Southampton and Salisbury Canal

Which Route?

There was intense argument about the route that the canal should take. Most were agreed on the section from Salisbury to the Andover Canal at Kimbridge, although a few sought a direct connection between Salisbury and Andover whence the canal should proceed to Basingstoke.

Much more contentious was the proposal for the section of canal from the Andover Canal at Redbridge to Southampton and Northam. One alternative put forward was for a canal from Kimbridge, through Chandler's Ford to the Itchen Navigation at Otterbourne.

But many questioned the need for a link which would run along the shore of an estuary which was already used by barges navigating between Redbridge, Southampton and Northam. There was a similar depth of water at Redbridge to Southampton so that ships could easily make Redbridge to bring goods for Salisbury. The following verse appeared about this time (attributed to Henry James Pye, Poet Laureate):

Southampton's wise sons found their river so large,
Tho' 'Twould carry a Ship, 'twould not carry a barge.
But soon this defect their sage noddles supply'd,
For they cut a snug ditch to run close by its side.
Like the man who, contriving a hole through his wall
To admit his two cats, the one great, t'other small,
Where a great hole was made for great puss to pass through,
Had a little hole cut for his little cat, too.

Despite a tradition of condemnation of this canal line, there were good reasons for building it:

In November 1793, the Andover Canal company offered favourable tolls for through traffic, settling the arguments and the Redbridge to Southampton line was finally adopted. Joseph Hill of Romsey, resident engineer of the Andover Canal, had carried out a survey, estimating the cost at £47,208 17s 10d.

Various difficulties led to delay in bringing the Bill before Parliament, application for leave to introduce it was not made until 10 September 1794. The subscription lists had reopened and support was now mainly from Southampton and Salisbury, with Bristol losing interest. By November, Hill had revised his estimate to £48,929 16s 6d.

Yet further delays meant that it was not until April 1795 that the Bill came before Parliament. Drafted by Thomas Ridding, it passed all its stages and received the royal assent by May 4. The Act authorised a capital of £56,000 in shares and an additional £30,000 if necessary, half in shares and half on mortgage. There were 358 subscribers, very many of them for only £100.

Authorised Route

The canal was to have a surface width of 27ft (8.2m) reducing to 15ft (4.6m) at a depth of 4ft (1.2m) to take boats 60ft by 8ft (18.3m by 2.4m). There was to be a towing path 9ft (2.75m) wide with a gravel path of just 2ft (0.6m) width.

From Salisbury, the canal was to climb by 4 or 5 locks to the summit at Alderbury. There were to be two reservoirs feeding the summit level near Alderbury and West Grimstead. A short tunnel was to be built by cut and cover near Alderbury Church and a longer tunnel of about 100yds under the main Southampton to Salisbury road at Whaddon.

A series of locks were to take the canal down the Dun valley. The route taken followed the southern bank of the River Dun so as not to interfere with the existing uses of its water such as mills and water meadows. Near Kimbridge, the waterway was to cross the River Dun and River Test on two aqueducts, the latter with 4 arches, to join the Andover Canal at Kimbridge. This section would be 13⅜ miles (21.5km) long.

From Kimbridge, the route followed the Andover Canal for 9 miles (14.5km) to Redbridge.

Just north of the southern terminus of the Andover Canal at Redbridge, the 4½ miles (7.25km) long second section of the canal would run east to Southampton. It followed the north shore of the tidal Test until near the old town. Here, instead of continuing south beside the estuary, the canal would enter an 880yd (805m) tunnel passing very near the present Civic Centre, running diagonally across the line of the present railway tunnel.

Near the eastern portal of the tunnel, the canal was to turn south to run along the Town Ditches to reach a lock giving access to the sea at God's House Tower (which served as a gaol at the time). Also, there was to be a branch of about a mile from near the tunnel at Houndwell to another lock into the River Itchen at Northam for access to the Itchen Navigation and to the coal imported there.

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Page created 21 May 2005 - published 17 February 2009. Layout and content updated 7 April 2017.

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