The effect the Titanic disaster had on its host port is often overlooked. When disaster struck, five days after the ship left Southampton’s White Star Dock on April 10 1912, most of the crew were residents of the city – of the 714 members who gave a Southampton address, 538 were lost, leaving more than 500 households in mourning.
Exactly a century after the Titanic departed, SeaCity will put its story at the centre of a £15 million museum exploring the people who have spent 2,000 years arriving and bidding farewell to the Solent.
Along the way, it features bone models made by French prisoners of war to supplement their rations, interactive videos allowing visitors to steer the ship, rope shoes fashioned by German sailors incarcerated in Southampton and postcards and menus from those aboard the doomed journey.
“Some of the exhibits are huge in scale,” says Dan Matthews, who has been part of the City Council’s five-year project to create the museum since August 2011 and, as you might expect from a man who spent ten years at the National Maritime Museum, confesses to being a keen sailor himself. “The Queen Mary model weighs more than a tonne and is seven metres in length.”
It was transported from the now-closed Southampton Maritime Museum. “It made a modest exit through the top window at the front of the building. It was then craned into its new home at SeaCity through a large opening with a five millimetre clearance.”
The police were also on the move for SeaCity. Housed in a Grade II-listed former Magistrates Court and police station, the premises were only vacated by the authorities last March.
“One of the old courtrooms is used as a setting for the British Inquiry into the sinking of the Titanic,” says Matthews. “The gateway to the World Gallery has cut-outs in the ceiling, so that the original ornate ceiling can still be seen by visitors. For the first time the Civil Centre Clock Tower will be available for public tours, and some of the old police cells have been converted into toilets.”
Matthews is part of a curatorial trio, plotting a sleek-looking centre alongside Padmini Broomfield – who has the distinction of holding a degree in Ancient Indian History and Culture from the University of Bombay – and Maria Newbery, Southampton’s Curator of Maritime and Local Collections.
Their vision has largely been funded by a £4.9 million Lottery grant and investment from the council, who see it as a major part of Southampton’s Cultural Quarter.
“There is some really fun stuff to do in the new museum,” promises Williams. “Kids can have a race to see who can shovel coal fastest in the stoker’s game.
“In the Marconi Room you can pretend to be a wireless operator and have a go at Morse Code. We’ve worked with a number of experts to provide the most exciting experience possible for visitors of all ages.
“It’s all about bringing our amazing history to life.”
- SeaCity museum opens April 10 2012. Visit SeaCity online for more.