The Opening of the King George V Graving Dock

In 1927 construction had started on the new Western Docks, where 400 acres of land was reclaimed and a 1.4 mile long quay was created. At its most western point was to be a new dry dock, and when complete, it would be the largest in the world.

The dock was actually complete in 1934, but it was formally opened by King George V and Queen Mary on Wednesday 26 July 1933.

The following is from the London Gazette, and contains excerpts of a transcript of the speeches made that day:

Chairman of the Southern Railway: “To his most gracious Majesty the King. May it please Your Majesty.

We, the Chairman, Directors, Officers and Employees of all grades of the Southern Railway Company, beg to offer our humble welcome and to expresses our grateful appreciation of the high honour Your Majesty has conferred upon us by graciously coming here to-day to declare this great Graving Dock open.

We recall with price that on this date 43 years ago – July 26th, 1890 – Her Majesty Queen Victoria honoured the Southampton Dock Comapny by declaring the Empress Dock open, and also that his Majesty King Edward, when Prince of Wales, opened the Prince of Wales Dock on August 3rd, 1895; further that in 1924 His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales inaugurated the world’s largest Floating Dock which Your Majesty has just passed in the Royal Yacht.

The fame of Southampton as a port goes back into distant history, but since the London and South Western Railway Comapny acquired the Docks in 1892 the rise to prosperity of the Port has been most noteworthy…

In the Great War, Southampton held the proud position of being ‘Number 1 Port’. Eight million men of Your Majesty’s forces – including the whole of the Expeditionary Force – passed over these Quays. In peace time, Southampton – England’s premier Passenger Port – forms a most important link in the chain that binds the Motherland to the Dominions beyond the seas…

Your Majesty’s gracious presence here to-day encourages us in our determination to bear our share in the Nation’s endeavour for the revival of trade.

Once more expressing our heartfelt welcome, we reaffirm our loyalty and attachment to Your Majesty, to Her Majesty the Queen, and to the Members of the Royal Family.

We now respectfully beg that Your Majesty will be pleased to declare this Dock open.”


To which His Majesty was pleased to return the following Gracious Answer:-

“The Queen and I have accepted with much pleasure the invitation to be present at to-day’s ceremony, and I thank you heartily for the loyal and dutiful address which you, Mr Loder, have presented. The association of my family with the great docks in Southampton Water is, as you say, a long one, and I personally have a vivid recollection of that day in August, 1895, when I accompanied my father at the opening of the Prince of Wales Dock, the largest in existence at that time.

It affords me, therefore, special satisfaction to inaugurate to-day this splendid addition to the dock system of the port.

From the early days of our overseas trade, Southampton has held a foremost place in the commercial life of this country. This position it has retained as the result of wise and continuous development, and its record as a port of embarkation during the years of the Great War will never be forgotten.

It is as true to-day as ever that the welfare of this country is largely bound up with the prosperity of its seaborne traffic. Realising the vital need for efficiency in our ports, as in all other requirements of our Merchant Navy, I look upon the opening of this, the largest Graving Dock in the world, as a good augury for the future of Southampton.

I must express my admiration for the enterprise displayed by the Board of the Southern Railway in undertaking this great work in such difficult times. I congratulate the contracting Firms and the Engineers on their success in carrying it out, and I rejoice to think that the building of this Dock has given the blessing of employment to many who would otherwise have been without it.

I have much pleasure in declaring the Dock open for use and in naming it the ‘King George V Graving Dock’; and I pray by God’s Blessing it may serve to foster and increase the commerce of Southampton.”

Click here for a YouTube video of the ceremony, including the King’s speech.

The Royal Yacht had broken a red, white, and blue ribbon stretched across the entrance as she sailed in to the dock, and after the King’s speech, Queen Mary poured a bottle of ‘Empire’ wine into the water, and that was that.

For the next three decades, the dock would remain the largest in the world. The first ship to use it was the Majestic in 1934.


Majestic entering the King George V Graving Dock in 1934.

During the Second World War, in 1942, commandos practiced the raid on St. Nazaire there. In 1944, parts of the Mulberry Harbours used in D-Day were built there, and in later years it was graced by the presence of some of the world’s most famous ocean liners. It ceased to be a dry dock in 2005 when the gates were removed, but was still used as a normal dock. In 2006, English Heritage classified the dock itself and its pump house as Grade II listed.

Source: London Gazette

Further reading on the construction (with photos): Wonders of World Engineering



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