How innovation in Southampton has made waves across the world


Southampton is filled with innovative businesses and individuals that have made their mark on the world. James Cornford, partner in our Southampton office, looks at some of the ways the city has led the way, and shown how it can make waves with its creativity both on land and at sea.

Think of Southampton and images of the Titanic departing on its maiden voyage spring to mind, along with the luxurious cruise liners that leave the port every year.

It’s not surprising that, throughout history, the city has been popular for its connections to the sea. Its port first became important when the Normans arrived in 1066. The world’s first ‘airport’ for flying boats was at Southampton Water. The city even made The Guinness Book of Records when, in 2016, the Southampton Boat Show created the ‘largest human image of a boat’.

However, look a little deeper and there is more to this world-famous city than its shipping history. For example, without the excellent taste buds of the people of Southampton, we might not have that teatime staple ‘fish fingers’.

Also, it is believed that novelist Jane Austen wrote Sense and Sensibility while living in the city. Austen spent many holidays in Southampton and moved to the city in 1806 and lived there until 1809.  Austen had such a close association with Southampton that a heritage trail has been created to commemorate the locations linked to her. There are eight plaques around the city, marking points of interest such as where she went to school and where she celebrated her 18th birthday at the Dolphin Hotel in High Street.

Here are some other ways that Southampton has made its mark on the world:

Winning the war

The iconic Spitfire fighter plane is long associated with Southampton. The Spitfire, alongside the Hawker Hurricane, was the fighter plane that fought off the German Luftwaffe during the Second World War. The famous plane was designed by RJ Mitchell, chief designer at Supermarine Aviation Works. It was built at its Oakbank Wharf factory, at Woolston, and the maiden flight was from what is now Southampton Airport in March 1936, not long before the outbreak of war.

INTERESTING FACT: A lot of German pilots believed the Spitfire was better than their own planes. One German pilot apparently even asked his commanding officer for a squadron of Spitfires.

Boat racing

Fairey Marine Ltd was a boat building company based on the River Hamble in Southampton. The company’s achievements include developing a low-speed wind tunnel for racing yacht design. This led to the creation of the Flica speed boat, which won 35 flags in 39 races in 1932 and 49 flags in 55 races in the following year. Fairey crafts were owned by actress Deborah Kerr, Prince Albert of Belgium and holiday camp founder Billy Butlin.

INTERESTING FACT: James Bond’s first-ever movie boat chase was in From Russia With Love. It saw Sean Connery driving a white Fairey Huntress and being chased by a Fairey Huntsman 28s and a Fairey Huntress.

Number one comedian

Having a song at number one for four weeks is a feat in itself, but in 1971, Benny Hill beat off competition from the likes of Cilla Black, Slade, Cher and Tom Jones to top the Christmas charts. Alfred Hawthorn Hill, aka Benny Hill, was born in 1924 in Southampton and was a hugely influential figure in British culture for nearly four decades. The Benny Hill Show had a peak UK audience of 21 million in 1971, and incredibly was exported to half the countries in the world.

INTERESTING FACT: Benny’s old milkman job in Eastleigh was used as the inspiration for his number one hit record, Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West).

Fighting cancer

The Centre for Cancer Immunology is the UK’s first centre dedicated to cancer immunology research. Opened in 2018, the state-of-the-art facilities are part of the University of Southampton, but are located on the site of the general hospital, off Tremona Road. The centre is a pioneer in the fight against cancer, where the researchers look at how the body’s immune system can recognise and fight the disease. Connected to leading institutions worldwide, it is considered the world’s first dedicated centre for cancer immunotherapy.

INTERESTING FACT: The centre has been funded through philanthropic donations and cost £25m to build. People can donate money for ongoing research through the Cancer Immunology Talent Fund.

Pioneering energy suppliers

Southampton is home to the UK’s only geothermal power station – Geothermal Heating Company Ltd (SGHC). This pioneering project is leading the way in the delivery of sustainable heat, chilled water and power supplies, and now supplies more than 45 energy users in both public and private sectors. The scheme currently saves around 10,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions every year.

INTERESTING FACT: The scheme’s high level of efficiency earned it the prestigious Queen’s Award for Sustainable Development in 2001 and 2008, and a National Energy Efficiency Award in 2006. It also holds the Green Flag award.

At Forresters, we enjoy being based in an area where there are so many start-up businesses and innovative companies. Southampton, and the area around the city, has lots of interesting technology-based businesses, led by people that understand the importance of protecting their intellectual property. We are looking forward to working with even more individuals and businesses across the region that want to further their success by securing patents, designs and trade marks. By protecting their intellectual property it doesn’t just strengthen their own business, but also the communities and economy around them.