The Northam Branch was intended to give access to the Itchen Navigation and to the important Northam Quay. Much of the coal brought by ship from the Tyne and Wear coalfields was landed at the Quay and was referred to as “the great Depot for Coals” by the canal company. At the time the canal was built, it passed through open fields until it reached the River Itchen at Northam.
Although it appears that construction of the branch was completed, it is doubtful that it was ever used as it seems unlikely that the tunnel was ever finished. Today there is no evidence visible on the ground that this branch canal even existed. The photographs below illustrate the line of the waterway as determined as far as possible from old maps.
The branch started in a north easterly direction from its junction with the main canal and ran on the north side of what is now the first part of Craven Walk (formerly part of North Front) in a straight line through Kingsland House as far as the present railway line.
The Southampton and Dorchester Railway Company had originally intended using the canal tunnel until it was realised that the tunnel was unsuitable. The eastern entrance to the newer railway tunnel lies about 65 yards (60m) north of the site of the canal tunnel portal.
The railway was built on the line of the canal eastwards from a point about 100 yards from this portal. The canal was also in a shallow cutting running just south of the new road to Northam Bridge which itself was under construction from 1796 to 1799. Where the railway swings north towards London, the canal continued straight on and crossed the railway line to the Terminus station at the site of Northam Station.
Site of Northam Station to Millbank Street
Although the London & Southampton Railway was opened throughout from Waterloo to Southampton in 1840, the station serving Northam wasn’t opened until 1872. The line of the canal crossed the railway line a little south of the station buildings. Northam Station was closed in 1966 when passenger trains stopped serving Southampton Terminus Station.
From the site of Northam Station, the next length of canal gently curved in a more northerly direction crossing what was then open countryside until approaching Millbank Street. After passing through the site of the gas works, across Britannia Road and Victoria Street, the line of the canal passes through an area which today consists of light industry and warehousing. It runs very close to west side of the present junction of Rochester Street and Peel Street. Further north-east, it crosses Belvidere Terrace and then seems to have run parallel to and about 40 yards (35m) north-west of Millbank Street. A road in roughly the same position is shown on the 1806 OS One Inch map.
Millbank Street to the River Itchen
Towards the northern end of Millbank Street, the exact course of the canal is uncertain. The absence of detailed maps in this area dating from the beginning of the 19th century make it difficult to be sure of the position of the next length of canal or the lock which gave access to the River Itchen. In previous versions of this web-page, it was thought that the site of the lock was at the east end of Driver’s Wharf close to the large building now used for storing boats by Southampton Dry Stack. Further examination of Ordnance Survey maps dating from 1846 and 1870 has led to an amended conclusion.
The 1846 map does not show the old canal north of Belvidere Terrace. It does show that this area was starting to be built upon. Houses had been built along the whole north-west side of Millbank Street from Belvidere Terrace to Prince’s Street. However, north of the latter road, in amongst some housing development, two short lengths of water or ponds are shown either side of a terrace of six houses called Trafalgar Place on the east side of the northern part of Millbank Street. The houses look as though they and their gardens were laid out over a length of water that totalled about 85 yards (77m). A large number of further changes have taken place in this area since 1846.
The map also suggests that the lock into the tidal river may have been built where Old Mill Quay Hard exists today which is a public launching site. The quay immediately east of the hard was named after the Northam Steam Mill, a corn mill that once stood there. The high water mark at this point on the map is shown some 80 feet (24.5m) south of today’s frontage as a result of reclamation. South of this point, two parallel lines about 70 feet (21.5m) long and about 10 feet (3.0m) apart are shown on the map. The size of this is fairly close that specified by the Act of Parliament of 1795 in which the canal was supposed to accommodate boats 60ft by 8ft (18.3m by 2.4m).
The lock was about 200 yards (185m) downstream from Northam Quay. The cream roofed boat in the last picture below is moored very near the site of the end of Northam Quay. Further pictures of Northam Quay may be found on this page about the Itchen Navigation.