South Western House
The railway arrived in Southampton in 1840 and work began on the construction of the South Western House Hotel in 1865. Designed with a strong French influence it was originally named the Imperial when it opened in 1867. Many of the rich passengers travelling first class on the Titanic stayed there. In fact the Titanic’s main staircase is said to have been a copy of the one in the hotel.
In 1942 it became the HQ for Military Movement Control in readiness for the Normandy landings. Many navy personnel were based there and it was known as the stone frigate HMS Shrapnel. A stone frigate is a nickname for a naval establishment on land. Many Wrens were billeted there and one in particular was Rozelle Raynes who wrote “Maid Matelot” in which she recalls her wartime memories of Southampton and the infestation of the hotel by cockroaches.
Post war it became South Western House being used by the BBC for local radio and television production. The shipping line Cunard was also located in the hotel.
With the opening of the new BBC buildings in Haverlock Road in Southampton the hotel was converted into luxury flats some of which have wonderful panoramic views of the docks.
The former Wedgewood Ballroom of the hotel has been converted into a bar, bistro and restaurant named the Grand Café. This wonderful building was once Southampton’s grandest hotel and is steeped in history. It is now a Grade II listed building.