Quay development. On the opposing side of the water were the graving docks (dry docks). These ran along the front of what is today the housing developments of Tasman Court, Atlantic Close and Pacific Close.
This dock became known as the “Outer Dock” when a second, the “Inner Dock”, was added and came into use in 1851. The Inner Dock was the only non-tidal dock in the area; access was only available through a dock gate leading to the Outer Dock. Because the dock basin was non-tidal, it was only open to ships for six hours every day. The Inner Dock no longer exists but the office building to the left of the Cineworld Cinema (Enterprise House) is a converted dock warehouse which once stood against the quay.
The Continental steamers which had previously operated from the Royal Pier (near the Town Quay) moved to the Outer Dock once the railway arrived.Their destinations included Le Havre, Cherbourg, St Malo and the Channel Islands. In those days most of the passengers arrived at the docks by train.
The docks were mainly used for landing timber, grain and fruit. Berth 13 was equipped with a coal depot. Berths 14-16 had facilities for discharging fruit. An auction sales room was built at the quayside so that fruit could be sold and transported on soon after it was landed at the docks.
The Crimean War broke out in 1854, and most of Britain’s troops passed through the Inner and Outer Docks on their way to and from Sebastopol. Many of the big steamships using the port were requisitioned – P&O ships carried over 100,000 men to Crimea. Troops also departed from here in the South African and First World Wars.
Over time, the size of ships continued to increase and the original docks were unable to accommodate them. The Empress Dock and the Ocean Dock (the Eastern Docks) were soon built and the bigger ships moved there. Consequently, for many years, cross-channel steamers were the only vessels using the dock. The original Intercontinental Ticket Office still exists and is currently home to the Mocha Marina Coffee Shop and the Vikki Pink beauty salon.
The Coming of the Car Ferries
In the 1960s more passengers were arriving into Southampton by car (rather than by train) and wished to travel overseas with them. Consequently the old passenger-only services ceased in 1964 and the first roll-on/roll-off car ferry services were started in the same year. The Viking I and Viking II vessels of Thoresen Car Ferries ran to Le Havre and Cherbourg with Viking III soon joining them. Three years later, Normandy Ferries started a rival service to Le Havre with their vessels Dragon and Leopard. Other routes followed including Swedish Lloyd’s crossing to Bilbao in Spain, using MS Patricia, and Southern Ferries’ “cruiseferry” service, operated by their MV Eagle. This linked Southampton with Lisbon in Portugal and Tangier in Morocco.
To accommodate the move to car ferries structural changes to the docks were made. In 1963 the entrance to the Outer Dock was widened and the Inner Dock was completely filled in and the land reclaimed to provide car storage areas for the new services. Facilities for loading the cars onto the new ferries were installed including the new Promontory which allowed the roll-on/roll-off ferries to tie up against it. The new-look dock was opened by Princess Alexandra in July 1967 and the dock then became known as the Princess Alexandra Dock.
Here are some great photographs of the ferry terminal which are from the Port Cities Southampton website. There you can find more pictures and they also provide larger images to purchase, should you wish to do so.
Where was the Inner Dock? With the Inner Dock now gone it is sometimes difficult to imagine where it actually was. The Harbour Lights Cinema, the surface car park, the raised ponds and the neighbouring office buildings (up as far as Enterprise House) have all been built on land reclaimed when the Inner Dock was filled. The coal depot at berth 13 was roughly where the Ocean Car Park is located and the fruit export and import sheds (berths 14-16) were located where the Innovation Centre (OVIC) stands today and stretched back further into the current docks. A Royal Mail yard existed roughly where the Splash apartments (Sapphire Court/Cobalt Quarter) are located.
Unfortunately by 1984 all these ferry services had either closed or moved to Portsmouth. In 1991 Stena Sealink made an attempt at restarting a service to Cherbourg. The service was always under-used, and it ceased in 1996. Today there are no cross-channel ferries operating from Southampton; most services in the region run from Portsmouth because of the shorter journey times and the resultant lower fuel bills.
At this time the future looked bleak for Southampton’s oldest dock; it was no longer suitable for modern mainstream port purposes. It was too small for the bigger ships and the cross channel ferry services had all ceased.
The Birth of Ocean Village Marina
So what was to become of the docks? Having immediate access to the city centre outside of the port, the area could easily be given its own entrances and exits and separated from the remainder of the Eastern Docks. In the end, of course, it became the Ocean Village Marina development. In January 1986 the then rundown warehouses and sheds (except Enterprise House and the Intercontinental Ticket Office building, now the Mocha Marina Coffee Shop) were torn down to make way for a new £75m marina development hailed as a major project to revamp the city and transform its decaying former docks.
In July 1986 Ocean Village officially opened. It included an extravagantly deep marina for 375 yachts, residential apartments with moorings, a new home for the Royal Southampton Yacht Club and the Harbour Lights Cinema. Canute’s Pavilion, which ran along the waterfront between what is today the Mocha Marina Coffee Shop and the Pitcher and Piano Bar, provided numerous shops and restaurants including a Harry Ramsden’s. It was officially opened in November 1987 by the entertainer Danny La Rue. In January 1989, after 36 years guiding vessels through Southampton Water, the distinctive red Lightship Number 78 was lifted from her home at Calshot Spit and lowered into its resting place at the entrance to Ocean Village where it remained as an iconic symbol of Ocean Village until it was removed in 2010.
Unfortunately Canute’s Pavilion was never a great success and, over time, the traders left and the retail units became empty. By 1992 around ninety different tenants had come and gone and only nine who had signed up in the first year remained. Despite a £350,000 refurbishment in 1996 it continued to decline. In 2008, Canute’s Pavilion was demolished to make way for the Admiral’s Quay development which includes various apartments buildings as well as the Tesco Express store, Banana Wharf restaurant and the Pitcher and Piano Bar. In October 2008, Linden Homes started work on a 128 flat development known as Splash and the Innovation Centre (OVIC) next to the Harbour Lights Cinema on the site of an old boat yard.
What remains of the old docks? Other than the Outer Dock itself, the only other remaining features of the original docks are the Intercontinental Ticket Office (currently home to the Mocha Marina Coffee shop) and one of the old quayside warehouses (now known as Enterprise House). In addition we suspect that buildings currently used by Merchants Restaurant and Chiquito Restaurant are also original dock buildings. The Admiral Sir Lucius Curtis pub and Canute Chambers on Canute Road are also original dock buildings. The pub is a late Victorian building (the former Cork and Bottle), purpose built as the offices for Southampton’s first docks. It once housed the London and South Western Railway Company ‘Channel Steamers Booking Office’ and the Dock Master’s office. Canute Chambers was the office of the White Star Line and is remembered as the location where anxious relatives of crew members gathered as news came though of the Titanic disaster.
Whether you live, work, sail at or visit Ocean Village we hope we have opened your eyes to a fascinating and interesting past. You can now wander around the marina and think of what was once here. Imagine the countless people that have journeyed though, the army of workers once employed in the docks and the vast amounts of cargo that has come and gone. You will never look at Ocean Village in the same way again.
A number of the images on this page were kindly provided by local historian Campbell McCutcheon. Campbell has produced numerous books relating to both Southampton and Southampton Docks.
Have we made a mistake?
We are keen to ensure that our Ocean Village history is correct. If we have made a mistake then please let us know so that we can update the information we provide. If you have any historical pictures of Ocean Village you would like us to publish we would love to hear from you.