Bitterne Park - from 1284 (part 2)

Cobden Free BridgeRead the second instalment of Jim Brown's history of Bitterne Park: Bitterne Park Estate is created and Cobden Bridge is opened....


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Towards the end of the 19th century, apart from the above large estates, the only other habitations in the immediate area were Bitterne Manor Farm to the north, close to Woodmill, and a few scattered cottages and brickfields to the east, beyond which was Benhams Farm. It is assumed that Bitterne Manor Farm was, in fact, the ‘home farm’ providing produce for the Manor House.

The area alongside the River Itchen, opposite St Denys, would therefore have presented a tranquil rural scene to those on the opposite bank, who would only have had fields and copses in view. However, this peace was rudely shattered, and the rural character of the area changed beyond recognition, when the National Liberal Land Company came upon the scene in 1882. This Company had its origins in a wide spreading movement among working people who wished to own their own home.

It purchased over 317 acres of this farmland from the Earl of Eldon for £26,415, with fields that stretched from Bitterne Station to Woodmill and up to Midanbury Lane. Some eight acres were reserved for a proposed cricket and lawn tennis ground and the remainder scheduled for extensive development, to be called the Bitterne Park Estate.

Manor Farm Road c.1902 with a Sunbeam Mabley, an unconventional vehicle that had a seat on each side facing in different directions. The wheels were in a diamond layout, with the front and back having offset single wheels and a wheel centrally at each side, belt driven by the exposed engine. This was single cylinder 2.75 h.p., giving a top speed of 18 m.p.h. and in 1901, when first produced, the car could be purchased for Ł130.

The Company’s advertising for the sale of freehold residential sites included the fact that ‘It has a fine gravel soil and a gradually sloping and undulating elevation from the River Itchen, which skirts and bounds the Estate on the West, to a height of 200 feet. Extensive views of the New Forest, Netley and Southampton Water are obtained towards the south.”

This ideal vista was greatly enhanced by something that upset the shareholders of the tolled Northam Bridge— the provision of a free bridge! This would open up the district to west Southampton and was therefore a tremendous incentive for prospective purchasers. This did not mean that the Liberal Land Company was altogether altruistic; they had political objectives in mind. The right to vote was based on property qualifications and it was anticipated that the Estate would significantly boost the Liberal vote, as indeed it did.

The original Cobden Free Bridge c.1907. It was a 500-foot iron lattice girder bridge with five spans of over 70 feet, with 28 feet width between the centres of the main girders, which were six feet deep. The main supports were cast iron cylinders seven foot in diameter, tested by running two traction engines with a combined weight of 20 tons across. The road was narrow by modern standards, only 16 feet, with six-foot pavements on either side. The old established family firm of Dyer’s Boatyard can be seen on the St Denys side of the river.

The Cobden Free Bridge, as it was called, was opened on 22 June 1883 and was crowded with a large number of dignitaries and spectators. The Chairman of the National Liberal Land Company, Professor J.E. Thorold Rogers, officially handed it over to the Mayor, Mr W.H. Davis, ‘who accepted the gift amidst loud cheers.’ Barriers were then removed and the party moved from the Southampton St Denys side of the river across to what was then the County area, where a large marquee had been erected for a luncheon.

Speeches, fully reported in great detail in the Southampton Times, placed much emphasis on the quality of the housing to be constructed on the new estate, especially the sanitation and water supply, and at a subsequent auction at the Dolphin Hotel plots of land were quickly snapped up, many of them fronting Bitterne Road for less than £100.


Cobden Bridge c.1995. By 1926 the increase in traffic on the bridge was such that a decision was taken to replace it with a new concrete one, but this took two years to complete. During this period a temporary wooden bridge was constructed alongside to provide continuity. The new bridge was officially opened on 25 October 1928 by Col. Wilfred Ashley, M.P., the Minister for Transport, and was said to have cost £45,000.



This is an extract from "The Illustrated History of Southampton's Suburbs", published by Breedon Books and available from Bitterne Local History Charity Shop for Ł14.
Reproduced here with kind permission of the author.

In the next extract, coming soon, find out about gang wars on Cobden Bridge!

Read part 1 here
Read part 3 here

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