The Diaper Heritage Association
Fisherman, Ferryman, Sailor, Spy - the Diapers of Itchen Ferry
Early Days Itchen Ferry Village The Captain's Table At Sea Genealogy
The museum contains a permanent display of the town’s maritime history and many of the artefacts have connections with the Diapers. Use this trail to take you around the museum, it will finish at the ‘Fisherman, Ferryman, Sailor, Spy – The Diapers of Itchen Ferry’ exhibit.

Click here to download the Diaper Education Trail
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Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund

Early Days


The Diapers are a family almost exclusively associated with Southampton, some historians suggest that their arrival in the town coincided with the Norman invasion of 1066, and indeed one of the earliest recorded Diapers was William d’Ipra whose seal was recorded in 1140-1. It is assumed the family were originally from Ypres. By the sixteenth century they were well established both in the town of Southampton and in the village of Itchen Ferry on the east side of the river Itchen.. This small fishing village was on land belonging to the Bishop of Winchester who had controlled rights on the river from 1199 and in turn the inhabitants controlled the ferry service across the Itchen.


In the sixteenth century several Diapers are to be found as well to do farmers and husbandmen, holding their land on the Itchen from the Bishop of Winchester, however the practice of property being willed to daughters and younger sons may have contributed to many of the family being a lot less well off by the mid eighteenth century. Some like Thomas & Martha Diaper ended their days on poor relief. They had married in 1722, a year after the birth of their first child, also called Thomas, at least five other children followed and most died young. In 1762 Thomas received 3s poor relief ‘because of great necessity’ by December 1763 he was dead and the expenses for his funeral fell upon the parish.


Early Days Receipt


Martha lived on for another dozen years till her own paupers funeral when 4s 10d was spent on bread and cheese, 8s for a coffin, 2s for laying out, 5s for a shroud and 10s for beer.


Life was harsh in the first half of the eighteenth century and if the fish did not come the villagers went hungry, the town of Southampton was not economically buoyant and the men of the village often found they had to sign up for expeditions to the Mediterranean to help clear trade routes of pirates. Many found themselves captured and forced into slavery; the hardier escaped and travelled back to the village receiving alms as recorded in the churchwarden books between 1727 and 1763. They became known as the ‘Algerines’, after the town of Algiers, the centre of piracy. It also became a popular girls name in use up until the twentieth century. By the second half of the eighteenth century the fortunes of the villagers began to look up as they began to benefit from the influx of gentry into the area when Southampton became a popular Spa resort.


By the eighteenth century the Diapers usual occupation was recorded as fisherman and several held minor official posts under the admiralty of the town of Southampton such as that of sandwalker, reporting on infringements of admiralty law and recording wrecks and collecting flotsam. Unofficially they were also known as smugglers and were just as likely to be up before the admiralty court themselves for fishing with nets too closely woven. The majority of the family were poor, but at the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth century, Mark Diaper, gentleman, not only held the rights to the ferry but also held the copyhold of a large number of properties in the village lived in my many of his relatives.



‘It is said that, like the fishing people of Newhaven, Boulogne and Dunkirk and Co., so exclusive were the Itchen fisher-folk of some two generations back, that there was a great a scarcity in commodity of good names as now prevails amongst the honest folk of Portland. Everybody who was not a Diaper was sure to be a Dible. Now-a-days the allied races seem to be almost extinct in their ancient haunts and in all respects Itchen has wonderfully altered since it was, but half a century ago – a village of fishermen and smugglers’


A History of Hampshire, Woodward, Wilks & Lockhart 1861-9