Titchfield Canal

History

Map of the Titchfield Canal

An extract from the Ordnance Survey One Inch map surveyed in 1806-7. It shows a wide inlet west of Hill Head open to the Solent with the canal running north to Titchfield.

Very little is known about this waterway; it does not appear in the standard canal history books. There are those that claim that the canal was not intended for navigation but was built as an irrigation or drainage ditch. It seems that there is little firm evidence one way or the other. In medieval times, Titchfield was a market town and port at the head of navigation on the west bank of the tidal River Meon. The small town/village lies about two miles upstream from The Solent. It seems that by the beginning of the 17th century, silting was making navigation of the estuary increasingly difficult. For this and other reasons, trade in Titchfield was declining.

In 1537, upon the Dissolution, land that included Titchfield Abbey was given to Thomas Wriothesley. A loyal servant of the crown, he was knighted in 1544 and three years later became Earl of Southampton. The third earl, Henry, was associated with Shakespeare and also became involved in Catholic plots against Queen Elizabeth I. He spent several years in the Tower before being released by James I. He was responsible for a number of developments in the Titchfield area: the building of ironworks at Funtley, Stony Bridge across the river near the Abbey, and the market hall in the town. He was also responsible for a full scale survey of the area from which a map was drawn up in 1610.

The biggest work, however, was the construction of a dyke or dam across the mouth of the River Meon at Hill Head making the river non-tidal. This part of the river is still called Titchfield Haven. The estuary of the river was about 600 yards wide and, although the mouth may have been partially blocked by a natural shingle spit, this was still a substantial undertaking.

On 24 June 1611 the parish register notes that “the same day Titchfield Haven was shutt out by one Richard Talbotts industrie under gods permisione at the costs of the right honorable the Earle of Southampton”. This has been taken by some to mean that a dam was built across the entrance to the river in 1611 preventing access to Titchfield by sea-going vessels. However, precisely what was done in 1611 is unknown. In addition, it has been said that the Titchfield Canal, or ‘New River’ as it was originally known, was built to provide a navigable replacement but no contemporary evidence has been found to confirm this idea.

It seems that in the 1670s additional extensive work was done in the Meon Estuary. In 1739, elderly residents stated in court that boats sailed up to Titchfield within their lifetimes. This was stopped when the heirs of the Earl constructed a barrier across the river. They were unclear about when this happened but their evidence could cover the 1670s as the time the river was shut off. Further, statements were made in the Titchfield Manorial Court in 1676 that the Lord of the Manor had cut the New River and “hath taken away and doth detain” parts of the copyholds of two tenants. This implies that the New River had been dug recently.

There is scant information about the exact reasons for building either the dam or canal. However, the result was that the estuary was flooded with fresh water, the level being controlled by sluices in the dam. This led to rapid silting up which created a large area of fertile land, which could be irrigated and flooded at will.

The local tradition is that the canal was constructed to maintain trade to the town and local industries. However, recent, extensive, local research would now seem to indicate that the canal was built not for navigation but to enable the adjacent meadows to be irrigated with fresh water. The canal runs along the west side of the Meon Valley just a few feet above mean sea level. Old maps show an inlet at Meon Shore on the west side of the estuary into which the canal ran.

The dimensions of the waterway mean that sea-going vessels could not have navigated to Titchfield, so transhipment to small boats would have been necessary. Obviously, such an arrangement would not be as convenient as prior to construction of the dam. No details have been discovered about the sort of boats that might have used the canal. By the 18th century, records state that no navigation was possible leaving it serving as an irrigation ditch. Old maps show many sluices under the ‘towing’ path most of which seem to no longer exist.

Remains of the Canal: A Portrait

Introduction

A portrait in words and pictures of the route of the Titchfield Canal from north to south is given below.

Each image is a link to a larger version of the picture. In a modern browser with Javascript enabled, this will open within this window - otherwise the larger image will replace the contents of this window (use your browser’s back button to return to the parent page). For those using devices such as phones with limited data allowances, the size of the larger version is given in brackets after the caption.

Included with each picture is an Ordnance Survey National Grid Reference (OSGB36) of the image viewpoint given to 100 metres. For those using GPS devices, the latitude and longitude (in WGS84) of this position is also given by default in degrees, minutes and seconds to the nearest second. One second of arc in latitude is approximately 30 metres and for longitude in this part of Hampshire just under 20 metres. For those who prefer (and who have JavaScript enabled), these WGS84 values can be displayed instead as decimal degrees or degrees and decimal minutes by choosing the settings icon at the foot of the page.

It is possible to walk alongside the canal as a public footpath runs along the east bank for most its length. The channel is readily discernible albeit a bit overgrown in places especially in summer. After periods of heavy rainfall,the canal can overflow the footpath in places which in turn can become muddy particularly in winter.

Titchfield to Posbrook Bridge

Water for the canal leaves the river in the vicinity of Stony Bridge near Titchfield Abbey. This passes under the A27 Southampton Road and under the old road that the A27 now by-passes. It is not known how far upstream the waterway may been navigable but the site of a tannery (now an industrial estate) lies at the bottom of East Street next to the waterway and north of the A27 by-pass lies Titchfield Mill (now a restaurant). However, the public footpath alongside the waterway starts from a footbridge behind St Peter’s Church in Titchfield. Old Ordnance Survey maps do not suggest that the footpath went any further north. It is likely that the wharf for the town would have been in this area. It is tempting to think that brickwork along the bank here marks this site.

About 200 yards south of the footbridge, Bridge Street is reached. The road crosses the canal with less than two feet of headroom. Just south of the road lies a car park useful for walkers.

Footbridge across the canal
Footbridge across the canal

The footbridge across the canal near St Peter’s Church.
Image date: 19 May 2012. © Shazz (cc-by-sa/2.0). Image from www.geograph.org.uk. NG Ref: SU541057. WGS84: 50° 50′ 56″ N 1° 13′ 58″ W.

Footbridge across the canal

The footbridge across the canal near St Peter’s Church.
Image date: 19 May 2012.
NG Ref: SU541057.
WGS84: 50° 50′ 56″ N 1° 13′ 58″ W.

(90.0KB)

Looking north from Bridge Street
Looking north from Bridge Street

Looking north towards St Peter’s Church.
Image date: June 2019. © 2019 Google. Image from Google Street View. NG Ref: SU541055. WGS84: 50° 50′ 47″ N 1° 14′ 00″ W.

Looking north from Bridge Street

Looking north towards St Peter’s Church.
Image date: June 2019.
NG Ref: SU541055.
WGS84: 50° 50′ 47″ N 1° 14′ 00″ W.

(77.4KB)

Looking south towards Titchfield Haven
Looking south towards Titchfield Haven

Looking south from Bridge Street. The car park entrance is near the electricity pole.
Image date: June 2019. © 2019 Google. Image from Google Street View. NG Ref: SU541055. WGS84: 50° 50′ 47″ N 1° 14′ 00″ W.

Looking south towards Titchfield Haven.

Looking south from Bridge Street.
Image date: June 2019.
NG Ref: SU541055.
WGS84: 50° 50′ 47″ N 1° 14′ 00″ W.

(79.9KB)

The canal and its accompanying footpath continue southward towards the sea through pleasant countryside. A few years ago, the path between the car park and Posbrook Bridge was surfaced although it is a little narrow for wheelchair users. Along part of this length, a fence was erected between the path and the canal.

On the east side of the path is the Titchfield Haven National Nature Reserve which extends south to the sea. This covers 369 acres of the floor of the Meon Valley, encompassing a mosaic of natural habitats. River, fen, pools, reedbed and meadow are managed, giving protection to a range of special wildlife. Water Voles were re-introduced in 2013 and Ratty can now frequently be seen in the canal and ditches on the Reserve.

In less than half a mile from Bridge Street, the first bridge over the canal is encountered, known locally as Posbrook Bridge. With two small arches for the waterway, it is a low brick structure built to enable farm access to the meadows east of the waterway. It is more modern than the canal but presumably replaced an earlier structure. If the canal was indeed navigable at one time, the original structure was probably a wooden swing or lift bridge.

The path south of the car park
The path south of the car park

Looking towards the Solent from near the car park. This part of the path has been surfaced and a fence erected between the path and the canal.
Image date: 26 Feb 2019. © Chris Gunns (cc-by-sa/2.0). Image from www.geograph.org.uk. NG Ref: SU541054. WGS84: 50° 50′ 45″ N 1° 13′ 58″ W.

The path south of the car park

Looking towards the Solent from near the car park.
Image date: 26 Feb 2019.
NG Ref: SU541054.
WGS84: 50° 50′ 45″ N 1° 13′ 58″ W.

(103.2KB)

250 yards north of Posbrook Bridge
250 yards north of Posbrook Bridge

In the shadow of a tree quarter of a mile from Bridge Street.
Image date: 26 Feb 2019. © Chris Gunns (cc-by-sa/2.0). Image from www.geograph.org.uk. NG Ref: SU540051. WGS84: 50° 50′ 34″ N 1° 14′ 02″ W.

250 yards north of Posbrook Bridge

In the shadow of a tree quarter of a mile from Bridge Street.
Image date: 26 Feb 2019.
NG Ref: SU540051.
WGS84: 50° 50′ 34″ N 1° 14′ 02″ W.

(94.8KB)

Posbrook Bridge
Posbrook Bridge

A surfaced access road from Great Posbrook Farm crosses this bridge and continues south alongside the canal. Recent refurbishment work south of the bridge included steps to ease access for dogs to the water.
Image date: 3 Nov 2016. © 2016 Frank 4+4. Image from franks4x4-solograndetour.blogspot.com. NG Ref: SU539048. WGS84: 50° 50′ 26″ N 1° 14′ 06″ W.

Posbrook Bridge

A surfaced access road from Great Posbrook Farm crosses this bridge and continues south alongside the canal.
Image date: 3 Nov 2016.
NG Ref: SU539048.
WGS84: 50° 50′ 26″ N 1° 14′ 06″ W.

(87.6KB)

Posbrook Bridge to Meon Marsh Sea Lock

Immediately downstream of Posbrook Bridge, refurbishment work included steps in the wooden piling to ease access for dogs to the water. This was one of three such sets of steps built at that time to help prevent erosion of the bank when dogs scramble in and out of the water.

For about 600 yards south of the bridge, the public path uses a surfaced access road which runs beside the canal. Again a fence has recently been built between the two to prevent large animals entering the water.

After the access road comes to an end, the path is well used but unsurfaced. In places and when the canal overflows after rain, the path can become rather muddy.

Access road next to the canal
Access road next to the canal

A view south along the surfaced access road from Posbrook Bridge. In recent years a fence has been erected between the road and the canal.
Image date: 26 Feb 2019. © Chris Gunns (cc-by-sa/2.0). Image from www.geograph.org.uk. NG Ref: SU539048. WGS84: 50° 50′ 25″ N 1° 14′ 06″ W.

Access road next to the canal

A view south along the surfaced access road from Posbrook Bridge.
Image date: 26 Feb 2019.
NG Ref: SU539048.
WGS84: 50° 50′ 25″ N 1° 14′ 06″ W.

(111.4KB)

Flooding across the footpath
Flooding across the footpath

Looking towards Meon Shore from near Little Posbrook. In wet weather parts of the path can become flooded with water flowing out of the canal.
Image date: 19 May 2012. © Shazz (cc-by-sa/2.0). Image from www.geograph.org.uk. NG Ref: SU539042. WGS84: 50° 50′ 05″ N 1° 14′ 09″ W.

Flooding across the footpath

Looking towards Meon Shore from near Little Posbrook.
Image date: 19 May 2012.
NG Ref: SU539042.
WGS84: 50° 50′ 05″ N 1° 14′ 09″ W.

(81.7KB)

Looking north near Little Posbrook
Looking north near Little Posbrook

Looking towards Titchfield with the Nature Reserve on the right and the canal some 15 yards to the left.
Image date: 29 Jun 2008. © Chris Wimbush (cc-by-sa/2.0). Image from www.geograph.org.uk. NG Ref: SU539040. WGS84: 50° 50′ 01″ N 1° 14′ 09″ W.

Looking north near Little Posbrook

Looking towards Titchfield with the Nature Reserve on the right and the canal some 15 yards to the left.
Image date: 29 Jun 2008.
NG Ref: SU539040.
WGS84: 50° 50′ 01″ N 1° 14′ 09″ W.

(100.6KB)

The next feature of note is the private bridge across the canal near Lower Posbrook Farm which is three quarters of a mile south of Posbrook Bridge. This differs from the previous bridge as it is a more utilitarian steel girder structure with very limited headroom above the water. It appears to be little used as some vegetation has grown up between the path and the gates at the end of the bridge.

About a third of a mile further on is Hammond Bridge which appears to be a very similar brick structure to Posbrook Bridge. Crossing the canal, a public footpath runs along the edge of the field for about 130 yards then turns north along a track eventually returning to Titchfield.

Just over 300 yards beyond Hammond Bridge there is a concrete dam across the canal diverting the water flowing in the canal under the path into the Nature Reserve. This prevents too much water from entering the former tidal inlet beyond the sea lock but which is now landlocked.

South of the dam, there is usually some water in the canal but, without any flow, it is sometimes covered in duckweed. The Meon Marsh Sea Lock is a bit less than a quarter of a mile after the dam.

Disused bridge
Disused bridge

Judging from the vegetation in front of the gates, this more utilitarian steel girder bridge near Lower Posbrook Farm is little used.
Image date: 3 Nov 2016. © 2016 Frank 4+4. Image from franks4x4-solograndetour.blogspot.com. NG Ref: SU537037. WGS84: 50° 49′ 50″ N 1° 14′ 15″ W.

Disused bridge

Judging from the vegetation in front of the gates, this private bridge near Lower Posbrook Farm is little used.
Image date: 3 Nov 2016.
NG Ref: SU537037.
WGS84: 50° 49′ 50″ N 1° 14′ 15″ W.

(128.2KB)

Hammond Bridge
Hammond Bridge

Downstream view of Hammond Bridge which carries a public footpath that provides an alternative route to return to Titchfield.
Image date: 3 Nov 2016. © 2016 Frank 4+4. Image from franks4x4-solograndetour.blogspot.com. NG Ref: SU535032. WGS84: 50° 49′ 33″ N 1° 14′ 27″ W.

Hammond Bridge

Downstream view of Hammond Bridge which carries a public footpath.
Image date: 3 Nov 2016.
NG Ref: SU535032.
WGS84: 50° 49′ 33″ N 1° 14′ 27″ W.

(141.2KB)

A dam across the canal
A dam across the canal

This dam diverts water from the canal under the path and into the Titchfield Haven National Nature Reserve. The duckweed that affects the canal southwards can be seen to the left of the dam.
Image date: 3 Nov 2016. © 2016 Frank 4+4. Image from franks4x4-solograndetour.blogspot.com. NG Ref: SU534029. WGS84: 50° 49′ 25″ N 1° 14′ 35″ W.

A dam across the canal

This dam diverts water from the canal under the path and into the Nature Reserve.
Image date: 3 Nov 2016.
NG Ref: SU534029.
WGS84: 50° 49′ 25″ N 1° 14′ 35″ W.

(124.0KB)

Meon Marsh Sea Lock

At Meon Marsh Sea Lock, a road (called Meon Road) crosses the canal using this structure with a right-angled approach at each end. Major work on this structure was carried out in 1994 by Hampshire County Council and Fareham Borough Council as part of their “Meon Shore Sea Lock Restoration Scheme”. The structure is now a Grade II listed building. This is supposed to be the entrance to the canal from tidal waters.

If navigable, the sea lock would have probably consisted of a single gate or a single pair of gates which could have been opened to allow boats to pass through when the tide made a level with the water in the canal. It is quite possible that there was a second pair of gates which, instead of pointing upstream in a conventional manner, would have pointed towards the sea to prevent a very high tide from forcing open the other gates and allowing salt water to flow upstream.

If the waterway was never navigable, the "lock" would presumably have consisted of a sluice or set of sluices to allow water to be discharged into the sea.

The structure has been much altered over the 400 or so years since the canal was constructed. At some time, probably in the 18th century, the bridge that now carries the road was inserted between the lock walls. This was constructed of crudely-cut stone and has 3 small round arches.

View north from Meon Marsh Sea Lock
View north from Meon Marsh Sea Lock

The canal seen from the road over the sea lock. The path from Titchfield is on the right.
Image date: June 2019. © 2019 Google. Image from Google Street View. NG Ref: SU531027. WGS84: 50° 49′ 17″ N 1° 14′ 47″ W.

View north from Meon Marsh Sea Lock

The canal seen from the road over the sea lock. The path from Titchfield is on the right.
Image date: June 2019.
NG Ref: SU531027.
WGS84: 50° 49′ 17″ N 1° 14′ 47″ W.

(64.6KB)

Meon Marsh Sea Lock from the north
Meon Marsh Sea Lock from the north

The north side of the sea lock.
Image date: 3 Nov 2016. © 2016 Frank 4+4. Image from franks4x4-solograndetour.blogspot.com. NG Ref: SU531027.
WGS84: 50° 49′ 17″ N 1° 14′ 47″ W.

Meon Marsh Sea Lock from the north

The north side of the sea lock.
Image date: 3 Nov 2016.
NG Ref: SU531027.
WGS84: 50° 49′ 17″ N 1° 14′ 47″ W.

(90.7KB)

The south side of Meon Marsh Sea Lock
The south side of Meon Marsh Sea Lock

The sea lock seen from the road.
Image date: 23 Jun 2010. © Barry Shimmon (cc-by-sa/2.0). Image from www.geograph.org.uk. NG Ref: SU531027.
WGS84: 50° 49′ 17″ N 1° 14′ 48″ W.

The south side of Meon Marsh Sea Lock

The sea lock seen from the road.
Image date: 23 Jun 2010.
NG Ref: SU531027.
WGS84: 50° 49′ 17″ N 1° 14′ 48″ W.

(95.2KB)

Meon Marsh Sea Lock to The Solent

Below the lock, the waterway used to open out into a wide, triangular pond, several hundred yards long. Although it is now overgrown with reeds and bushes, this is the remains of the tidal inlet where, presumably, cargo was transhipped between sea-going vessels and barges. The entrance to this inlet is now blocked by a shingle bank.

The Old Series One-Inch Ordnance Survey mapping at one inch to one mile mapping surveyed in 1806-7 (see map at the top of this page) shows a fairly wide tidal inlet open to the sea. Large scale Ordnance Survey mapping surveyed in the 1860s shows the sea lock as the “Highest point to which Ordinary Tides flow”. A narrow channel only a few yards wide connected the inlet below the lock to the sea. By the 1895 revision of the map, the inlet has become a pond that is no longer connected to the sea.

It would appear that the shingle spit that blocked off the inlet was built up the sea washing material from the soft cliffs to the north-west of Titchfield Haven. This shingle spit is now occupied by a series buildings known as Meon Shore Chalets.

It should be noted that Meon Road is fairly narrow. It can be quite busy and is used as a ‘rat-run’ during rush-hours. There is public footpath that runs from a few yards north of the lock through the woodland beside the road on its eastern side. It should be noted that the water channels on this side of the road were NOT part of the canal.

There is car parking between the road and a sea wall east of the chalets for about quarter of a mile towards Hill Head although this can become quite crowded in fine weather.

Site of tidal inlet
Site of tidal inlet

The area of marsh in this picture was once part of a tidal inlet which extended up to the sea lock. This is now covered in reeds and, nearer the lock, by trees.
Image date: June 2019. © 2019 Google. Image from Google Street View. NG Ref: SU530026. WGS84: 50° 49′ 13″ N 1° 14′ 55″ W.

Site of tidal inlet

The area of marsh in this picture was once part of a tidal inlet which extended up to the sea lock.
Image date: June 2019.
NG Ref: SU530026.
WGS84: 50° 49′ 13″ N 1° 14′ 55″ W.

(65.6KB)

Meon Shore Chalets
Meon Shore Chalets from the foreshore

The mouth of the tidal inlet originally extended from the small cliff at the end of the chalets on the left to the rightmost chalets.
Image date: 22 Sep 2009. © Martin Speck (cc-by-sa/2.0). Image from www.geograph.org.uk. NG Ref: SU529023.
WGS84: 50° 49′ 05″ N 1° 14′ 58″ W.

Meon Shore Chalets from the foreshore

The mouth of the tidal inlet originally extended along most of the length today occupied by chalets.
Image date: 22 Sep 2009.
NG Ref: SU529023.
WGS84: 50° 49′ 05″ N 1° 14′ 58″ W.

(62.5KB)

Vertical aerial view from the lock to the sea
Site of tidal inlet

The triangular tidal inlet (now marsh) was bounded by Meon Road running from near bottom right up to the sharp bends across the lock and then down to the bottom left. The shingle spit and Meon Shore Chalets run across the bottom of the picture.
Image date: 11 Sep 2016. © 2018 Google. Image from Google Earth. NG Ref: SU530026. WGS84: 50° 49′ 15″ N 1° 14′ 55″ W.

Site of tidal inlet

The triangular tidal inlet was bounded by Meon Road from bottom right up to the sharp bends across the lock and then down to the bottom left. The shingle spit (with chalets) runs across the bottom of the picture.
Image date: 11 Sep 2016.
NG Ref: SU530026.
WGS84: 50° 49′ 15″ N 1° 14′ 55″ W.

(88.1KB)

Further information about the Titchfield Canal is available through the following links:

Website Link
Titchfield History Society http://www.titchfieldhistory.co.uk
This is the web site for the local history society who might be able to provide further information about the canal. They also publish a number books about Titchfield including the canal.
Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Titchfield_Canal
Recently updated entry in this on-line encyclopaedia.