Visiting Southampton’s history in the air and sea

Southampton is a port city with a rich naval tradition that stretches back centuries. In more recent history, it has also made an enormous contribution to aviation (and indeed, world history). If you’re thinking about visiting Southampton, and you’ve an interest in all things that float on the sea and fly through the air, then there are a few places that might grab your interest. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Solent Sky Museum

Southampton is the birthplace of what is perhaps the most iconic aircraft in British history – the Supermarine Spitfire. The prototype K5054 underwent its first test flight from Eastleigh Aerodrome – which is now known as Southampton airport.

Visitors to the city can learn all about this most significant aeroplane, along with a variety of other aviation milestones, at the Solent Sky Museum, which is conveniently placed right at the heart of the city’s Ocean Village. If you should happen to be taking a walk along the pier, then it’s just a short walk away.

The aircraft on display are in various states of completeness – an entire intact Spitfire is present, as well as the cockpit of a Supermarine Swift, the nose section of a Supermarine Seagull, and many more pieces of history. Also on display are a raft of different aircraft engines from huge names like Napier and Rolls Royce, which between them chart more than a century of manned flight. If you’ve an interest in aviation, then you should certainly make Solent Sky Museum foremost on your list of things to see and do in the city!

SS Shieldhall

Of course, Southampton’s contribution to Britain’s naval and shipping industries stretches back still further. The city is home to an immaculately preserved steamship, the SS Shieldhall. This particular ship is named after the Glaswegian district of Shieldhall from which it would regularly travel as it performed its duties as a sludge liner – namely dumping huge quantities of treated sewage into the ocean. But that wasn’t the ship’s only role – it also served as a sightseeing ship, allowing day tripping Glaswegians to see the river Clyde up close.


The ship, which comprises almost two-thousand tons of steel, is the largest working steamship in the country. It was built in 1954 by Lobnitz and Co, and launched the following year. It performed its duties for a couple of decades before finally moving to Southampton in 1977. It has two steam engines which are set vertically in the same way that those of the SS Titanic were. It was even painted in the same colours as the doomed liner in 2012, to mark the hundred-year anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking.

Nowadays, the Shieldhall is manned and maintained by a dedicated crew of volunteers. It’s thanks to their efforts that this piece of naval history is kept afloat! Those interested can climb aboard the SS Shieldhall and go for a trip – or even hire the boat out for a private function.

Titanic Engineer’s Memorial

Of course, perhaps the most famous ship ever to set out from Southampton is the RMS Titanic. Unfortunately, it’s somewhat difficult for sightseers to see what remains of the Titanic, being as it lies in rusted bits at the bottom of the Atlantic. But one can make time to visit one of the many memorials in place around the city. The largest and most impressive of these is located in the city’s East Park, and is a moving and beautiful monument.

In nearby Grosvenor Square is a memorial to commemorate that other famous ship that set out for the Americas (and arrived successfully), the Mayflower. While the Mayflower finally set out from Plymouth on its way to the new world, many would argue that Plymouth was just a pit-stop on the way, and that the true starting point of the journey was Southampton!

Go sailing!

All of this maritime history is all well and good – but if you’ve a burning passion for the water, there really is no substitute for actually getting out onto it. If you’re such a person, you’ll be pleased to learn that Southampton also offers visitors a chance to intimately acquaint themselves with the more modern sort of sailing. This chance comes in the form of Costal Pursuits, a company which offers boat charter and training to people of all levels of experience – from complete beginners to grizzled veterans. Their website can be found at

Coastal Pursuits offer many different sorts of boating experience, for many different situations. If you’re looking to secure yourself some serious sailing training, then they can help – but if you’re just looking to spend the afternoon blasting around on a powerboat, they can help with that, too.