Local Waterways: Introduction

Although the tidal sections of various rivers can still be navigated, there are no longer any non-tidal, inland waterways in southern Hampshire that can be used by larger craft. A number of river navigations and canals were constructed in Hampshire and surrounding area with various degrees of commercial success.

Map of Inland Waterways of Hampshire

However, they all suffered from the lack of any direct navigable connection with the rest of the country. Any trade outside the immediate area had to be transferred to or from sea-going vessels incurring transhipment costs. In the middle of the 18th century the small ports were far more important than they are now, as poor inland transport meant they each had to import and export the goods which concerned its immediate hinterland. The vessels of the coasting trade moved ceaselessly between ports great and small.

In the middle and late 18th century, the Home Counties, with their proximity to a prosperous London, saw improvements to the road system at a rate greater than elsewhere in the country. By the end of the French wars, the south of England was relatively well supplied with turnpike roads. Thus land carriage was a serious competitor with the waterways, especially after 1815. In Hampshire in 1814 there were 497 miles of turnpike road and paved streets. By 1839 this mileage had increased to 837.

During the canal age, the south of England was area of declining industry. In the Weald, the iron industry was dead by 1800. The forests of Sussex were exhausted and floating timber down rivers lessened. The woollen industry of Hampshire and Wiltshire was losing out to the developing north. Agriculture was predominant and the countryside was well populated for the period but, except for London, towns were all very small. The population of the city of Winchester in 1801 was only 6,019 (45,184 in 2011) and in the same year Andover’s population was 3,304 (50,887 in 2018).

The construction of the railways from the 1830s onwards started a decline in the old methods of transport. The intricate system of branch lines drew trade from the smaller waterways. This also attacked the coasting trade as, for example, much of the coal that once came by sea from Newcastle began to come by rail from a variety of sources. It was much the same story with the turnpikes who lost both goods and passenger traffic. Between 1837 and 1854, turnpike trust income in Hampshire fell by just over 41%.

The Hampshire Avon seems to have been made navigable after a fashion from Christchurch to Salisbury but had foundered by the mid-18th century. A second attempt to connect Salisbury by water to the outside world via the Southampton & Salisbury Canal failed in the first decade of the 19th century with construction incomplete.

The Andover Canal was opened in 1794 but failed to pay its shareholders any dividends. The canal was closed in 1859 and converted into a railway. The Portsmouth & Arundel Canal opened in 1822-3 and was part of an attempt to connect the naval base with London. But with the Napoleonic Wars and the consequent threats to boats in the English Channel over, the route was unable to compete with the coastal trade that also connected the two. There is strong doubt that the Titchfield Canal was ever a navigable waterway. If it was, it is very unlikely that it was used as such by the mid-18th century.

The only waterway in southern Hampshire that approached success was the Itchen Navigation. It was open to Winchester by 1710 but was never very busy and it eventually succumbed to competition from the London & South Western Railway in 1869.

In northern Hampshire, the Basingstoke Canal enjoyed a modicum of success but railway competition led to the company going into voluntary liquidation in 1866. Trade lingered on but had ceased to Basingstoke just before the First World War and finally in Surrey to Woking in 1949. The canal became derelict but 32 miles were restored and reopened in 1991. The 15.1 miles (24.3km) of the canal reopened in Hampshire is the only length of fully navigable non-tidal waterway within the county.