Titchfield Canal

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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 seventeenth 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 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. The work was carried out by Richard Talbottes and was completed in 1611. At the same time the Titchfield Canal, or 'New River' as it was originally known, was also built. 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 a small 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 barges 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 eighteenth century, records state that no navigation was possible leaving it serving as an irrigation ditch.

 

Remains of the Canal

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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 little overgrown in places.

Water for the canal leaves the river in the vicinity of Stony Bridge. 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 public footpath along the waterway starts from a footbridge behind St Peter's Church in Titchfield. 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.

Turning south, Bridge Street is soon reached. The road crosses the canal with less than two feet headroom. The canal and its accompanying footpath continue southward to the sea through pleasant countryside. Several low brick bridges carry farm accesses over the waterway but it must be remembered that these are more modern than the canal.

About 400 yards from the beach, a road crosses the canal via a low bridge with a right-angled approach at each end. Major work on this structure was carried out by Hampshire County Council as part of their 'Meon Shore Sea Lock Restoration Scheme'. This is supposed to be the entrance to the canal from tidal waters. If navigable, the sea lock would have consisted of a single gate which could have been opened when the tide made a level with the water in the canal. The structure has been much altered (or even rebuilt) over the 400 years since the canal was constructed. If the waterway was never navigable, the "lock" would presumably have consisted of a sluice or sluices to allow water to be discharged into the sea.

Below the lock, the waterway opens out into wide 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 which prevents the sea from encroaching upon Titchfield Haven.

Further information about Titchfield's canal is/was available through the following links:

Titchfield Canal

http://www.reocities.com/teammanley/Solent/TitchfieldCanal.htm

This archived site appears to be no longer available. It’s pages are / were about landmarks around the Solent with a number of pages of relevance to Titchfield and its canal (including pictures).

Titchfield History Society

http://www.titchfieldhistory.co.uk

This web site for the local history society who might be able to provide further information about the canal.

Wikipedia

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Titchfield_Canal

Recently updated entry in this online encylcopedia.


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Page created 5 February 1999 - layout changes 28 November 2003 - last updated 23 November 2015 - links updated 19 June 2019.

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