The very existence of the Canal meant that ships could now be based, crewed and managed from the UK.
From 1840 home was Southampton, where P&O owned not only offices, wharves and warehouses but a complete colony of houses for its employees and their families. There was a large laundry for washing and repairing the fleet’s linen and a school for employees’ children. P&O was so deeply entrenched in the town that the Company’s decision, in 1874, to move back to London was taken as a bitter blow.
The move was prompted primarily by freight. Merchants and traders were reluctant to pay the additional costs of sending cargo by rail to and from London, and P&O could ill-afford to lose any further freight to its cheaper, Canal competitors.
Mails and passengers continued to depart from Southampton until 1881, but it was to London that all routes pointed for the next 80 years. And it was in London’s West End that the Company opened a new booking and baggage office in Cockspur Street in 1873.