January 2016

Dr. Cheryl Butler ‘Itchen Ferry Village’
January 2016

Dr. Cheryl Butler was the speaker at the January 2016 meeting of the Society and her subject was the Itchen Ferry Village, Southampton in which she has long-established family connections.

The village, originally a small hamlet, was located on the east bank of the River Itchen about a mile from its estuary. The tightly knit community, claimed to have roots dating back to the Conquest, but it was in medieval times that the Lord of the Manor granted permission for the Itchen ferrymen to take passengers and goods across the river, in addition to their important occupation of fishermen. As tenant farmers they also worked the land, then owned by the Bishop of Winchester. In its early days ‘the village’ was outside the Southampton boundary and this remained unchanged until 1920 when it was incorporated into its larger neighbour, Woolston, on the West bank of Southampton Water, and then into the borough of Southampton.

At one time a large manor house was built which during the sixteenth century was often rented out to Genoese merchants who were based in Southampton to oversee the significant trading arrangements with the Mediterranean countries. This manor house no longer exists.

Throughout history the area and its residents have seen constant change, ably described by the speaker.

Essentially the men were mainly seafarers. When trade was good they were actively engaged on the river but in the 18th and early 19th centuries it is thought that they also resorted to smuggling. Fishing was a staple industry, where their catches were generally taken into Southampton and sold at the fish market in St. Michael’s Square. As a consequence of building of the Floating Bridge in 1836, the village lost a significant part of its livelihood. But by this time the skills of the seamen had taken them into yachting, competing successfully in races not only in the locality but also joining crews in America and on the continent. It is recorded of one sailor ‘crewing’ for the Kaiser. Boys as young as fourteen years had the ability and knowledge to be crew members. Whilst the menfolk were away from home sailing, the women carried on the family activities and in addition it was no surprise to see them working in and rowing the boats. The sailing tradition is evident through succeeding generations, and as a result of intermarriage names such as Parker and Diaper are very common.

Apparently there was a small chapel in the village where the residents worshipped but in 1620 a new church was consecrated across the river in Pear Tree Road – the first Anglican church to be built following the Reformation, and this church catered for the Ferry Village. It still stands though greatly enlarged during Victorian times.

The port of Southampton has had a very important influence on the Village and not always beneficial. During World War II, bombing raids on the dock area and other obvious targets including the Supermarine factory at Woolston, making Spitfire aircraft led to much destruction in surrounding districts with significant loss of life and much damage to property. After the war major rebuilding took place including the building of a permanent bridge over the River Itchen, which is effectively a section of the A3025 and superseded the Floating Bridge. Interestingly this is a tollbridge so it virtually replicates the historical ferry. Regarding the river itself, during the steamship era, the banks of the lower reaches of the Itchen were heaped with coal and other supplies for this major industry. All this has now gone, replaced by light industrial companies and notably a yacht haven at Shamrock Quay and towards the river estuary, the new development of Ocean Village.

The talk was a fascinating and thoroughly well researched presentation which was much enjoyed by the members and visitors. The next meeting of the Society is on Friday, 25 February when the speaker will be Head Agister, Jonathan Gerrelli whose subject will be ‘The work and history of the New Forest agisters.’ Visitors are very welcome.