The village was a very insular community as recorded by John Duthy in 1839
‘The inhabitants of Itchen are quite peculiar in their manner. Any settlers in their district who are not actual natives of the village, they consider as foreigners. The men are mostly employed in their fishing smacks; whilst the women carry to the market at Southampton the produce of their husband’s labour. Many of the baskets which they use for the purpose are of a remarkably picturesque pattern and fabric. During the summer season the vessels of the Royal Yacht Squadron engage a considerable number of the picked men of the village, who maintain a deservedly high character in that popular branch of naval service.’
The village remained small right up until the nineteenth century when an increase in shipbuilding activity on the river led to an influx of outside labourers into the enclosed community. It did not become part of the town of Southampton until the Southampton boundary was extended to include Bitterne, Itchen and Woolston in 1920. The village had been a small ribbon development running from Peartree green down to the ferry hard, which was close by the modern Itchen Bridge. The population was so small that it did not even have its own church until the early seventeenth century. Parishioners had to take boat across the river to St Mary’s in the town of Southampton for services.
Peartree Church , Jesus Chapel, St Mary extra
The Ferry Village finally got its own church in the seventeenth century thanks to the generosity of Capt Richard Smith who lived at Peartree House. Built in 1620, as the first Anglican Church constructed after the Reformation, a new service of consecration had to be written by the Bishop of Winchester, Lancelot Andrewes, which makes Peartree the oldest Anglican Church in the world. A simple rectangular chapel when first constructed, in the nineteenth century there was remodelling and additions made.
‘The road to the left leads under the shrubberies of Oakbank, a Gothic villa, to the foot of the village, where is a beautiful view of the river, &c.: ascending the steep road Peartree-Green is reached, with its ancient pear-tree, Jesus chapel and school-house, and Independent chapel, and other objects. The magnificent view of the town, the rivers, estuary, and surrounding country – obtained from this point, should be enjoyed by every visitor’.
1850 Philip Brannon ‘The Picture of Southampton’
Many Diapers were laid to rest in the graveyard of Peartree, in a will of 1666 Richard Diaper of Weston, yeoman asked specifically to be buried at the Jesus Chapel (parishioners could also be buried at St Mary’s). The most poignant memorial in the churchyard is to a Diaper cousin, Richard Parker whose life ended at the age of 17 following the tragic sinking of the yacht Mignonette. The crew of four made it to the lifeboat but without provisions or water. In desperation after many days adrift, the captain proposed that they ought to draw lots with the loser providing their body as food for the remainder. The idea was not initially fastened on but as things got worse and Richard Parker got weaker, the captain took the decision to sacrifice the boy. Shortly after they were picked up and the survivors found themselves in the midst of a landmark legal case. In the event though the men were found guilty of murder, they were dealt with with compassion even by the relatives of Parker. Since that time however necessity could not be given as a reason for murder.
‘Though he slay me, yet I will trust him’ Job xiii 15
Lord, lay not this sin to their charge
Inscription on the memorial to Richard Parker
The insularity of the village also led to the creation of local folks songs and crafts
Have you e’er walked to Pear Tree Green
All on a summer’s morning,
Where all the village girls are seen adorn’d
Unconscious of adorning?
There have ye noticed one sweet maid
Tripping to church so light and airy,
In modest virgin white array’d?
Tis lovely Poll of Itchen Ferry.
Many a sweetheart old and young
From farm and village came a-wooing
In rustic strains her charms they sang
And told her it was Cupid’s doing.
Robin the gardener, spruce and gay,
Called her his peach, his darling cherry
And fair to church had tripped away
With lovely Poll of Itchen Ferry.
Jerry of Weston next hove to
Fishing about in Hampton Water.
Soon as sweet Poll appeared in view
He cast his net and thought he’d caught her.
‘Polly’, he cried, ‘my trout, my smelt’
Oh come and bless the loving Jerry’
But all his tacklings could not melt
The heart of Poll of Itchen Ferry.
Farmers and farmers sons there came
From Northam Bridge as far as Hamble
And all for Poll confessed a flame
But they might well have spared their ramble:
For Polly wished them all good day,
And lightly skipped into a wherry
Waving her hand she sailed away
With blithesome Joe of Itchen Ferry.
A recording of this and other Southampton songs is available on CD from Brian Hooper 023 80 340749 or from the Maritime Museum or see events list for live performances
By the end of the nineteenth century the village was made up of small dwellings, many without a garden and some with no roadway to the houses. Twisting gravel paths led to the doorways, the door was usually open and living inside were large families running into double figures. To ease the overcrowding in the two up and two down accommodation the boys on leaving school found a home at Sea and the girls a home in domestic service. Taking pride of place in the home would be the paraffin lamp cleaned each day to provide maximum lighting in the evening for reading and sewing. Heating and cooking were by the wood-coal fire from the kitchen range, the coal was stored in the cupboard under the stairs.
Memories of George Diaper
Several Diapers became victuallers and licensees running pubs in the village such as The Yacht Tavern and Royal Oak and also in Southampton at the Rose Crown and Duke of Wellington. The pubs probably did quite well if this well known song is an indication.
Old Itchen Ferry on a Saturday night
Women do quarrel and men do fight,
The women drink whiskey as well as the men
And when their cup is empty they do fill it again
To Li.....To Li.....hey hey
Port helm what do you say
The lights of the Astra is coming this way
For six weary weeks we had nothing to eat
Bar elephants trotters and elephants feet.
This ship struck a matchbox and the cargo caught fire
And they all walked ashore
On the marconi wire
To Li.....To Li......hey hey
Memories of Eli Diaper
Regatta Day would be the event of the year. The Ayers and the Bowers would bring their fairground attractions from Sholing and Sholing was a long way in those days. The largest attraction was always placed in front of the Yacht Tavern, the swinging boats from the beach, coconut shies; roll-the-penny, hoops and all the other stalls would fill the Hard. The day began quiet enough with the sailing events which would last until early afternoon when many, many more people would gather for the rowing events, the singles, the doubles and the fours, the brother’s doubles and the shovel race where families would man the four or six shovels in the boat. The pillow fight and greasy pole would bring the afternoon to a close but not before the presentation of prizes outside Fletchers Cottages. Last of all the moment the children had been waiting for, the pennies scramble. The Yacht, Royal Oak and the Red Lion up the hill all had extended opening hours to go along with all the fun of the fair making it a day and night to remember.
Memoirs of George Diaper
Itchen ferry village no longer exists, all but destroyed by bombing during World War II and being used as a training site for troops preparing for the D Day landings. What was left has become subsumed into the modern suburb of Woolston on the east side of the river Itchen. (photos ob bomb damage)
Wharncliffe Road 1928 - Before the Blitz
Wharncliffe Road 1941 - After the Blitz
From ancient times until 1836 the only way to cross the river Itchen was by ferry boat. The crossing point was extremely exposed and there is a tradition that it was the death of a lady who caught a chill whilst waiting for the ferry that caused the Cross House to be built in 1634. But there was a Cross house on the site from at least the middle ages.
‘Item we find the Cross howse at Itchen verry to be in great decay the which beinge a place so proffitable and necessarie for people to rest in not onely for tyme of the passage boate cominge and goinge but lickwise in tyme of rayne and fowle weather to keep them drye we have thought good to comend to your good considerations and doe thincke it verie requisite the same showld be repaired & maynteined’
The building consisted of two walls crossing each other at right angles, supporting a conical tiled roof, thus giving shelter from wind in any direction. It did have a tablet dated 1634 attached when the mayor Peter Cludgeon had rebuilt it. The original tiled roof was removed in the 1930s.
‘From Hence (Bursledon) I went four miles over pleasant commons to Southampton, having first cross’d the river Itching in a ferry’
1743 Jeremiah Milles, dean of Exeter & antiquarian
Travel by ferry had not always been so pleasant and the men of the ferry were presented at the Southampton Court Leet in 1581 as they ‘neclect their dweties in setting over the Queens subjects’ the court was particularly aggrieved that one of the burgesses of the town on arriving at the ferry at twelve o’clock at night with the weather being ‘very faier’ found
‘one peeter one of the comon passengers [ferrymen] up and requestid dyvers tymes of him to passe over offering him 4d for his labor who refused to passe him over althoughe he with others weare daunsing till yt was after one of the clocke’.
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries a man and a horse could be carried for 3d, market people paid 1½d, an ox or sheep was 6d, a cow 4d. Carriages and carts were also carried. The hard was mid way between two roads leading to Bitterne & Bursledon in one direction and Hamble and Portsmouth in another.
‘the river of South’ton was frossen all over and covered with ice from Calshott Castle toRedbridge, and Thomas Marteine, a master of a vessell, went upon the ice from Berry neare Marchwood to Millbrook Point. And the river at Ichen Ferry was frossen over that severall persons went from Beauvois hill to Bittern farme forwards and backwards’
1684 William Bernard
Many famous people crossed the river by ferry including Samuel Pepys in 1662 and King Charles II in 1669; he stopped at Itchen Hard en route to the ruins of St Denys so that ‘the people might see him amongst them’. The novelist Jane Austen was also a regular user.
‘We had a little water party yesterday; I and my two nephews went from the Itchen Ferry up to Northam, where we landed, looked into the 74, and walked home, and it was so much enjoyed that I had intended to take them to Netley today....if we cannot get so far, however, we may perhaps go round from the ferry to the quay.
I had not proposed doing more than cross the Itchen yesterday, but it proved so pleasent, and so much to the satisfaction of all, that when we reached the middle of the stream we agreed to be rowed up the river; both boys rowed great part of the way’
1808 Jane Austen JA 59,24,10.1808 letters ( photo)
The Floating Bridge
By the early nineteenth century there was a clamour for a bridge to replace the old ferry boats and the Itchen Bridge Act was passed in 25 July 1834. However the original proposal for a fixed bridge was changed to a floating bridge at the behest of the Royal Navy who were concerned about access to the shipyards further up river. A wooden floating bridge was built at Stonehouse near Devonport with engines being made by John Mare of Plymouth. In November 1836 the completed vessel was towed to the river to begin 19 years service on Nov 23rd. The cost of the bridge was £5945, £23000 was spent on the construction of the new roads and £7500 was spent on the purchase of the old Crosshouse ferry rights from Thomas Chamberlayne and the Rev. William Waring of Peartree. It had not happened without the Itchen Ferry men signing a petition to complain about the loss of their traditional rights feeling the bridge would ‘take away their breathing ground’. Village inhabitants would also lose the right to free passage across the river.
‘Sheweth That your Petitioners and their Predecessors who have followed employment on the same spot in times past have obtained their living some of them by frequenting the Southampton Water and the neighbouring Sea in Fishing Vessels in pursuit of Fish, or in pleasure Vessels which they let to hire and others of them by plying at a Ferry over the River Itchen which divides a Place called “The Cross House” within the Limits of the Town and County of the Town of Southampton from the Village of Itchen’ Extract from the Petition of the Fishermen & Ferrymen.
The ferrymen gained some concessions but a hundred and forty years latter in 1974 the floating bridge was replaced itself by the new Itchen Bridge.
The Floating bridge is dead and gone
the clanking of the chains are still
I remember when I was a child, to ride on the bridge was a thrill.
Times have changed over the years, the Itchen Regattas are a thing of the past;
To stand on the Itchen Hard and watch the boats,
with their white sails billowing in the wind, is a memory that will always last.
I can still hear the people cheering the men, as they took part in the races,
‘Come on Tom’, ‘Come on Alf’, show them your paces.
These are the memories the New Bridge can never take away
and I will remember them to the end of mydays
Mable Turtle neé Diaper
Most Diapers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries described themselves as fishermen even though during the sailing season they worked on the yachts. The fish market in Southampton was in French Street where one paid sixpence (6d) for a slab to display one’s catch from 6am to 8.30am. In those days buyers did not buy by weight but would arrive and offer a poor price for the catch of soles, plaice, pink shrimp etc. knowing that by 8.30am if a decent offer had not been made the sellers would be obliged to accept whatever they could get. With no fridges or freezers the fishermen had no option but to make the best deal they could.
In the eighteenth century fishing was regulated by the admiralty court who presented Thomas, Richard and William Diaper and others in September 1730 for having ‘used at Sea traul nets or sea nets which have a meash of less than three inches and half from knot to knot in order to destroy the small fish’. They were ordered to hand over their nets to be publicly burnt, failure to do so would lead to a fine of £20 for every offence or twelve months in prison. This was a huge sum of money, given that the poor rate reckoned that 1s 6d could sustain a person for a week at this time.
The boats used for fishing were the same as those used as ferry boats and in the early days as yachts, with names such as Arrow, Eileen, Florence, Haidee, Rosale, and Wonder. Father and son would go down the river out into Southampton Water, with the tide working their way out into the Solent. The catches in the nets were determined by the strength and direction of the wind of Southampton water. Without the wind it was possible to work without any results. The boats would be out for seven or eight hours hauling their net in and out about eight times for only a few fish or modest catches of 20lb. The hauling was done by hand and the net would get torn into holes, and as most could only afford one net it had to be sewn and mended. The moon tide at low water netted a good harvest with spring times being best locally because the water keeps moving and there is less of it. Although individuals continued to fish well into the second half of the twentieth century, the fishing fleets lasted into the 1920s when ten or eleven cutters were still to be found dredging for oysters off of Lee-on-Solent and averaging around 200 oysters each per day
Memoirs of George Diaper, Dan Parker Jnr & Bert Candy
‘A half-decked craft gaff-rigged with a bowsprit, and designed as a cutter with a jib and foresail, it hoisted a topsail above the gaff. A fair spread of canvas on a sturdily built boat not much more that 20ft overall. They went out at all times summer or winter. With caulked planks, often lapstrake to take her out of the water was to risk opening her seams while the salt sea-water of Southampton harbour was reckoned to preserve the timber of these wooden craft.’
Mr Brown, a waterman commissioned a boat from Smiths quay in 1910 for the sum of £14.