The River Anton was for many years the preferred name of the River Test. The name can be traced from William Camden’s Britannia, first published in 1568, through its heyday in the late eighteenth and early twentieth centuries, to a much postponed death in the twentieth edition of Black’s guide to Hampshire published in 1927.

The trail begins with William Camden and his identification of Trisanton, recorded as an estuary name in the second century AD by Ptolemy, with Southampton Water. Camden derived Trisanton from the Celtic Traith Anton, the frith [firth/estuary] of the river Anton. It followed that Anton predated Test as a river name and that Southampton (an extended form of Hantune or Hantone as recorded in the Domesday survey) took its name from the river that flowed by its western shore. This is a shaky foundation on which to build almost three centuries of etymological enquiry. An authoritative translation of Ptolemy’s work evades even modern scholars and many identified Trisanton not with the estuary of the river Test but with the estuary of the river Arun in Sussex. Camden made a parallel identification of Clausentum, a placename recorded in the Antonine Itinerary of c. AD320, with Southampton through its translation as the Port of Entum, with Claudh in the Celtic language signifying a harbour formed by artificial banks of earth and Entum evolving as a settlement name into Hantune or Hantone and as a river name into Anton. William Stukeley, in his Itinerarium Curiosum published in 1724, further argued that Clausentum should be rendered as Trausantum. Plate lxxix in the Itinerarium contains a print of St Mary’s (then the supposed site of the Roman city) dated 11 September 1723, and headed Trausantum from the East (image 1). It was republished as a single sheet for John Fletcher in the early nineteenth century. The late-seventeenth and early-eighteenth century maps of Robert Morden, published to accompany later editions of Camden’s Britannia, helped in the growing acceptability of Trisanton as a name for Southampton Water. The attribution was followed by, amongst others, George Musgrave, The land of the Belgae, 1717 (Trisanton Aestuar), Isaac Taylor, Map of Hampshire, 1759 (Southampton Water or Trisanton Bay) and Thomas Kitchin, A new map of Hampshire, c. 1764 (ditto). The Anton river as a distinct entity of itself is perhaps first recorded north of Redbridge in the c. 1720/1 publication of Robert Morden’s map of Hampshire, 1701, improved by Herman Moll in c. 1708.

The true popularity of the river name Anton is virtually synonymous with the Spa period in Southampton. It is as though it gave a sense of history to a town undergoing organic social and economic change. The account of Hampshire in the Universal Magazine for August 1750 (page 82) is an early popularization of Camden’s etymology, but it is the 1770s that sees the first onslaught of Antonmania. John Speed, in his manuscript history of Southampton, c.1770, refers several times to the Anton as an alternative to the Test and to Trisantonis Portis as an alternative to ‘Southampton Bay’. ‘The River Anton or Test’ is marked on A plan of Southampton and of the Polygon drawn by P Mazell and published on 28 August 1771. A complete new house, above the Bar, with a walled garden and stocked with fruit trees, “commanding a beautiful prospect of the Rivers Anton, Itching, &c” was advertised in the Hampshire Chronicle, 7 August 1775. Almost twenty years later the Brunswick Place development by John Simpkins and John Plaw, as yet only eighteen vacant plots of land, was described as commanding “a situation hardly to be equalled in the kingdom for an extensive prospect, lying between the Rivers Itchen and Anton” (Hampshire Chronicle, 8 June 1795, auction advertisement): extended in the twentieth edition of the Southampton guide to a view encompassing “the river Anton nearly to its source”. An example of vernacular usage is supplied by the Reverend E Stamp, formerly Wesleyan minister in Southampton. In the manuscript of his unpublished early history of Methodism in Hampshire, compiled in 1827-8, he refers to Redbridge as “a busy village three and a half miles from Southampton, situated at the point where the tide of the River Anton meets the River Test” (Methodist Archives, John Rylands Library, University of Manchester). The distinction between the tidal Anton and the non-tidal Test was common at this time, but the name Anton was with equal validity applied to the whole length of the river from estuary to source. The run of Southampton guides, starting in the 1770s and extending through numerous editions and derivatives into the 1840s, refer unflinchingly to the Anton either as a stand-alone name or as an alternative to the Test. The earlier editions discuss the nomenclature of both town and river at length. Historians were by the early nineteenth century tending to argue for a purely Saxon origin of the name Southampton (from ham [home] and ton/tun [town]), but Sir Henry Englefield, in his widely respected A walk through Southampton, 1805 and later editions), continued to argue that “the beautiful stream which ornaments the central parts of the county” gave its name to a series of eponymous settlements along its course, notably Southampton, Andover and Abbott’s Ann.

The river Anton appeared concurrently in several official or quasi-official publications. A survey of Southampton Water made in 1783 by Lieutenant Murdoch Mackenzie, RN and published by the Hydrographical Office in 1808 has ‘Anton River’ in what was later West Bay (image 2). Soundings taken in ‘The Anton River and port of Southampton’ at high-water neaptide on 21 November 1830 by Captain Stephens, RN (Hampshire Archives and Local Studies, 139 M89/13r) reinforces the naval usage of the term. The first edition of the Ordnance Survey one inch to one mile map of Southampton and district, first published in 1810 and re-issued for over sixty years with barely a change to its typeface, gave Anton and Test as equally valid alternatives: an authority spuriously enhanced by the transfer of the Ordnance Survey to Southampton in 1841. This goes far to explain the stubborn continuation of Anton as a river name in the printed maps of commercial mapmakers such as A & C Black and J Bartholomew. The Anton nomenclature is followed by Lieutenant Robert Dawson, RE in a map of 1831 showing the proposed constituency boundary changes following the Reform Act then going through Parliament. Projected but rejected ward names for Southampton under the 1837 municipal corporation boundary bill included Anton ward – to complement Sea and Itchen wards – and an accompanying map has ‘River Anton or Test’.

‘Anton’ gradually dropped out of the literature in the 1830s and 1840s and, although guidebooks published outside the county perpetuated the name into the 1870s in their text and in tipped-in maps, often unchanged for decades, into the 1920s, the name was by the mid/late nineteenth century the preserve of antiquarians and historians. Henry Moody uses Anton alone and as an alternative to the Test in Sketches of Hampshire, first published in the Hampshire Advertiser, 7 December 1844 – 22 February 1845. Philip Brannon refers to the ‘River TEST or ANTON’ in The beauties of the port and town of Southampton, [1849] and in its better-known second edition, A picture of Southampton, [1850]. The stranger’s guide and pleasure visitor’s companion to Southampton, first published in 1851 and going through at least seventeen editions (to c. 1875), has the River Test in textual matter but the recommended aquatic excursion to Redbridge goes “up the estuary of the River Test, or Anthon, which extends Southampton Water in a direction west by north a considerable distance above the town”. The interjected ‘h’ is a mystery. A new complete & correct map of Southampton and its suburban district, [1862] and 1871, also by Brannon likewise refers to the ‘The River Test or Anton’.
Extensive toponymical research and over three centuries of usage may seem to prove the authenticity of the river Anton. In reality, however, the river Anton is nothing more than an antiquarian conceit, a product of the heightened intellectual curiosity of the age and the increased availability of historical texts. The name survives today as a tributary of the river Test flowing through Andover. However, even this is an “antiquarian fiction” (Anthony C Roper, Andover past, 2001, p 16). Andover, Southampton and the river Test each has a linguistic heritage in which the Anton as a discrete river name bears no part.

1. Trausantum From the East

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William Stukely’s engraving Trausantum of 1723.

2. Detail from A Survey of Southampton Water

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A section of the chart showing the town of Southampton and the designation 'Anton River'.

see also

Further reading:
English River-Names, by Eilert Ekwall, p417 (for a discussion on the British Trisanton or Trisantona as the common basis of the rivers Trent and Tarrant). (929)
Old Hampshire Mapped:


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