The former South Western Hotel is located in the centre of Southampton within sight of Dock Gate 4, which leads down to the Queen Elizabeth II Terminal and Berth 44 from where the Titanic departed on 10 April 1912. The hotel was designed by English architect John Norton and was completed in 1872 as the Imperial Hotel. Occupying a corner plot on Terminus Terrace and Canute Road, the main block of the hotel occupies four principal storeys.
A company advert for the South Western Hotel (the hotel assumed that name in 1882 following its purchase by the London and South Western Railway) from circa 1910 proudly boasted of the hotel's "Large Dining Hall, Lounges, Grill Room and Restaurant on [the] Ground Floor" and that "Porters in Red Coats [would] meet all principal Trains and Boats", with "All Ships Wired from Hurst Castle one hour before arrival".
Today, the building comprises apartments but in 1912 it was one of the most important hotels in Southampton, and was a popular resting-place for travellers departing aboard the big liners leaving the port. Guests at the hotel who later boarded the Titanic included her designer Thomas Andrews and Managing Director of the White Star Line Joseph Bruce Ismay.
The facade is clad in red brick, with white-painted quoins (corner blocks), while at ground floor level the facade is rendered with horizontal-banded rustication. The Canute Road frontage extends for 16 bays, while the red-brick Terminus Terrace frontage is shorter at 8 bays. The ground floor on both elevations has tall, round-headed windows with an arch above formed of wedge-shaped 'voussoirs' and key stone.
The four corner bays at the junction of Canute Road and Terminus Terrace form a curved facade. Above the ground-level first storey there is a balcony, with wrought-ironwork railings. Above, the second-storey's two central bays have tall, arched windows set between paired pilasters with Corinthian capitals, beneath a circular pediment. The arched windows of outer bays are also set between twinned pilasters, but with a moulded entablature in place of the pediment.
The rectangular windows to the third storey each have juliet balconies and are set between single pilasters with a moulded entablature. Above is a plain entablature, with a corbels supporting a projecting cornice. The fourth storey above have squarer, segmental-arched windows, with single pilasters to either side.
Along Terminus Terrace, the windows of the central four bays on the second and third storeys are set between pilasters with Corinthian capitals. The arched windows on the second storey are set between pilasters, topped with a pediment. The third storey windows all feature juliet balconies. Above the entablature and cornice running the length of the Terminus Terrace facade, the central four bays are again separated by single pilasters.
Along Canute Road, the first nine bays are much the same as on Terminus Terrace. However, bays ten to fourteen are set between pilasters with Corinthian capitals. The arched windows on the second storey, framed by single pilasters, alternate between triangular and circular pediments. Again, the windows to the third storey windows all have juliet balconies.
The roof of the hotel comprises a two storeys Mansard-style roof with prominent chimneys, with square dormer windows to the first roof storey, and circular 'oculi' windows above. Along Terminus Terrace, the roofline is raised for the four central bays with an additional storey, topped with wrought ironwork railings.
The body of the building along Canute Road rises above bays ten to fourteen for an additional fifth storey with the central three-bays set beneath a segmental pediment carrying an allegorical scene. Above is a two storey Mansard-style roof topped with wrought ironwork railings, with projecting pedimented-dormer arched-windows on the first roof storey.
A later six bay, seven storey block, clad in Portland Stone, was added on Terminus Terrace.