Itchen Navigation

Itchen Navigation

The Itchen Navigation, also known as the Itchen Valley Navigation, is an approximately 10 mile long disused canal system in Hampshire, England, that provided an important trading route from Winchester to the sea at Southampton for about 150 years. The canal was opened in 1710 but had fallen into disuse by 1869. It provided an important method of moving goods, particularly agricultural produce and coal between the two cities and the intervening villages. On its completion it was capable of taking shallow barges of around 14 feet in width and 70 feet in length. Its waters are fed from the River Itchen, which also forms part of the navigation itself. The tow path alongside the canal forms part of the Itchen Way, and is a popular destination for walkers.

Construction

The River Itchen had been commercially important since Norman times, and Winchester's status as the capital city of England was partly due to this link to the sea. Construction of the canal was authorised by an Act of Parliament in 1665, although completion took over 50 years. The canal was designed as a combination of artificial cut ways together with sections of the River Itchen that were already navigable. At one point a link was proposed to the Basingstoke Canal, however this was never started.

Route

The official head of the canal starts at Winchester, marked by a simple stone bridge. It flows past the grounds of Winchester College before being diverted through a culvert under the M3 Motorway. Originally this was a full headroom tunnel, but saw substantial changes during the construction of this section of the M3. The canal passes Twyford Down, and continues South flowing past the village of Twyford. Here a weir marks the remains of one of the 15 turf locks that were originally incorporated into the system. A leat from this stretch was created at around the time of the construction of the canal to provide water for the Twyford Mead water meadows. Farming of the water meadows continued until around 1930, after the closure of the navigation itself. The canal flows on past Compton and Shawford, then through to Bishopstoke. Eventually the canal merges into the River Itchen as it approaches the Solent.

The map shows the navigation in deep blue, (or green for the drained section), in order to distinguish it from the river, shown in light blue. Deep blue is normally used to represent navigable waterways, but is used here for clarity.

Closure and restoration

Eventually newer technologies of road and rail led to the canal falling into disuse. Lengths of the canal system were drained or allowed to overgrow with vegetation. Increasingly the difference between the canal and the river became less obvious, although it is still possible to identify remains of the original locks. In 2005 a request was made to the Heritage Lottery Fund in the United Kingdom for funds to restore the watercourse. Known as The Itchen Navigation Heritage Trail Project, funding was granted and restoration is now underway. The navigation has been designated a European Special Area of Conservation as well as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, due to the rich diversity of wildlife found along the system, as well as its historical importance.

References

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