National Geographic : 1940 Jan
SOUTHAMPTON-GATEWAY TO LONDON The Port of Double Tides Where the "Mayflower" Moored is Rich in Sea History and Lore of Early England BY STANLEY TOOGOOD TO millions of travelers Southampton -my home since I was a year old is merely a place where boat trains meet the liners. Every time I come back to it by sea, I realize why transients feel that this city is only a gateway to London. Cranes, dock sheds, customhouses, freight boats, tugs, lighters, and a thicket of spars and funnels monopolize one's first impres sions. Tall buildings distract attention from the seafaring interest of New York, but Southampton's skyline appears dedi cated to shipping, with ocean liners as its skyscrapers (page 97). In peacetime, when a big vessel ap proached the port diminutive tugs raced for it like a brood of hungry ducklings; optimistically they pushed and pulled the massive hulk, none apparently caring what the others were doing; yet in an incredibly short time their giant charge was securely berthed. MINES AND HUGE NET GUARD HARBOR Today, in wartime, the festive air is miss ing. When a liner nears port, two pilots come aboard. One is the customary har bor pilot, the other a naval officer. To gether they zigzag the ship through an ex tensive mine field, gradually working their way to a huge, submerged net which pro tects the harbor entrance from marauding submarines. Two tugs swing open the gate way of the net, and close it again as soon as the ship has passed through. Convoys of merchant ships now assemble here before crossing the Atlantic, and other fleets of freighters arrive from overseas under armed escort. Naval vessels hover near, antiaircraft batteries are ever on the alert, and planes soar overhead, all closely guarding this great ocean terminal, to which come supplies from all corners of the earth to furnish England with the sinews of war. From a towering boat deck one sees a medley of flags, but only by strolling through the docks can one get the cosmo politan effect. Brazil Road and Java Road lead to wharves where bananas, millions of them, bring the ripe atmosphere of the West Indies; farther along, the smells of oranges and olive oil and onions unite in an aroma that could only be Spanish. Within the boundary of dockland, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, and continental Euro pean ports meet around mighty consign ments of citrus fruits, wool, meat, grain, butter, hides, tomatoes, and wines. Southampton's commercial traffic dates far back, the early trade having been chiefly in wool and wine. During the fourteenth century a tax of a penny a pound was pay able on all woolen goods passing through the port. These were weighed at the Wool House, which stands alongside the Old Quay. During the Napoleonic Wars, when the wool trade diminished, prisoners of war were confined in this building, and some of their carved names still remain on the old beams. This venerable relic is now being used as a warehouse. Guided by a fluttering blue peter, I went over to watch a twentieth-century May flower straining impatiently at her hawsers. Simultaneously with a striking clock, her siren bellowed a thrilling farewell and powerful propellers churned the muddy water to a dazzling white. "NO HANGING ABOUT FOR TIDES" "She's punctual today," I remarked to a seafaring onlooker. "Yes, there's never no hanging about for tides here," he said, with the characteristic double negative. "You have heard of the double tides, haven't you? The Isle of Wight* cuts the flood tide coming up the English Channel so that one part reaches us through the Solent and the other from Spithead. The Spithead tide takes about two hours longer to get around the island, and this makes the second high water." This phenomenon, together with the posi tion midway along England's southern shore and directly opposite the mouth of *See "England's Sun Trap Isle of Wight," NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, January, 1935.