Bitterne Park - a village within a city?

|

swans group bigUpdated: What's our most read piece ever? This is - our ever-evolving intro all about Bitterne Park. Whether you're thinking of visiting, moving here or already live here, there's info for everyone about everything from local shops to schools, history, local politics and more...

From the tiniest pub to ice creams, swans, games in the park, rides on a steam railway, period properties, and local schools – what's not to like about Bitterne Park?

Fancy a visit to Bitterne Park - or thinking about moving to the area? Perhaps you already live here and are curious to find out more. We hope this work in progress offers a few pointers to some of the ups, and downs, of Bitterne Park.

 

Geography

riverside park path autumn 08 460
Riverside Park on the bank of the Itchen

 

Bitterne Park is often thought of as simply Bitterne Park Triangle (and woe betide anyone who misses out the 'Park' bit!). In fact Bitterne Park is a suburb and electoral ward of the City of Southampton, in England.

The Bitterne Park ward covers a surprisingly large area: its boundary extends from Bitterne Manor to Mansbridge along the eastern bank of the River Itchen; along the A27 via Haskins garden centre in the north; and returns through Townhill Park, bordering with various other wards along the way, including West End North and South, Harefield, and finally Peartree ward in the south. St Denys, which this website also covers, is in fact part of Portswood ward. There are about 6,300 dwellings, and a population of around 13,300 in the Bitterne Park ward.


View a map of Southampton Council ward boundaries | Click for more demographic information about Bitterne Park ward

 


History
Historians will tell you that Bitterne Park was originally part of the parkland of Bitterne Manor. Jim Brown, in his ‘Illustrated History of Southampton's Suburbs’, explains how the rural character of the area changed beyond recognition when the National Liberal Land Company purchased over 317 acres of this land in 1882 for the Bitterne Park Estate, leaving some five acres for a cricket and lawn tennis ground, with the remainder scheduled for extensive development. For more on the history of the area, including stories of fights with sticks on Cobden Bridge and of times before Riverside Park, check our archive of articles and audio clips



Village feel
Bitterne Park has been described by one bitternepark.info reader as “a special place - one of the last real villages in Southampton”. Many will tell you that they came to Bitterne Park for the friendly ‘village feel’, its period properties, the river, Riverside Park, to be in the Bitterne Park catchment area for local schools, and of course the local shops at the Triangle — regarded by some close to it as the ‘village hub’.



Transport and parking

Bitterne Park is also well connected for buses, although roads across the river and into and out of town during the (increasinly long) rush hours are clogged up and slow on four wheels.

bluestar no 16 front

By bike the city centre is easily accessible - although safer, cleaner, quieter cycling routes are high on many people's agendas.

If you're visiting, beware the one hour parking restriction around the Triangle is often enforced, but many nearby roads offer unlimited free parking, and there are various free car parks near Riverside Park.

Of course living in Bitterne Park you also have all the advantages, and disadvantages, of having an airport right on your doorstep; the latest at the time of writing is that Lib Dem-controlled Eastleigh Borough Council has approved planning permission for a runway extension that is likely to be used for many more flights using larger, noisier aircraft such as Airbus 320s. 

For more on transport see our more detailed page.


The Triangle

Bitterne Park Triangle
Bitterne Park Triangle


The Triangle is often seen as the ‘hub’ of Bitterne Park. It has much to offer locals and visitors alike. For the former, a fair amount of day to day needs is available on your doorstep. For visitors, the Triangle, and Riverside Park, are pleasant destinations for whiling away some weekend time with some mooching.

Shopping
As well as boasting a traditional baker's [closed June 2022 - more here], there's a small Spar store (which was a Co-op until November 2021; the Co-op had had a presence at the Triangle for over a century), you can browse the bric-a-brac in Piper’s Emporium in the old butcher's shop, or even buy a Persian rug or a piano at the Triangle.Meanwhile SO roast coffee offers freshly roasted coffee, generally opening on Fridays and Saturdays.

There's also a bike repair shop, Bitterne Park Stores, which sells all sorts from fresh fruit and veg to craft beer and eco cleaning products (more on this below) - and others.

old chemist windows looking out
The Old Chemist

Sadly the art scene in Bitterne Park has been depleted since the closure of Spice Art Studios in the lovely old pharmacy shop - now run by Vineyard Church as offices and community space. And what was once a picture framing shop near the clock tower morphed some years ago into popular meeting place and micro pub The Butcher's Hook (read on for more on this).

You can hear more about The Old Chemist in this audio from 2010



You will find various options for preening, with barber shops, hairdressers, and a couple of beauty businesses at The Triangle - for example read more about an 'eco salon' which uses vegan products.


Food and drink


Soon to come at the former Il Picchio cafe premises is Caribbean food from Soca Shack.

For more traditional fare, try Miss Ellie's café next door, or the Riverside Diner – both particularly popular on Sunday mornings.

You could also follow a much-loved local tradition and enjoy freshly-fried fish and chips from the wrapper beside the river. Could there be just time to pop over the road for a micro beer while yours is being cooked? But whose chips are best: Charlie's Alex's (new in 2021) or Andy's? Or perhaps, a climb up the hill away, Midanbury's Mike's? We really couldn't say...

 

Dan Richardson Anthony Nicholls butchers hook2

Specialist craft beer micro pub (not in fact a micro brewery as many assume) The Butcher's Hook was opened by the then MP John Denham in February 2014 right on the Triangle. It was the first of its kind in the city, and attracts visitors from far and wide.

Listen to the opening in 2014 using the player below.

Listen to our interview with the people behind the Butcher's Hook, talking about their vision just before it opened in 2014, using the player below.

"Local beer enthusiasts... have restored the one-time butchers’ shop to a miniature gem and I would say easily the best pub in town," says a review of The Butchers Hook on bierebelle.com. Read it in full here.

Just up the road on Cobden Avenue, downstairs at The Bitterne Park Hotel opened as 'Mbuntu cocktail bar and bistro' in May 2021. The original announcement about the new venture garnered a great deal of positive comment on our social media: 

"Soooo excited about this. Virtually no nice grown up bars to meet friends this side of the river and will add to the Boho chic of the triangle," tweeted Isabelle Stuart.

Hop Inn 460px 25 1 21P1010644
The Hop Inn on Woodmill Lane/Oaktree Road: said to be dog friendly, and close to the park

glittery loo at the hop inIf that's not your style then you could head for the Hop Inn on Woodmill Lane: "Good urban local in residential area by Riverside Park in Bitterne Park. This 1930s pub has two bars with separate entrances, and interesting internal architecture where it seems no two walls meet at right angle," says Camra's 'WhatPub' website, where you can read more.

There's also a small beer garden with covered and grassed areas and a play area for the kids. Check the glittery loo in the ladies, pictured!

If it's time to cross the river you'll find three generally popular pubs in St Denys (Grade II listed victorian pub The Junction, The South Western Arms, and, across the railway tracks - don't worry, there is a footbridge! - The Dolphin), and still more choices in Portswood; for another micropub try The Bookshop Alehouse near Lodge Road. Many other pubs and eateries are available.

jackie tomlin the songbird cafe supplied 460
Jackie Tomlin, owner of The Songbird

Meanwhile on the cafe front, The Songbird at the Triangle is a hit particularly with the many families in the area, especially for ice creams when the sun shines, as well as hot drinks, cake and more.

Food-wise, later in the day for Indian fare to eat in or collect, try Dhamaka, or, for takeaway only try the nearby Bengal Paradise. Meanwhile restaurant Ceylon Junction opened on Cobden Avenue in July 2022 offering Sri Lankan cuisine in Bitterne Park.

There are various other takeaways at the Triangle including Chinese and pizza (and planning is also approved for a new takeaway pizza kitchen in a shipping container at the Bitterne Park Hotel) — in fact many feel there are too many and priority should somehow be given to other businesses. There is also a plethora of other takeaways further afield, which will happily deliver hot food to your door in the evenings. And you'll find more takeaways at nearby Witts Hill - see below for more.

swans group big
Swans at Riverside Park

Boom or bust?
to let sign

It’s not all a bed of roses at the Triangle: businesses come and go (this page seems to need constant updating!), and ‘to let’ signs are all too familiar. And of course what longlasting effects Covid-19 will leave on local independent shops are not yet known.

The names of the buildings say it all: there's an 'Old Chemist', an 'Old Post Office', and signage for a butcher's, but you can't pick up a prescription, get a parcel weighed or order your Sunday joint at the Triangle.

In fact The Old Chemist becomes a foodbank once a week, giving away (to those in crisis who have been granted the relevant clearance by other agencies) emergency rations, and highlighting a rather unpalatable truth about contemporary life – even in leafy Bitterne Park.

Meanwhile, nearby, there are a number of other options if you need help with food supplies locally: scroll to the bottom of this piece for more information.

To see our video showing the scale of foodbank operations in Southampton and find out how to donate food, click here.

Southampton's Clothes Bank has also now moved to Bitterne Park: read our feature here

ImageThere was a time not so long ago (OK – quite a long time ago!) when you had to queue to get in the door on a busy Saturday at Kenman's fruit and veg shop, which also did a fine line in wholefoods, herbs and spices, and an array of other comestibles. Since then there have been various efforts at running different forms of greengrocer from the same premises.  It's now rideride cycle shop, so you'll need to take your greengrocery custom elsewhere....



veg shed from over road

...and The Veg Shed, above, which used to pop up most Saturday mornings at the Triangle near the clock tower/ Old Chemist, offering fruit, veg and more is also no longer with us. Many locals migrated to local delivery service the Bitterne Box Co, which also ran the Shed. Other specialist companies also deliver fruit and veg to the area.

bitterne park stores shopfront feb 21 460pxP1010693

But in a 2021 plot twist, Bitterne Box Co owner Robin Bluemel opened 'Bitterne Park Stores' at the Triangle in the former DIY shop in March, which is much more than a greengrocer:  as of June 2022 a refillery is operational at the tiny shop offering top-ups for anything from laundry liquid to peanuts, without the usual packaging. It also now even boasts a cheese counter and fridges full of craft beer.

bitterne box co refillery new sept 22 600px Refill stations at Bitterne Park stores during the shop's refit

Of course, Triangle traders face stiff competition from 'newcomer' (opened 2007!) Tesco Express, on Cobden Avenue (many locals still resent its appearance and won't shop there), another Tesco Express on Witts Hill which replaced The Castle pub, and, just up the road in Portswood, a massive Sainsbury’s store opened in spring 2012 on the site of the old bus depot (which has now moved to Empress Road).

Triangle estate agents' offices have also been and gone, blaming the lack of Triangle footfall and the shift towards online searching – although you'll still be spoilt for choice if you head up the hill to Bitterne or into town on London Road. Competition between them appears to be fierce.

The old Bitterne Park post office
 
Some say the closure of the bank in the 90s (in what is now a Persian cultural centre), and the closure of Triangle post office, pictured in 2005, made a significant impact on passing trade (if you need a post office now the nearest are at Witts Hill, Midanbury or in Portswood, although new post office counters have popped up again within shops inside the Morrisons on Oaktree Road, and just over Cobden Bridge in St Denys ).
The chemist closed in 2007, again reducing Triangle footfall, and moved up to Thorold Road in the then new health centre (a steep climb too far for many).
 

 


shops at Witts Hill
Witts Hill shops

Witts Hill

As well as the post office, there are various other shops at Witts Hill, Midanbury, including a small supermarket (another one, a Co-op, closed in August 2015, after nearby Tesco Express opened in May 2013; it became a barber's, although conditional planning consent for a takeaway at the unit was granted in December 2020), a baker's (now closed and used for martial arts classes), takeaways including another fish and chip shop (Mike's Chippy) and a Boots chemist, in a parade next to what was the Castle pub.

The pub closed in 2012, and its transition into a Tesco was opposed by many local traders, residents and the then  MP. You can find several articles about Tesco Express, including audio interviews, by following this link.


Tesco Witts Hill Midanbury

The summit of the hill offers a fine view towards the airport runway, and if you do your time on the council waiting list, you could one day even be rewarded with your very own key to the Witts Hill allotments, pictured below (other allotments are available - close to our area over Bitterne Road West you could also look at Athleston Road allotments, which offer stunning views across the river).

wittshillallotments



Bitterne Road West
bitterneroadsign

Other retail outlets are dotted around the crossroads at the bottom of Bullar Road as it intersects with the busy Bitterne Road West. It's as hard as it is unpleasant to negotiate on foot - or indeed by using any other transport!

bitterne rd west time to crossPlay our three-and-a-half-minute audio using the player below to hear members of Southampton Cycling Campaign, and Darryl Stipic, who made a video, talk about the issues and action to publicise it in 2018.

 



The road marks a boundary between Bitterne Park and Peartree wards. Some businesses are positioned in the middle of what is affectionately known as the “Bullar Road gyratory” - the scene of a huge fire in 2016 when a firework shop caught alight.

It's now used largely as a car sales area and a Polish supermarket. 

bitterneroadsignNearby you'll also find a carpet shop, hairdresser, barber, garage, takeaways, a newsagent and others. There's also a recycling point on the approach to Bitterne railway station, where a 'friends of' group has formed to make it cleaner and greener - and here too you'll find The Station Hotel pub (SO18 1GT) - part of the John Barras chain.

friends of bitterne station 600px 20210701 113122 Friends group members Rachel Hickman (left) and Ziggy Woodward hard at work by Bitterne station. There are also other 'friends of' groups locally, including the Friends of Riverside Park and the Friends of Cobbett Road Library

Major work, known as the 'M27 Junctions' scheme' could affect the A3024 corridor, including Bitterne Road West, as Highways England seek to reduce congestion on the M27 between junctions 5 and 8, and journey times for road users; you can read a little about this in our story from September 2017.



Schools

bitterne park secondary school exterior aug 2020 460

For pre-schoolers look at Riverside Pre-School (Outstanding - Ofsted September 2022), which is based in an independent unit within Bitterne Park Primary School on Manor Farm Road.

For school age children, Bitterne Park is mainly served by Bitterne Park Primary School (Outstanding - Ofsted September 2014) which has capacity for 660 children from 4 - 11, and Bitterne Park School, the secondary on Copeswood Road: "specialist performing arts and applied learning school" (Good: Ofsted 2014 - down from Outstanding in 2009). The latter also includes a fairly new sixth form centre (promoted as "bp6") with, among other things, excellent theatre facilities. 

Bitterne Park is also a teaching school: there's more information about the Bitterne Park Alliance on the Bitterne Park School website.

A new Bitterne Park secondary school building, offering modern facilities and which will take the roll from 1500 to a whopping 1800 secondary school pupils, opened in September 2017, with the old buildings being demolished. They've been replaced by varous outdoor sports facilities. Search this site to find various articles about this.

The governing body, which oversees both Bitterne Park School and Townhill Junior School, is known as the Southampton Riverside Federation. The school told bitternepark.info in March 2017 it "hopes to develop this further by becoming a small multi-academy trust (MAT) with additional partners in the year ahead", although in April 2018 we reported that the school had postponed its application to become an academy “for the foreseeable future”.

bitterne manor primary school exterior

St Denys Primary School is a stone's throw away over Cobden Bridge, and further afield are Highfield C of E, Bitterne Manor Primary, pictured, and Portswood Primary Schools.

As well as Bitterne Park Sixth Form, many students travel to local sixth form colleges, some of which offer bus services to and from Bitterne Park. Popular nearby choices include Barton Peveril in Eastleigh (the seventh largest sixth form college in the UK) and Itchen College in Bitterne; City College, Richard Taunton College across the city, and Peter Symonds College in Winchester are other options. 

A planned merger between "cash-strapped further education college" Southampton City College, and Itchen College, to reduce costs "has been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic" reported tbe BBC in May 2020.

Or go private: but the choice locally is now more limited as St Mary's Independent School (formerly known as St Mary's College), a day school for boys and girls on Midanbury Lane, went into administration and closed in May 2020 just before it was about to celebrate its centenary. It's now a special educational needs (SEN) school known as 'Yarrow Heights'. Charlton House is an independent prep school also on the site.

Meanwhile The Gregg School is at Townhill Park House, Townhill Park, which has its own junior school.



Politics

civic centre gp 460

Bitterne Park has been represented by three Conservaitve councillors since around 2003, and Lib Dems held seats prior to that. But there was upset in the May 2022 local election when Tony Bunday for Labour won a seat. It was the first time the party had won a Bitterne Park council seat since the council became a unitary authority. Labour also won back control of the city council in the same election after a year of Conservative rule. What will happen in next year's local elections, though, is anyone's guess as all seats in every ward will be up for re-election due to boundary changes. Expect lots of leaflets!

Bitterne Park is in the Southampton Itchen parliamentary constituency, and former council leader Royston Smith overturned a very small Labour majority to become our (Conservative) MP in 2015, securing a 2,316 majority. 

The seat was previously held (since 1992) by John Denham for Labour, who was Secretary of State for the Department of Communities and Local Government prior to the fall of the Labour government. He retired at the 2015 election,

In the 'snap' 2017 election, Royston Smith clung on to the seat, with just 31 votes separating him from the Labour candidate and council leader Simon Letts, making Southampton Itchen perhaps the top target seat for Labour in any future general election. 

In the December 2019 general election (which was all about 'getting Brexit done'), Smith held on to the Itchen seat and increased his majority over Labour to 4,498.

Over the Itchen, Porstwood ward, which includes St Denys, is currently represented by three Labour councillors. It falls under the Southampton Test constituency. Alan Whitehead for Labour held on to the seat in 2015, making it the only red constituency in a sea of southern blues. In 2017 he increased his previous 3810 majority considerably, to 11503.
 
 In 2019 Whitehead held on to Southampton Test, but his 11,503 majority was reduced to 6,213.



Community

Cobbett Road Library
Cobett Road Library

Having been jettisoned by the local council, along with a number of other branch libraries, and taken on by social enterprise Social Care in Action (SCiA) and run partly by volunteers, our lovely art deco library - which also largely doubles as a community centre - near Bitterne Road West has sadly been closed since January 2021. SCiA said they could no longer run it, blaming the pandemic. Their business model was in no small part based around hiring out space within the building, but Covid certainly put a rather large spanner into those works. Meanwhile the council said in December 2020 it's "committed to finding a new provider here and [is] in discussions with a number of partners for a renewed community offer".

The council has been running a procurement process - now closed - to encourage new partners to apply to run it. It's understood at least one responded. As of June 2022, we await news...

There are also community centres in Bitterne Manor, St Denys and Townhill Park, but the Bitterne Park suburb itself is sadly devoid of its own dedicated community centre.

storytelling
Families pull up to listen to storyteller Michael O'Leary at the 2020 'All Aboard' festival on and around the River Itchen

More recently we've seen something of a 'festival spirit' emerging in the area, through initiatives including 'All Aboard' - a river festival focused around St Denys Boat Club - and one-off 'Riverfest', and latterly 'TriFest', both largely based around Riverside Park. All Aboard soldiered on in 2020 despite the pandemic, and reappeared in 2021 and 2022. It's best experienced by boat.

TriFest had to be cancelled in 2020 after its first appearance using the park, but was back, bigger and better - and with sunshine! - in 2021. You can read more about it, hear audio and see lots of pictures, here. It returned in July 2022 - click the link to see some pics..

Southampton Vineyard Church also ran a fun day in the park in May 2022 largely aimed at families and children, with various bouncy castle-style attractions and stalls, although it was somewhat marred by very wet weather. It's not yet known if it will be back.

The various Covid lockdowns saw other creative community initiatives in the area, particularly in the form of local neighbourhood trails for younger children around local roads to spot window displays, largely centred around celebrations such as Halloween, Christmas and Easter.

And like anywhere else, there are many networks and communities based around Bitterne Park: whether it's informal groups of parents who originally met at the school gates or at a children's activity, communities of dog walkers, park users, football players, church-goers, skateboarders, duck feeders, or pub regulars, there's plenty for many in Bitterne Park.



Feel there's essential information missing — or would you like to see another section? Then contact us.



Image





The Triangle’s most famous landmark is the clock tower, which was moved to its current spot from New Road in 1934, and which apparently leans towards Cobden Bridge by several inches.

Or is it by more than that?








 

©  Bitterne Park's local website - bitternepark.info

Please help us keep publishing - for less than the cost of a 'posh' coffee a month... 

WE'RE READER POWERED! Our local news is currently free to view, but not to produce. Join people just like you who already chip in to keep our site going by becoming a 'Good Friend' supporter for just £2.50 a month (less than the price of most 'posh' coffees) - or more if you can.

Use the subscribe button below using a debit or credit card securely via PayPal. You don't need a PayPal account - just use the "Pay with Debit or Credit Card' option, when you click the 'Subscribe' button below, on the next screen. There's no obligation to open a PayPal account. Or use your existing PayPal account if you prefer. Or even better, contact us to set up a standing order so we get all your sub rather than PayPal taking a percentage.

Click here for other options/to set up a standing order - and help us keep on keeping on.

It's appreciated!

Friend Options

 

Alternatively make a one-off donation here - you don't need a PayPal account for this option either.