Alderbury & Whaddon

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The River Avon and the Salisbury to Southampton Canal


From early in the 17th century there was interest in making the River Avon navigable for commercial use from Salisbury to the sea at Christchurch. John Taylor, with others, rowed from Christchurch to Salisbury to prove it could be done. The Mayor in 1627, John Ivie, supported the scheme and later, so did Bishop Seth Ward. Work started in 1675 and in spite of financial difficulties which slowed progress, 25-ton barges are known to have reached Harnham bridge by 1684. Despite severe floods in 1690, the Avon Navigation was in use until 1715. Shallow draught sailing barges took two days to travel from Christchurch to Salisbury. By late 1744 two unsuccessful attempts had been made to re-establish links with the sea.


Yet another attempt was made, starting in May 1795, when an Act of Parliament was passed allowing the Southampton to Salisbury Navigation Company to build a canal from the eastern side of Southampton to the Andover Canal at Redbridge, and from Kimbridge on the same canal to Salisbury, following a route through Alderbury.


Although open and carrying toll-paying freight from west of Southampton Tunnel (at Marlands) to Alderbury Common by March 1803, the money raised was running out and a decision had been taken in November 1802 to build a temporary wooden railway to join the end of the canal at Alderbury Common to the Turnpike road (now Southampton Road) for transportation of cargo. Completion of the canal to Salisbury was still intended at this time but meanwhile, work was to start immediately on the small wooden railway. Neither the exact route of this railway nor evidence of its existence are certain. What is known is that in June 1804 George Jones the surveyor sued for unpaid wages and threatened to sell off the railway. The Historical Transport Map of Wiltshire refers to an ‘Alderbury Wharf to Turnpike’ narrow gauge railway from 1803-8.


Difficulty in raising money from shareholders, coupled with construction problems with the tunnel at Southampton recurred throughout the period from 1795 to 1808, when the final meeting was held and the Alderbury arm of the canal abandoned. There is no evidence to uphold the belief that unexpected sand in the Alderbury area caused the failure of the venture. The Salisbury arm mostly reverted to nature and can still be seen today in some places as a line of bushes or trees where it was not ploughed out. The reservoir lake in Clarendon Park which was to supply the summit still contains water, as does the summit itself. There is a large remnant in Firs Road in Alderbury, known locally as the “Old Canal”. In reality, the canal ran along the bottom of this shallow depression; the area was effectively dammed with spoil when the A36 bypass was built, forming a small lake.







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The “Old Canal” in firs Road, now a small lake formed when the bypass was built










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A feeder tributary to the “Old Canal” in Firs Road