musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Retrospective: Northwards to Northam

As a follow up to my last retrospective post about Woolston and Weston I have decided to do the equivalent post about the other side of the Itchen bridge towards Northham, St Denys, Swanwick and Bitterne. Bear in mind that this all happened nearly 5 years ago so my memory may be wobbly when it comes to detail. To give you some idea of what I am waffling about; this is what it looks like north of the Itchen Bridge. I did a post about Northam Train Depot way back in 2013 and it is worth having a squizz there too. The pano below shows the view north of the bridge with the Griffon Hoverworks operating by the big structure on the right. (image is 1500×443)

If my memory serves me correctly whenever I did the major excursion in this direction I used the Northam Bridge by St Mary’s Stadium (on the left bank of the river). There are really 4 bridges involved in this area of the river: firstly there is the Itchen Bridge, then the Northam Road Bridge, then a railway trestle bridge and finally Cobden Bridge.  

Northam Road Bridge

Railway trestle bridge

The Cobden Bridge crosses the Itchen and joins the suburbs of St Denys and Bitterne Park. The present bridge dating from 1928, but there has been a bridge on this site since 1883.

Cobden Bridge

On the Bitterne side of the bridge is a triangle and that is where the you will find a monument in the image below that was designed by Kelway-Pope and bequeathed to Southampton by the late, Mrs Henrietta Bellenden Sayers, “In evidence of her care for both man and beast”. After 45 years in its original location in Above Bar it was then moved to its present site in 1934 when roadworks were being carried out in the city centre.  There are two plaques on the clock, as well as a small drinking fountain. The first plaque dates from when it was inaugurated way back in December 1889

Before the Itchen Bridge was built the vehicular and pedestrian traffic across the river was via the Woolston Floating Bridge, it operated from  23 November 1836 until 11 June 1977 but sadly that is now history, and although there is still a chain drawn ferry in Cowes I have still not been on one!

Moving even further back in time there used to be a village at this historic crossing point since before the middle ages, and with it being an important area because of the aircraft industry, it became a prime target for the Luftwaffe during the war and the area was heavily bombed. The end result was that the village was totally devastated and  never restored.   

(1500×869) looking south towards the Itchen Bridge

My one excursion into this area was to photograph South Stoneham Cemetery and I think I caught a train to St Denys as it was close to the cemetery.  The cemetery is very close to Southampton Airport and I had a strange encounter while I was there. One of the graves I was looking for was that of RJ Mitchell, the designer of the Spitfire, I was standing at his grave when I heard an aircraft, it was unlike anything I had heard before and I looked up and flying overhead was a Fairey Swordfish of World War 2 fame. It was  a poignant thing to see while standing in front of the grave of the designer of such a successful aircraft. 

South Stoneham Cemetery also has a memorial commemorating those who were killed at the Cunliffe-Owen aircraft factory on 11 September 1940. 52 people were killed and 92 were injured in this incident. 

When war broke out the factory was used  to produce parts for the Spitfire and as such became a target for the Luftwaffe. Unfortunately the reflections from the glass really makes the Roll of Honour almost impossible to take decent photographs of.  

The cemetery has 66 CWGC identified casualties buried in it from both wars, as well as 79 casualties identified on a screen wall from the former Southampton Crematorium.

And, on a roundabout close to Southampton Airport is a large Spitfire replica on display. 

Southampton is Spitfire territory and I have documented a few of the Spitfire related references in the city. 

Heading back from South Stoneham I could walk along the cycle path that runs next to the railway line heading towards Southampton. The trains to Portsmouth and onwards trace a circuitous route to cross the river at the railway trestle bridge and then head back the way they came but on the opposite side of the river. The next station being Woolston. 

The one discovery I made in my walk was an area that was designated as Chessel Bay Local Nature Reserve, I suspect you would call it a tidal mudflat but I am no real expert. 

(1500×589)

Unfortunately there was not much to see apart from mud and slime and the opposite bank of the Itchen in the distance, although that in itself had some interesting things afloat (or on the hard). 

The other discovery I made was a series of derelict boats on the mud right up against a housing complex next to where the Itchen Bridge meets land. (50.916270°  -1.383975°)  The biggest wooden boat must be quite old, and I was fascinated by her. If only there was a way to find out her history. 

There were quite a few derelict boats visible, and I have to admit I am puzzled why they have seemingly been abandoned, some appear to be in a reasonable condition too, they even have running water in them. The other odd thing I saw on my walks was bicycles that appear to have been dumped into the river. Why? Don’t ask me, but one possibility is that they had been stolen elsewhere and then dumped. Personally I think it is part of the national psyche to throw bicycles, prams, shopping trolleys and traffic cones into bodies of water. In the case below I can imagine a little girl hurling her bike into the water because it was not pink enough!

There are numerous boatyards on either bank of the Itchen and the river is very popular with leisure boaters and moorings extend for quite a distance.  Not everything was abandoned though as I did see a number of boats that appeared to be inhabited, or in regular service. This beauty is called Cymyran Bay  and she is an “Extreme Semi Swath (XSS) Offshore Support Vessel.”

One vessel that caught my eye was this small coaster that probably hasn’t been anywhere in years.

The boatyards on the river were fascinating places but they are also private property so I could not explore them properly, but could only admire them from a distance.

The Northam bridge is not the only bridge on that particular road. There is a nice railway bridge close to the train depot that affords a nice view of trains passing down the line towards to wherever they go, 

This trestle bridge has a makers plate on it from 1908, and was made by “Braithwaite & Kirk, West Bromwich”. In the years when boat trains used to run there is a good chance that this line connected to the pierside platforms. Trains also stop here when St Mary’s Stadium is in use and there is a dedicated line especially for them. 

 

My visit to this area would have been incomplete if I did not include Jesus Chapel in Pear Tree Lane.  It has the unique distinction of being the first new church to be built in England after the English Reformation, and is the oldest Anglican church anywhere in the world. 

It just goes to show how much history is all around if you really go looking for it, or bump into it by accident.  That pretty much covers a lot of my excursions north of the Itchen Bridge. I spent many a hot day up there looking for graves and of course admiring the view. The shipyards and aircraft industries on the Itchen are now history, yuppie pads have taken their place, and what were once working class areas are now the property of the rich, with access to the river rapidly closing as more and more complexes get erected. As I have said before: Southampton has changed; the war bringing about enough disruption that the character of the city was lost, and successive politicians have wreaked havoc on its ancient fibre. Its maritime heritage revolves around a ship that sank on its maiden voyage, and floating blocks of flats have replaced the ships of commerce and migration. It is still a fascinating place to visit though, and if I was able I would quite happily live there, because I consider Southampton to be my home town. 

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