Itchen Navigation: A Portrait

Wood Mill - Cobden Bridge

Distance: 0.9 mile (1.4 km)

Wood Mill

The current brick Wood Mill was built after the two wooden mills on the site burnt down in 1824. There has been a mill here since at least medieval times (and probably since before Domesday). In 1875 it had a single waterwheel. Before 1922 this was replaced by turbines. However, in the 1930s the supply of water from the river became unreliable due to water abstraction upstream at Otterbourne Water Works, so Southampton Corporation (then owners of the works) bought the mill. The mill was still used as a mill until 1954. Between 1958 and 1964, parts of the mill complex were demolished, including the house. The buildings are used today as an activity centre, mainly for canoeing and kayaking.

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 accessed from Woodmill Lane.

Aerial view of Wood Mill

Aerial view of Wood Mill seen from the east with the tidal river beyond.
Image date: 16 Jul 2016. © David Dixon (cc-by-sa/2.0). Image from www.geograph.org.uk. NG Ref: SU446150. WGS84: 50° 55′ 58″ N 1° 21′ 58″ W.

Aerial view of Wood Mill
Aerial view of Wood Mill

Aerial view of Wood Mill seen from the east.
Image date: 16 Jul 2016.
NG Ref: SU446150.
WGS84: 50° 55′ 58″ N 1° 21′ 58″ W.

(109.7KB)

Wood Mill

Wood Mill at low tide from downstream.
Image date: Autumn 1975. Image scanned from slide. © 2010 Charles Hockley. NG Ref: SU438152. WGS84: 50° 56′ 05″ N 1° 22′ 37″ W.

Wood Mill at low tide
Wood Mill

Wood Mill at low tide from downstream.
Image date: Autumn 1975.
NG Ref: SU438152.
WGS84: 50° 56′ 05″ N 1° 22′ 37″ W.

(56.0KB)

Wood Mill from the west

Postcard showing Wood Mill from the west.
Image date: c1905. Image from postcard produced by F G O Stuart. NG Ref: SU438152. WGS84: 50° 56′ 07″ N 1° 22′ 39″ W.

Wood Mill from the west
Wood Mill from the west

Postcard showing Wood Mill from the west.
Image date: c1905.
NG Ref: SU438152.
WGS84: 50° 56′ 07″ N 1° 22′ 39″ W.

(62.2KB)

Wood Mill from the west

Postcard showing Wood Mill and on the left the arch leading to the Salmon Pool into which Monks Brook flows.
Image date: Before 1913. Image from postcard posted in May 1913. NG Ref: SU437152. WGS84: 50° 56′ 05″ N 1° 22′ 42″ W.

Wood Mill from the west
Wood Mill from the west

Postcard showing Wood Mill and on the left the arch leading to the Salmon Pool.
Image date: Before 1913.
NG Ref: SU437152.
WGS84: 50° 56′ 05″ N 1° 22′ 42″ W.

(38.4KB)

Wood Mill

Wood Mill from the south west.
Image date: 31 May 1976. Image scanned from slide. © 2010 Peter Oates. NG Ref: SU438151. WGS84: 50° 56′ 03″ N 1° 22′ 37″ W.

Wood Mill from the south west
Wood Mill

Wood Mill from the south west.
Image date: 31 May 1976.
NG Ref: SU438151.
WGS84: 50° 56′ 03″ N 1° 22′ 37″ W.

(65.5KB)

Wood Mill from the south west

Canoeists just below Wood Mill at low tide.
Image date: 17 Feb 2019. © 2019 Peter Oates. NG Ref: SU438151. WGS84: 50° 56′ 04″ N 1° 22′ 38″ W.

Wood Mill from the south west
Wood Mill from the south west

Canoeists just below Wood Mill at low tide.
Image date: 17 Feb 2019.
NG Ref: SU438151.
WGS84: 50° 56′ 04″ N 1° 22′ 38″ W.

(81.2KB)

Wood Mill

Wood Mill from the south east at low tide.
Image date: 31 Dec 2015. © 2015 Marie Keates. Image from www.iwalkalone.co.uk. NG Ref: SU439151. WGS84: 50° 56′ 03″ N 1° 22′ 34″ W.

Wood Mill from the south east at low tide
Wood Mill

Wood Mill from the south east at low tide.
Image date: 31 Dec 2015.
NG Ref: SU439151.
WGS84: 50° 56′ 03″ N 1° 22′ 34″ W.

(86.3KB)

Wood Mill

Wood Mill from the south east at high tide.
Image date: 13 Apr 2014. © 2014 Marie Keates. Image from www.iwalkalone.co.uk. NG Ref: SU439151. WGS84: 50° 56′ 03″ N 1° 22′ 32″ W.

Wood Mill from the south east at high tide
Wood Mill

Wood Mill from the south east at high tide.
Image date: 13 Apr 2014.
NG Ref: SU439151.
WGS84: 50° 56′ 03″ N 1° 22′ 32″ W.

(56.8KB)

Wood Mill

The Wood Mill workforce.
Image date: c1900. NG Ref: SU439152. WGS84: 50° 56′ 05″ N 1° 22′ 35″ W.

The Wood Mill workforce
Wood Mill

The Wood Mill workforce.
Image date: c1900.
NG Ref: SU439152.
WGS84: 50° 56′ 05″ N 1° 22′ 35″ W.

(56.6KB)

Wood Mill

Wood Mill photographed by Thomas Hibberd James. Imagine this scene happening today!
Image date: c1900. NG Ref: SU439152. WGS84: 50° 56′ 06″ N 1° 22′ 33″ W.

Wood Mill
Wood Mill

Wood Mill photographed by Thomas Hibberd James. Imagine this scene happening today!
Image date: c1900.
NG Ref: SU439152.
WGS84: 50° 56′ 06″ N 1° 22′ 33″ W.

(86.3KB)

Wood Mill

Woodmill Lane outside the mill.
Image date: 14 Apr 2015. © 2015 Marie Keates. Image from www.iwalkalone.co.uk. NG Ref: SU439152. WGS84: 50° 56′ 05″ N 1° 22′ 35″ W.

Wood Mill
Wood Mill

Woodmill Lane outside the mill.
Image date: 14 Apr 2015.
NG Ref: SU439152.
WGS84: 50° 56′ 05″ N 1° 22′ 35″ W.

(88.8KB)

Looking east from outside Wood Mill

Looking east from outside Wood Mill towards the Navigation.
Image date: 13 Jul 2005. © GaryReggae (cc-by-sa/2.0). NG Ref: SU439152. WGS84: 50° 56′ 06″ N 1° 22′ 35″ W.

Looking east from outside Wood Mill
Looking east from outside Wood Mill

Looking east from outside Wood Mill towards the Navigation.
Image date: 13 Jul 2005.
NG Ref: SU439152.
WGS84: 50° 56′ 06″ N 1° 22′ 35″ W.

(81.6KB)

Wood Mill

Wood Mill from the site of Woodmill Lock.
Image date: 17 Feb 2019. © 2019 Peter Oates. NG Ref: SU439151. WGS84: 50° 56′ 04″ N 1° 22′ 31″ W.

Wood Mill
Wood Mill

Wood Mill from the site of Woodmill Lock.
Image date: 17 Feb 2019.
NG Ref: SU439151.
WGS84: 50° 56′ 04″ N 1° 22′ 31″ W.

(53.8KB)

Further pictures of the area around the mill may be found in the previous section of this portrait: Mans Bridge to Wood Mill.

Wood Mill to Cobden Bridge

The tidal river downstream of Wood Mill was considered part of the Navigation and tolls were charged on cargoes carried to and from Northam that passed through Woodmill Lock. Although powers were given by Act of Parliament in 1795 to canalise the river down to Northam, these were never exercised. A towing path below Wood Mill was never constructed and the barges used wind and tide to help work up and down stream.

Riverside Park, on the east bank of the river, extends downstream from Mans Bridge as far as Cobden Bridge. Before the First World War, much of the area that is now park below Wood Mill consisted of foreshore or marshland liable to flooding on high tides. Southampton Corporation started reclamation near Cobden Bridge between the wars but it was the mid-1960s before work was finished. There was both official and unofficial tipping of rubbish including debris from Second World War bombing raids. Today, it is possible to walk through the pleasant surroundings of Riverside Park close to the river for nearly a mile from Wood Mill as far as Cobden Bridge.

One commercial traffic that continued to use the tidal river until the 1990s started from Portswood Sewage Waste Water Treatment Works across the river from Riverside Park. This involved a motorised barge that carried sewage sludge for dumping at sea off the Isle of Wight. This practice was banned by the European Union from 1998. Subsequently, sewage sludge was taken by a towed barge from Portswood to Marchwood on the west side of the tidal River Test for further processing - eventually into agricultural fertiliser. Known locally as the “Poo Barge”, the boat used to have to ensure that the river level was low enough to get under Cobden and St Denys Railway Bridges but not too low so to avoid running aground. However, Southern Water said the barge had reached the end of its operational lifespan in April 2020 and it appears that four road tankers a day, on residential roads, are now used instead! The planning authority have said they are unable to insist that the transport continues by water.

Boat in the garden

The houses on the southern side of Oliver Road back onto the upper tidal reaches of the River Itchen, and several have somewhere to park the boat.
Image date: 13 Apr 2007. © Jim Champion (cc-by-sa/2.0). Image from www.geograph.org.uk. NG Ref: SU438151. WGS84: 50° 56′ 04″ N 1° 22′ 39″ W.

There's a boat in the garden
Boat in the garden

The houses on the southern side of Oliver Road back onto the upper tidal reaches of the River Itchen, and several have somewhere to park the boat.
Image date: 13 Apr 2007.
NG Ref: SU438151.
WGS84: 50° 56′ 04″ N 1° 22′ 39″ W.

(88.4KB)

Wood Mill from downstream

Looking east (upstream) to Wood Mill from near the Southampton University Watersports Centre.
Image date: 3 Jun 2007. © Simon (cc-by-sa/2.0). Image from www.geograph.org.uk. NG Ref: SU436151. WGS84: 50° 56′ 04″ N 1° 22′ 46″ W.

Wood Mill from downstream
Wood Mill from downstream

Looking east (upstream) to Wood Mill from near the Southampton University Watersports Centre.
Image date: 3 Jun 2007.
NG Ref: SU436151.
WGS84: 50° 56′ 04″ N 1° 22′ 46″ W.

(64.3KB)

University Boat Club

Southampton University Watersports Centre at low tide.
Image date: 13 Apr 2003. © 2003 Peter Oates. NG Ref: SU437151. WGS84: 50° 56′ 01″ N 1° 22′ 44″ W.

University Boat Club
University Boat Club

Southampton University Watersports Centre at low tide.
Image date: 13 Apr 2003.
NG Ref: SU437151.
WGS84: 50° 56′ 01″ N 1° 22′ 44″ W.

(58.7KB)

Looking towards Cobden Bridge

Looking downstream towards Cobden Bridge with Riverside Park to the left and Portswood Waste Water Treatment Works on the right.
Image date: 13 Apr 2007. © Jim Champion (cc-by-sa/2.0). Image from www.geograph.org.uk. NG Ref: SU436148. WGS84: 50° 55′ 54″ N 1° 22′ 47″ W.

Looking towards Cobden Bridge
Looking towards Cobden Bridge

Looking downstream towards Cobden Bridge with Riverside Park to the left and Portswood Waste Water Treatment Works on the right.
Image date: 13 Apr 2007.
NG Ref: SU436148.
WGS84: 50° 55′ 54″ N 1° 22′ 47″ W.

(53.0KB)

Portswood Waste Water Treatment Works

Portswood Waste Water Treatment Works was the starting point for the last waterborne commercial traffic above Northam Bridge.
Image date: 13 Apr 2003. © 2003 Peter Oates. NG Ref: SU436145. WGS84: 50° 55′ 43″ N 1° 22′ 48″ W.

Portswood Waste Water Treatment Works
Portswood Waste Water Treatment Works

Portswood Waste Water Treatment Works was the starting point for the last waterborne commercial traffic above Northam Bridge.
Image date: 13 Apr 2003.
NG Ref: SU436145.
WGS84: 50° 55′ 43″ N 1° 22′ 48″ W.

(59.4KB)

“Poo Barge”

The sludge barge and its tug ‘Wyedawake’ apparently having to wait for the tide to go down a little so they can go under Cobden and St Denys Railway Bridges.
Image date: 29 Mar 2018. © 2018 bitternepark.info. NG Ref: SU438140. WGS84: 50° 55′ 28″ N 1° 22′ 41″ W.

The sludge (or “Poo Barge”) barge
“Poo Barge”

The sludge barge and its tug apparently having to wait for the tide to go down a little so they can go under Cobden and St Denys Railway Bridges.
Image date: 29 Mar 2018.
NG Ref: SU438140.
WGS84: 50° 55′ 28″ N 1° 22′ 41″ W.

(45.8KB)

Riverside Park looking south

Looking downstream towards Cobden Bridge beside Riverside Park.
Image date: 26 May 2015. © Hugh Venables (cc-by-sa/2.0). Image from www.geograph.org.uk. NG Ref: SU436145. WGS84: 50° 55′ 43″ N 1° 22′ 48″ W.

Riverside Park looking towards Cobden Bridge
Riverside Park looking south

Looking downstream towards Cobden Bridge with Riverside Park to the left and Portswood Waste Water Treatment Works on the right.
Image date: 13 Apr 2007.
NG Ref: SU436145.
WGS84: 50° 55′ 43″ N 1° 22′ 48″ W.

(55.6KB)

Rowing on the river

Coxed fours practising on the river.
Image date: 14 Jun 2015. © 2015 Marie Keates. Image from www.iwalkalone.co.uk. NG Ref: SU436144. WGS84: 50° 55′ 39″ N 1° 22′ 47″ W.

Rowing on the river
Rowing on the river

Coxed fours practising on the river.
Image date: 14 Jun 2015.
NG Ref: SU436144.
WGS84: 50° 55′ 39″ N 1° 22′ 47″ W.

(54.0KB)

Feeding the swans

These swans are having their elevenses from a pontoon moored to Riverside Park.
Image date: 4 Mar 2013. © Shazz (cc-by-sa/2.0). Image from www.geograph.org.uk. NG Ref: SU437143. WGS84: 50° 55′ 38″ N 1° 22′ 47″ W.

Feeding the swans
Feeding the swans

These swans are having their elevenses from a pontoon moored to Riverside Park.
Image date: 4 Mar 2013.
NG Ref: SU437143.
WGS84: 50° 55′ 38″ N 1° 22′ 47″ W.

(48.5KB)

Black swans

A number of black swans can often be seen on the tidal River Itchen, often together with the more usual mute swans.
Image date: 23 Aug 2018. © Des Blenkinsopp (cc-by-sa/2.0). Image from www.geograph.org.uk. NG Ref: SU437143. WGS84: 50° 55′ 36″ N 1° 22′ 45″ W.

Black swans
Black swans

A number of black swans can often be seen on the tidal River Itchen.
Image date: 23 Aug 2018.
NG Ref: SU437143.
WGS84: 50° 55′ 36″ N 1° 22′ 45″ W.

(63.5KB)

Cobden Bridge

The first Cobden Bridge was originally opened in 1883. It was built of iron by the National Liberal Land Company, the developer of new housing at Bitterne Park on the east side of the river. It was named after Richard Cobden, a prominent Liberal politician. It was often known as Cobden Free Bridge as until 1929 a toll was payable to use Northam Bridge. It was rebuilt and widened by Southampton Corporation in 1926-28 and renovated in 1979-80. It thus post-dates the days when barges used the Navigation above Wood Mill.

Cobden Bridge from upstream

Cobden Bridge at low tide from upstream.
Image date: 13 Apr 2003. © 2003 Peter Oates. NG Ref: SU437143. WGS84: 50° 55′ 37″ N 1° 22′ 46″ W.

Cobden Bridge from upstream
Cobden Bridge from upstream

Cobden Bridge at low tide from upstream.
Image date: 13 Apr 2003.
NG Ref: SU437143.
WGS84: 50° 55′ 37″ N 1° 22′ 46″ W.

(50.2KB)

The original Cobden Bridge

The original Cobden Bridge built in 1883.
Image date: Before 1905. Image from: Postcard posted in 1909. NG Ref: SU439139. WGS84: 50° 55′ 25″ N 1° 22′ 34″ W.

The original Cobden Bridge
The original Cobden Bridge

The original Cobden Bridge built in 1883.
Image date: Before 1905.
NG Ref: SU439139.
WGS84: 50° 55′ 25″ N 1° 22′ 34″ W.

(67.2KB)

The original Cobden Bridge

The roadway of the original Cobden Bridge looking east towards Bitterne Park. Trams first crossed the bridge in 1902.
Image date: Before 1914. Image from unposted postcard by F G O Stuart. NG Ref: SU437140. WGS84: 50° 55′ 28″ N 1° 22′ 43″ W.

The original Cobden Bridge
The original Cobden Bridge

The roadway of the original Cobden Bridge looking east towards Bitterne Park.
Image date: Before 1914. Image from unposted postcard.
NG Ref: SU437140.
WGS84: 50° 55′ 28″ N 1° 22′ 43″ W.

(65.9KB)

Cobden Bridge plaque

Commemorative plaque detailing the 1926-28 reconstruction of the bridge.
Image date: 22 Mar 2010. © Alex McGregor (cc-by-sa/2.0). Image from www.geograph.org.uk. NG Ref: SU437140. WGS84: 50° 55′ 28″ N 1° 22′ 46″ W.

Cobden Bridge plaque
Cobden Bridge plaque

Commemorative plaque detailing the 1926-28 reconstruction of the bridge.
Image date: 22 Mar 2010.
NG Ref: SU437140.
WGS84: 50° 55′ 28″ N 1° 22′ 46″ W.

(92.1KB)

Cobden Bridge

Looking upstream at Cobden Bridge linking Bitterne Park on the right (east) with St Denys on the left.
Image date: 24 Jan 2004. © Dave Jacobs (cc-by-sa/2.0). Image from www.geograph.org.uk. NG Ref: SU438140. WGS84: 50° 55′ 26″ N 1° 22′ 39″ W.

Cobden Bridge
Cobden Bridge

Looking upstream at Cobden Bridge linking Bitterne Park on the right (east) with St Denys on the left.
Image date: 24 Jan 2004.
NG Ref: SU438140.
WGS84: 50° 55′ 26″ N 1° 22′ 39″ W.

(61.4KB)

Above Cobden Bridge

View upstream from west end of Cobden Bridge.
Image date: 13 Apr 2003. © 2003 Peter Oates. NG Ref: SU437140. WGS84: 50° 55′ 28″ N 1° 22′ 45″ W.

Above Cobden Bridge
Above Cobden Bridge

View upstream from west end of Cobden Bridge.
Image date: 13 Apr 2003.
NG Ref: SU437140.
WGS84: 50° 55′ 28″ N 1° 22′ 45″ W.

(51.3KB)

Above Cobden Bridge

View upstream from east end of Cobden Bridge. Note the parched grass in Riverside Park in the summer of 1976!
Image date: Summer 1976. Image scanned from slide. © 2003 Peter Oates. NG Ref: SU438140. WGS84: 50° 55′ 28″ N 1° 22′ 40″ W.

Above Cobden Bridge
Above Cobden Bridge

View upstream from east end of Cobden Bridge. Note the parched grass in Riverside Park in the summer of 1976!
Image date: Summer 1976.
NG Ref: SU438140.
WGS84: 50° 55′ 28″ N 1° 22′ 40″ W.

(57.3KB)

The upper tidal river

Aerial view of the upper part of the tidal river seen from the south.
Image date: August 1932. © Historic England. Image from Britain from Above.
Other images in the vicinity may accessed via the Britain from Above website. Approx NG Ref: SU435134. Approx WGS84: 50° 55′ 07″ N 1° 22′ 54″ W.

The upper tidal river
The upper tidal river

Aerial view of the upper part of the tidal river seen from the south.
Image date: August 1932.
Approx NG Ref: SU435134.
Approx WGS84: 50° 55′ 07″ N 1° 22′ 54″ W.

(79.3KB)

Aerial view of Cobden Bridge

Aerial view of Cobden Bridge seen from the south-east.
Image date: 6 Jul 2016. © David Dixon (cc-by-sa/2.0). Image from www.geograph.org.uk. Approx NG Ref: SU441138. Approx WGS84: 50° 55′ 21″ N 1° 22′ 26″ W.

Aerial view of Cobden Bridge
Aerial view of Cobden Bridge

Aerial view of Cobden Bridge seen from the south-east.
Image date: 6 Jul 2016.
Approx NG Ref: SU441138.
Approx WGS84: 50° 55′ 21″ N 1° 22′ 26″ W.

(101.4KB)

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 https://www.iwalkalone.co.uk. She has walked along all or parts of the Navigation often since then: all illustrated with some excellent photographs.