A name used today for most of the northern suburbs lying east of the River Itchen but formerly applied to the area around the Roman settlement of Clausentum and its vicinity. Clausentum ceased to exist in the fifth century but the fortified area may have been used by the Saxon inhabitants of Hamwic on the other side of the river. Bitterne is not mentioned by name in the Domesday survey of 1086, but the Stanham Church mentioned may be reference to Bitterne. An earlier Saxon document of 1045 gave land at Stanham to Winchester Cathedral, and a number of historians think Stanham (later South Stoneham) may be equated with Bitterne Manor, which probably existed at this time.
The first mention of Bitterne (Byterne) by name occurs in the Bishop of Winchester’s register, c.1090. Hereafter the manor appears in documents usually associated with the Bishops of Winchester. In the 13th century a number of Bishops stayed at the manor house when in the vicinity and in 1284 Bitterne was given to the bishops by Edward I. Lawrence Burgess thought the name ‘Bitterne’ may well be connected with the operations of salt manufacture, since the bishops had a salt house here from the earliest times. But the more likely explanation for the name is that it was derived from two Old English words, byht meaning bend (a reference to the bend in the River Itchen) and aern meaning house.
In the mid 18th century Southampton’s reputation as a spa town drew wealthy visitors, some of whom settled in the countryside surrounding the town itself. A number of large residencies were built in the Bitterne area, including Bitterne Grove, Townhill Park, Midanbury House and Chessel House. The only link to Southampton at this time was via the Itchen ferry boats; there were no bridges south of Mansbridge. This changed in 1799 with the building Northam Bridge, linking Bitterne more directly with Southampton.
Bitterne Parish Council successfully resisted attempts to incorporate Bitterne into Southampton borough in the 1890s. Bitterne Park became part of Southampton in 1895, but Bitterne continued to be administered by South Stoneham Rural District Council until 1920.
The Book of Bitterne, by Bitterne Local History Society. (HS/h.BIT)
Bitterne Before the By-Pass, by Bitterne Local History Society. (HS/h.BIT)
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