Itchen Navigation: Trade

Whilst similar in some respects to other river navigations in Southern England, it was also distinctive in other ways. Whilst most rivers had ports at their mouths, sea-going vessels could penetrate inland to towns such as Lewes on the Sussex Ouse and Arundel on the River Arun. On the Itchen, however, shoals prevented these boats going upstream of Northam which was just outside the town of Southampton. Although the physical works of the Itchen Navigation stopped at Woodmill, its legal powers also covered the tidal river down to Northam.

The Itchen Navigation was never a busy waterway. Indeed it appears that, even at its busiest period during the Napoleonic Wars, six barges were sufficient to move all the traffic. The most important trade was coal and culm (coal-dust) brought to Northam in collier brigs from north east England and transhipped to barges, usually overside, for carriage up the river, mainly to Winchester. Other cargoes included salt, corn, iron, timber and chalk. In around 1802, four barges were carrying the following trade annually. The average annual revenue was stated to be £3,735 (which is about £120,150 at today's prices) but presumably this includes the proprietors' freight takings as well as tolls.

Tonnages carried in 1802
Cargo Tons
Coal and culm 10,300
Salt 350
Chalk 1,710
Other goods 5,950
Total 18,310

By 1833, when no carrying was being done by the owner, receipts were only £1,870 and in 1839, immediately before the opening of the London & Southampton Railway, receipts were £1,821 (about £80,300 today).

A major problem was that traffic was unbalanced, barges often having to return downstream empty. This is illustrated by the tolls taken during the last years of traffic:

Table of tolls for the years 1866 - 1869
Year   Up   Down
    £ s d   £ s d
1866   160 13 8   15 19 6
1867   155 5 4   13 12 2
1868   122 17 10   7 9 4
1869   5 8 0   None

During this period 100 would the equivalent of about 4,500 today.


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