The portrait of Southampton (1999)
Authors: Mark Bobe, Louis Shurmer-Smith


The City of Southampton, in the county of Hampshire (although the City has been a unitary authority since April 1st 1997), lies at the Northern end of Southampton Water on a peninsula between the Rivers Itchen and Test. Historically the city became a Royal Borough before 1086 (the year of the Domesday Survey) and was first granted a charter during the 12th Century. The importance of Southampton to the region and indeed the country has always been as a port in the trade between Britain and mainland Europe which became particularly well established during the reigns of Norman and Plantagenet monarchs.



Part of Southampton's Town Walls - Christophe Finot, 2000 – Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Commons


With the coming of the railways during the 19th Century the city once again became an important port after a decline during the 17th and 18th Centuries. The port was of great importance to the liner trade and, after World War II the port became increasingly important in the oil and petrochemical industries. By 1980 it had become the second largest port in Britain.

Away from the harbour the city has a diverse mix of economic activity including aerospace engineering, motor manufacture and electrical engineering. The University of Southampton has a reputation for excellence in research in medical, engineering and marine research (primarily through the Southampton Oceanography Centre) and development.

The City of Southampton has an area of 50 square kilometres and houses a total population of 215 000 (Southampton City Council, 2000), the population has increased by approximately 2.4 per cent between 1981 and 1997 (Southampton City Council, 2000). Employment in Southampton (2000) is dominated by public administration, education and health care which accounts for 31.2 per cent of total employment (Southampton City Council, 2000), the two other dominant sectors are banking and insurance (24.7 per cent) and wholesale and retail (18.9 per cent).



Tudor House Museum, Southampton – Christophe Finot, 2002 – Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Commons

The local economy

Employment in Southampton is concentrated within the service sector which accounts for 85.5 per cent of all employment (Southampton City Council, 2000). However it is worth noting that employment within the primary economic sector accounts for 3.1 per cent of total employment, a low figure but relatively high in the context of the UK as a whole, this is due to the importance of chemical industries in the Southampton area.

Overall it is employment in public administration, education and health that provides the largest proportion of employment in Southampton (31.2 per cent), this is followed by banking, insurance and business services (24.7 per cent) and wholesale, retail, hotels and catering (18.9 per cent). Indeed the largest employers in the Southampton area reflect this sub-sectoral balance, the three largest employers are Southampton City Council, the University of Southampton and the Southampton Institute.

Major employers in Southampton, outside the public administration, education and health sub-sector, include Vosper Thornycroft (marine technology), The Ford Motor Company (van manufacture), the Ordnance Survey (national mapping agency) and the Midland Bank (now HSBC).

Business and commerce

Southampton lies at the heart of the area covered by the South Coast Metropole and consequently its economy is very closely linked with areas bordering on other member authorities. It could be argued that Southampton, whilst a distinct economic entity of itself also fulfils the role of the nexus of economic relations between member authorities by being closely integrated with areas such as the New Forest (bordering on the Bournemouth and Poole conurbation), Fareham (bordering on Portsmouth) and being home to ferry links to the Isle of Wight.

The city is a centre for business, commerce, industry and administration whilst also being a centre for education, research and an important transport hub. It is perhaps the importance of the city as a transport hub, for air travel, port access and easy motorway access, that has served to focus many new developments into the area. Industrially the city is seeking to encourage advanced manufacturing industries and to enhance its already strong presence in marine based industries such as marine research, shipbuilding and of course the port facilities for both freight and passenger traffic.

At the present time the largest business development in the area is the West Quay project, due to open during the autumn of 2000. The development is a regional shopping centre comprising approximately 74 500 square metres of retail space linked to all public transport facilities and the M3 and M27 motorways. This is just the latest in a series of recent waterfront developments including Ocean Village (cinema, entertainment and restaurants) and Town Quay (offices, retail and restaurants).

Other growth areas in the local economy include the leisure cruise trade (Southampton in the UKs busiest cruise port and home to the QE2 and Oriana) and the Chilworth Science Park, home of over 30 high technology companies with a focus on electronics and medical research.



Ocean Village marina, Southampton – Geni, 2014 –Licensed under GFDL CC-BY-SA via Commons


Southampton enjoys good road communications with the M27/A27 (to Portsmouth and the south coast) and M3 (to London) on the doorstep providing excellent links to the A34 (Oxford and the Midlands). Rail communications are similarly good with travel to London possible in one hour 13 minutes and direct services available along the South Coast, to South Wales, the Midlands, the North of England and Scotland.

The city is also home port for Red Funnel Ferries who operate frequent passenger and vehicle ferries to Cowes on the Isle of Wight. Marine transportation is also important for the cruise trade (see previous section) and especially for the commercial port of Southampton. The port handles approximately seven per cent of all UK seaborne trade and is the largest port for vehicle exports, other major commodities passing through the port include grain and fruit imports. Investment in the port has amounted to over 60 million since 1996, this figure will dramatically increase if the development of a new container terminal proceeds on the west side of Southampton Water.

Southampton Airport is the main airport in the South Coast Metropole area. Whilst the main London airports of Heathrow and Gatwick continue to dominate air travel in the region Southampton Airport continues to expand in the short-haul European and domestic markets. Flights are available to the Channel Islands, Manchester, Glasgow, Paris, Frankfurt, 17 major cities are accessible from the airport. Between April 1998 and March 1999 the airport handled 753 698 passengers, an increase of over 19 per cent on the preceding year (British Airports Authority, 2000).