Itchen Navigation: Description
Wood Mill - Northam

Distance: 2.0 miles


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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.

Today it is possible to walk beside the river for nearly a mile through Riverside Park as far as Cobden Bridge. This bridge was originally opened in 1883 having been built by the developer of the new housing at Bitterne Park on the east side of the river. It was extensively rebuilt and widened by Southampton Corporation in 1926-28. It thus post-dates the days when barges used the Navigation above Wood Mill.

One commercial traffic that continued to use the tidal river until the 1990's started from Portswood Sewage Works. This involved a barge that carried sewage sludge for dumping at sea off the Isle of Wight. This practice was banned by the European Union from 1998.

It is impossible to walk directly beside the river below Cobden Bridge although it is possible to approach the river at a number of points on either bank. To reach Northam on foot or by car it is necessary to follow roads to Bitterne Station and then follow the main road (A3024) towards the centre of Southampton.

The railway bridge downstream of Cobden Bridge was opened in 1866 by the Southampton and Netley Railway to serve the new military hospital at Netley. This was just before the demise of the Itchen Navigation and evidence about the way the barges were worked on the tidal Itchen was given when the railway company's bill came before Parliament. The bridge consists of three spans supported by two pairs of iron cylindrical columns in the river. Although repairs have been made to the bridge, its appearance remains unchanged.

The first Northam Bridge was opened in 1799 as part of the new turnpike road from Southampton to Bursledon which is on the way to Portsmouth. The bridge was mainly wooden and was replaced by an iron bridge in 1889. The toll was removed from the bridge when it was bought by Southampton Corporation in 1929. The present bridge is the third to cross the river and was opened in 1954. It was the first major pre-stressed concrete road bridge built in the UK. Whilst the causeway which led to the second bridge can be seen on the east side of the river, nothing else survives of either the first or second bridges.

The Navigation wharf at Northam Quay used to be situated just downstream of the bridge on the west bank, but the area has completely changed in the one hundred and forty years since barges ceased trading to Winchester. The site of the northern end of the quay is very close to the face of the current quay, but high water mark in the early 1800's is now 25 yards inland.

Northam Quay was the furthest that laden sea-going vessels could reliably go up the River Itchen even before the road bridge was built. It also had the advantage that it was outside the town of Southampton and therefore avoided the port dues payable when using the port of Southampton.

Northam Quay had the benefit of the Northam Quay Tramway which, from 1840, connected with the new main line railway. The tramway was soon extended to serve other adjacent wharves and shipyards and it survived until 1984. In fact, the tramway would not have been of much benefit to the Navigation - indeed, if anything, the reverse was probably true as it would allow the railway company to compete on carrying goods between Northam and Winchester.

It was usual to transfer cargoes overside from ship to barge (or vice versa) rather than land them on the quay - it seems likely that this avoided double handling and paying any wharfage charges. However, regulations were made that a certain number of vessels had to land at the quay.


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Text © Southampton Canal Society 1999 - 2010.
Pictures © Peter Oates 2003 - 2010. Pictures on or accessed through this page may not be reproduced without the express permission of the Web Site manager.

Page created 17 June 1999 - picture gallery created 30 April 2003 - description and pictures combined and expanded with new layout 25 January 2010 - content updated 25 January 2010.


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