Southampton & Salisbury Canal: History

Part 4:   Consequences   1810 - Present

The Aftermath

God's House Tower and the piled-off canal entrance.Town Quay, South Gate, God’s House Tower and the piled-off canal entrance.
Image date: 1817.

On the Salisbury arm, the decay of the lock gates led to parts of the canal running dry whilst other parts became a stream, causing little trouble. However, as a level watercourse, the Southampton arm became a stagnant ditch and a repository for rubbish. Thomas Ridding was also town clerk of Southampton from 1810 to 1838 and acted for the corporation in its attempts to alleviate the problems caused by the canal.

In April 1820, Southampton court leet referred to the waterway by God’s House Tower as

“a part of the Canal under the Debtors Ward  [which]  from the stagnated Water causes such a stench as is injurious to the Prisoners.”

By 1821, the corporation became anxious about the canal and sought counsel’s opinion on the ownership of the town ditches and filling them in. The corporation was told it should either try to get the shareholders to call a general meeting or to bring an action of ejectment against ‘the principal Clerk of the Company’. This raised the daunting prospect of Ridding, as town clerk, suing himself as clerk of the company. And there the matter rested.

At the end of 1834, Ridding stated that

“The Proprietors have mostly resumed their Lands, pulled down the Locks and filled it up.”

It wasn’t until after the corporation was reformed in 1835 and Thomas Ridding had retired in August 1838 that anything further happened. The new borough council started a number of municipal improvements and, in 1839, appointed a committee of nine

“for the purpose of recommending the best means of filling the Canal across the Houndwell . . . to abate the nuisance of the Town Pond and secure the general healthiness of the Neighbourhood and report to this Council also the extent of the interest this Council has in the site of the Salisbury and Southampton Canal within the Borough.”

The committee felt that legal proceedings were inappropriate, probably as many of the shareholders were dead. The borough surveyor estimated that £320 was needed to fill in the canal and build a drain between the tunnel and God’s House Tower.

It took the unfortunate death of an old woman drowned in the canal at Houndwell in 1841 to start further action. The inquest jury recommended:

“that in the proposed application to parliament for enclosing the Marsh, powers should be obtained to enable them to fill up the Canal in Houndwell and thereby prevent a recurrence of similar frightful accidents and effect a great improvement in that part of the Town.”

The borough council obtained these powers in the Marsh Act of 1844 and the work was started in 1846.

Railway construction

Southampton West stationSouthampton West station, formerly Blechynden, seen from the top of the railway tunnel.
Image date: c1880.

In 1845, the Southampton and Dorchester Railway was authorised. Between Northam and Redbridge, the railway used much of the line of the Southampton arm. It had been intended to take the railway through the canal tunnel but it was soon realised that this was unsuitable. The new tunnel started north of the eastern end of the canal tunnel and crossed it obliquely before emerging near and south of its western end.

Constructing the railway tunnel generated a great deal of spoil and the contractors agreed with the Marsh Committee to fill in the canal across Houndwell for 4½d (2p) a cubic yard. But it was not until 1851 that infilling was finally finished and the Marsh Committee spent £3 to grass over the site.

Whilst, of necessity, the canal tunnel was level from end to end, the railway tunnel rose from each portal clearing the top of the old tunnel by about a foot. By the end of 1846 there were problems with the new tunnel. On two occasions there were earth falls at the eastern end of the new tunnel. It was reported on 21 April 1847 that “a considerable settlement has been going on in the London road during the last four or five days” above the railway tunnel.

On 23 April, the Improvement Commissioners closed that part of Above Bar Street. On 2 May, some 100 yards at the western end of the railway tunnel collapsed. The contractors initially refused to allow the Commissioner’s surveyor to inspect the tunnels. Not until 20 May was he able to report that he had been able to enter the canal tunnel through a heading driven from the railway tunnel. The committee instructed him to seek help from Captain Coddington, the Government Surveyor of Railways who visited the site five days later.

Captain Coddington’s report reveals some interesting facts and explains why the contractors were reluctant to assist the Improvement Commissioners.

Course of canal in Houndwell today.Site of the canal across Houndwell today.
Image date: 12 May 2005 © 2009 Peter Oates.

“About 50 or 60 years ago a Tunnel was constructed for canal purposes which proved a failure and was abandoned, its direction was such as to cross very obliquely the line of the New Railway Tunnel and its level was about a foot below the level of the new Tunnel. I enquired what precautions had been taken at the crossing, and was informed that the old Tunnel had been completely taken out . . . and in addition a length of 20 feet of the old Tunnel on each side of the new one had been built up solid with rubble masonry. . . .

“It appears that Mr Peto the contractor, for the accommodation of parties whose property lies above the line of the old Tunnel, . . . agreed to strengthen it, by building a certain number of cross walls at short intervals. . . . The mode adopted in doing it was to drive a small gallery laterally from the side of the new Tunnel to reach the old one at a point some distance beyond the 20 feet which had been solidly built up; through this gallery the materials were introduced and 3, 4 or more cross walls about 10 feet apart were built within it. . . .

“The old Tunnel having been on a level and open at its extremities whatever percolation of water entered it either from the sides or above flowed out at both ends. The crossing of the new Tunnel in no way affected this drainage . . . so the soil (a black Clay) continued firm enough to support the brickwork laid upon it. But by the filling up solid of a portion of it, leaving a hollow interval . . . the accumulation of water in seeking an egress has entered into, saturated, and sodden the clay on which the new Tunnel stands, and it is now incapable of supporting its weight.”

Southampton Railway TunnelSouthampton Railway Tunnel after one track had been lowered.
Image date: Dec 2009. © 2010 National Rail.

In the meantime, the railway line from Southampton to Redbridge was opened on 1 June 1847 although the tunnel was not officially opened until 6 August. The locomotives and coaches needed for the opening had to be taken across town on lorries pulled by many horses.

The railway tunnel gave no problems until in 1964 was it noticed that the floor was rising towards the roof resulting in extensive reconstruction of the tunnel. Further work on the tunnel was necessary in 1983. During the period Sunday 27 December 2009 to Sunday 3 January 2010, the tunnel closed for the track to be lowered to improve clearance for larger freight containers. It is not known what effect this had upon the remains of the canal tunnel but it would seem that the rail tunnel has now sliced through the top of the earlier structure.

At it’s western end, the canal tunnel subsided in the 1920’s and again in January 1975. As a result, much of the bore of the tunnel was filled with fly ash to achieve stability. Even so, some further subsidence was apparent on the lawn in front of the Civic Centre in December 1976.

Meanwhile, the Bishopstoke & Salisbury Railway was opened on 27 January 1847 from Bishopstoke (now known as Eastleigh) through Romsey and up the Dun valley, to the destination that the canal never reached. Although the bed of Salisbury arm of the waterway was not used extensively by the railway, it was crossed in about seventeen places without any major problems. It does seem that a number of alterations to the courses of the canal and the River Dun occurred at about the time of the railway’s construction.