Updated: 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.
Transport and parking
Food and drink, inc pubs
Boom or bust?
Bitterne Road West
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.
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
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’.
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.
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 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.
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.
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...
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.
The Hop Inn on Woodmill Lane/Oaktree Road: said to be dog friendly, and close to the park
If 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, 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 at Riverside Park
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.
There 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....
...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.
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.
Refill stations at Bitterne Park stores during the shop's refitOf 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.
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.
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).
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!
Play 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.
Nearby 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 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.
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”.
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.
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.
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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?