Last week I found myself in Southampton for the day (as you do). My first thought was that I must go to the Tudor House (as some of you might know, I love history – and especially the 16th Century). Unfortunately, this is closed on Fridays – and of course that’s the day I was there. So, I moved onto plan B, to find out about the Titanic, and it was a good decision…
Instead of the Tudor house (which I did visit to see it from the outside), I went to the lovely SeaCity Museum, which is a real gem of a place. It has a number of permanent exhibits as well as a little shop and lovely cafe. Helpfully, it also has lockers for large bags (you have to pay for these, but mine only cost a few pounds).
The exhibit which caught my attention, and which I spent a lovely hour and a half or so being fascinated by, was one on the Titanic. This was extremely well done, educational, interactive and sad. Plus, it was definitely worth the £8.50 entrance fee (£6 for kids).
The Titanic set off from Southampton
Although you may associate the Titanic with Belfast, it actually set off from Southampton. This means that many of those who worked on the ship lived in the Southampton area. In fact almost 409 of the ships crew lived in Chapel and Northam, two of the poorest distracts in Southampton, and of the 897 crew members, three quarters were living in Southampton in the days before the ship set sail.
Bringing the people to life
The exhibition is very good at personalising the experience. It gives you background of a number of those who were on the “unsinkable” ship, from the second officer, Charles Herbert Lightoller, to the first class Stewardesss Mabel Bennett, who was only 30 then, but already a widow, with a young daughter she had to leave behind (of course, she was paid less then than the male stewards). You don’t know what happened to all these people until near the end, by which time you have built up a relationship with them. It’s very clever.
Life in Southampton in 1912
The exhibit begins with an explanation of what it was like in Southampton at that time – the divide between rich and poor, the ongoing strikes and the numbers of unemployed (17,000 in April 1912). Many of the locals had never been to sea before, but were very happy about the opportunities that the Titanic brought.
You then walk across a bridge as if you are walking onto the Titanic – and there’s sound effects to make it all sound that much more realistic.
There are clothes to try on and people to find out about, as well as letters from those on the ship and details of all the provisions on board. There is also a beautiful recreation of what the grand staircase looked like – just like the film in fact!
You learn about lots of little details (first class passengers had use of a lift to go from deck to deck) and can also try out shovelling coal (hard work – I was not very good!) and steering the ship.
It was just before midnight on April 14 1912 that the Titanic struck the iceberg. No one was prepared for what followed – and more than 1500 people died when the ship sank, in less than three hours.
The exhibition is particularly good at giving you an idea of what happened and the scale of the deaths. There is a room where you can sit and listen to the audio of those who survived and it’s very moving. For example, you hear Eva Hart, who was then 7, say of her father: “He told me to hold my mummy’s hand and be a good girl and that was it. I never saw him again.”
After being “on” the ship, you go into a courtroom where you can listen to the voices of actors recreating the hearing into what happened and some of the experts asking questions. Some of these questions and answers are shocking – the lookout man saying there were no binoculars on board, and that if there had been he could have seen the iceberg earlier and the ship could have got out of the way. There were also no searchlights. There are newspapers from the time to look at and telegrams giving both good and bad news “regret, not saved,” one widow is told.
The exhibit is extremely good and definitely captured the interest of both adults and children making their way around it. I felt it gave a different view on what happened on the Titanic and made it personal and extremely moving. I went round more slowly than if I had been with a young child, but the children I saw did seem engaged in it all, especially the interactive parts.
More Southampton history
SeaCity has more than this exhibit though – there is one on Southampton as a Gateway to the World, which gives you background on the many people who have come to the area from all over the world (this is excellent) and another on Southampton’s Stories, which showcases different topics such as work, pastimes and working life. It’s a lovely museum, very hands-on, and I would recommend it wholeheartedly.
The SeaCity museum is located right near the historic clock tower, Havelock Road, Southampton, SO14 7FY. Its the BBC South studios.
It’s open 10-5pm seven days a week and costs £8.50 per adult, or £25 for a family ticket – two adults and up to three children.
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