Itchen Navigation: Description
Mans Bridge - Gaters Mill & Wood Mill

Distance: 0.3 mile & 0.6 mile

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Above Mans Bridge, the main River Itchen was navigable for about 600 yards to Gaters Mill (formerly known as Westend Mills). This was once a paper mill and more recently a corn mill. Today the buildings are no longer used for milling purposes. When the new Mans Bridge was built a new length of road bypassed a section of the former A27 which ran alongside the river. The old road is now used as a footpath and for casual parking. Along this length can be found the White Swan public house.

The new Mans Bridge is a concrete structure opened in 1975 to carry the traffic of the A27 spanning the whole width of the main river. A path passes under the bridge on each bank.

The old Mans Bridge is one of two bridges remaining from the days of commercial use (the other is Wharf Bridge, Winchester). It is an attractive stone structure built in the early 19th century with a circular arch and short causeways on either side. Until 1975 the bridge carried all the traffic of the A27 and, as it was only just wide enough for two cars to pass, was a serious bottleneck. The upstream parapet suffered badly from collisions with heavy lorries. The bridge is now closed to vehicular traffic and the parapet has been restored.

For boats, the bridge has less than 6 feet headroom even at normal water levels. Since there are no side streams to the River Itchen at this point, all the water coming down the river is channelled under the bridge. This makes passage quite difficult even in a rowing boat. When bringing barges upstream, it is quite probable that these had to be winched through against the current. There has been a bridge on this site since at least Saxon times and was, for many centuries, the lowest crossing point of the river Itchen. The bridge is in good condition. Being a county bridge, it was not maintained by the Navigation.

The towing path crosses the river by means of the old Mans Bridge to continue south-westwards along the east bank. The path has been metalled and is good condition as it and the Navigation passes along the north west side of Riverside Park to Wood Mill.

Woodmill Lock was constructed near the tidal limit of the river. The site of the lock is now under the road, Woodmill Lane, which was widened after the First World War. It was a sea lock with a masonry chamber, last reconstructed in 1829. It had the usual two pairs of lock gates pointing upstream to retain water in the non-tidal river, plus a third pair, pointing downstream, to prevent very high tides from flooding the Navigation with sea water. A wooden swing bridge used to carry the road over the chamber at an angle. In those days, before the housing was built on the east of the river, Woodmill Lane would have been little more than a farm track. The lock remained in use for barges going upstream to Westend Mill for some years after traffic ceased on the rest of the Navigation. Nothing of this lock is to be seen now, but according to hearsay, the chamber has not been destroyed but infilled.

The current Wood Mill was built after the previous wooden mill burnt down in 1820. There has been a mill since at least medieval times (and probably since before Domesday). Corn milling ended here in 1930 when the flow of water down the river become too little. The mill is used today as an activity centre for canoeing.

Wood Mill's best known occupant was probably Walter Taylor (1734-1803) who supplied wooden, rigging blocks for ships of the Royal Navy. 1,400 were needed to fit out a 74-gun ship of the line and were used to raise and lower sails and yard-arms. He greatly improved their quality, developing machinery to mass produce them repeatedly and to an exact specification. He moved to Wood Mill in 1781 and supplied the Navy with 100,000 blocks a year until his death in 1803 when production was moved to Portsmouth.

There is a large car park beside the non-tidal section of the river.

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Text © Southampton Canal Society 1999 - 2010.
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Page created 16 June 1999 - picture gallery created 26 April 2003 - description and pictures combined and expanded with new layout 25 January 2010 - content updated 25 January 2010.

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