The official head of navigation is marked by Black Bridge which is situated in College Walk, at the foot of Wharf Hill. A Grade II listed building, this bridge has a single arch of stone built in 1796. This replaced a bridge that was built around 1670 by Bishop Morton as stipulated by the 1665 Act of Parliament authorising the Navigation.
From Godson’s map of Winchester dated 1750, it seems that this earlier bridge had two arches that carried two separate tail races from two waterwheels at Wharf Mill. Only the eastern channel seems to have supplied water to the Navigation, the other fed the main River Itchen (known as the “Old Barge”). This was probably not an ideal arrangement as the Navigation’s water supply would have depended upon the milling activities upstream and this is the likely reason why the two channels were later joined just above the bridge.
Bishop Morton’s bridge had replaced an earlier wooden bridge, which was quite probably preserved with black tar.
Although not part of the Navigation, it is documented that barges sometimes travelled about 130 yards upstream of the bridge to Wharf Mill. Sometimes known as Seagram’s Mill, this was once the city’s principal grain mill. A mill has been on this site since the 12th century, but the present mill building (Grade II listed) dates from 1885 (after the cessation of barge traffic) and was converted into flats in 1970.
It is believed that barges also discharged their cargoes for Winchester College in Blackbridge Yard which lies to the left (west) immediately upstream of the bridge.
Blackbridge Wharf lies on the east bank of the Navigation immediately below the bridge. The wharf area, now in the hands of Winchester College, contains the former manager's house (now known as Wharf Farm), warehouse (converted to a dwelling) and stables (more recently converted to residential use). In former times, there was also a malthouse and a further warehouse on the site. In about 2013, the old stable block was extended and converted to housing and more housing was built on some of the then open part of the wharf and called Wharf Mews.
On the west side of the waterway are a series of sluices (sometimes known as “Seven Hatches”) along the summit pound that can be used to control water in this section of the Navigation. The sluices just below Black Bridge, probably built when the two tail races were joined above the bridge, lead into a channel of the river still known to Winchester College as the “Old Barge”. This may have been the route used by boats in times before the current Navigation was built (which is sometimes called the “New Barge”). These sluices would have become necessary when the channels above the bridge were joined. There are a number of further sluices in the west bank on the way to Tun Bridge.
Wharf Bridge and area
Immediately below Blackbridge Wharf, Wharf Bridge crosses the Navigation. This single brick span has a headroom of about 6 feet and is the oldest bridge surviving on the waterway, being built in the 1760s. Access to the bridge can gained down a footpath which leaves the unmade Domum Road about 50 yards from College Walk.
Downstream of Wharf Bridge and also on the east bank is the Winchester College Boat Club boathouse, with its concrete slipway. This was built in the late 1930s when the college’s first boathouse downstream and on the west bank was demolished. Next to the boathouse are the fairly modern New Barge Cottages built after the war. This was also the site of Scard’s Wharf in the days of commercial traffic with several storehouses.
Wharf Bridge to Domum Wharf
For half a mile below here to Tun Bridge, there is a public footpath on each bank. However, the eastern one does not pass in front of the boathouse to Wharf Bridge but has a separate access from Domum Road behind the New Barge Cottages. A short distance below the New Barge Cottages and separated from them by some more modern housing, can be found the Old Barge Cottages. These were once lived in by some of the barge masters working the Navigation.
Domum Wharf used to be situated just south of these cottages, on the bend where the waterway is a little wider (and was once considerably wider). It was reported in 1848 that there was a steam-powered sawmill on the wharf but this had disappeared by 1870. About the time of the First World War, the Domum Laundry was built on the north end of the wharf, the buildings of which lasted until the early 1970s. Whilst Domum House (much enlarged from the 19th century Domum Cottage) still stands, the adjacent wharf is now occupied by modern houses and no trace of the wharf now remains.
On the west bank about 40 yards south of the Old Barge Cottages (on the east bank), there used to be small dock probably used for maintaining the barges and possibly to build new ones. This had disappeared by 1895, probably at the time that the first of Winchester College’s boathouses was built a little to the north of the dock and which in turn has disappeared.
Domum Wharf to Tun Bridge
The waterway to St Catherine Lock is reasonably well maintained, being used for rowing by Winchester College and is occasionally dredged to a depth of around 4 feet. On the east bank are the playing fields known as Palmer Field. On the opposite side of the canal are the former water meadows which, adjacent to the Navigation, are now rather overgrown with trees. This area extending between Wharf and Tun Bridges is now known as Fallodon Nature Reserve and is crossed by a number permissive public paths.
South of Domum Wharf, the Navigation used to be crossed by a wooden footbridge built in 1928 to a design based on the “Mathematical Bridge” at Queens’ College, Cambridge. Further details can be found on the Queens’ College website. However, the bridge was declared unsafe and demolished in Summer 1976 shortly after the photograph below was taken.
Several of the pictures on this page are shown by kind permission of Marie Keates. A keen walker, she has written about and illustrated several attempts to walk the full length of the Navigation during 2013 in her blog at http://www.iwalkalone.co.uk. She has walked along all or parts of the Navigation often since then: all illustrated with some excellent photographs.