Gala Dinner 1912 - 2008

We then prepared ourselves for the Gala Dinner in the presence of His Worship the Mayor and his wife in the Dockgate 4 Restaurant within the South Western Hotel.

We had been told to arrive early and we were very pleased to meet up with Genevieve Bailey who had arranged a very special visit to see inside the South Western Hotel which is now a block of expensive flats.

Our visit to South Western House

We show our White Star Pennants again

The building began life South Western Hotel, designed by John Norton, opening its doors to the public in 1872, after having been acquired by the London and South Western Railway Company.
This Grade II listed building has architecture heavily influenced by the French Renaissance period, and its grand appearance reflected the wealth of the shipping industry at that time.
During its heyday, its frontage dominated Canute Road and Terminus Terrace offering magnificent panoramic views of the Port of Southampton. The hotel was lavishly appointed with heavily marbled flooring, and ornate ironwork on the guest stairwells and passenger lifts. With its majestic sweeping staircases, finely painted murals, crystal chandeliers and intricately carved panelling it retained an opulence, which still exists today.

On the morning of 4th April 1912, guests would have marvelled from their windows at their first sight of the RMS Titanic as she lay at her mooring along quays 43/44. Indeed, J. Bruce Ismay, Managing Director of the White Star Line, and designer Thomas Andrews stayed at the hotel, prior to embarking on the ill-fated voyage. Officers from the White Star Line occasionally dined at the South Western Hotel, including its doctors. In his autobiography, entitled Ships and People, surgeon JCH Beaumont wrote concerning his friend, Doctor O’ Loughlin:
“Whether he had any premonition about the Titanic I cannot say, but I do know that during a talk with him in the South Western Hotel he did tell me that he was tired at this time of life to be changing from one ship to another. When this was mentioned to Captain Smith the latter chided him for being lazy and told him to pack up and come with him. So fate decreed that ‘Billy’ should go to the Titanic and I go to the Olympic.”

In subsequent years, the hotel ceased operation and was renamed the South Western House. However, it continued to play host to many wealthy and distinguished guests, including Winston Churchill and Dwight Eisenhower during the Second World War. The men planned the D-Day invasion in a small public room on the first floor. There is also photographic evidence that the Queen and the Queen Mother visited there during the 1960s. This iconic Southampton landmark has truly witnessed some of the most momentous events in history!

(The buildings close proximity to the dock warranted an image of it appearing as a ‘backdrop’ in the James Cameron film, Titanic.)

Following a period of disrepair, Berkley Homes refurbished the building in the late 1990s, to consist of 94 private apartments, penthouses, and 15 studio flats on the ground floor.

The Staircase, the Ceiling with chandelier and the Cherub

On the 96th anniversary since the departure of the RMS Titanic, the former South Western Hotel’s once celebrated Wedgwood Ballroom played host to our group as we remembered the great liner and those lost aboard her. As we dined in the magnificent surroundings; with a spark of imagination, it was still possible to see and hear doctors’ Beaumont and O’Loughlin contemplate the new White Star liners, Olympic and Titanic.

To be able to see the marble and all the fittings, unchanged since 1912 was certainly a wonderful experience and we all had our photographs taken on the "Cherub Staircase".

We then went to the restaurant to await the mayor and his wife.

John meets the Mayor and introduces him to everybody attending

Maria presents a bouquet to the Lady Mayoress

Maria presents a bouquet to the Lady Mayoress

We have drinks prior to being called in for the Gala Dinner

John welcomes the Mayor and his wife

My thanks to John Creamer for the extra information imparted on this page.

13th April