Floating Bridge

The Floating Bridge linking Southampton with Woolston began service in November 1836, substantially replacing the traditional Itchen ferry boats which had operated for hundredes of years between Crosshouse and Itchen Ferry Village. In 1849 Philip Brannon (Picture of Southampton) wrote “it is certainly a great public convenience, as it takes but four minutes to cross the Itchen”. It remained the most convenient way of crossing the Itchen between Southampton and Woolston until it was replaced by the Itchen Bridge in 1977.

The Floating Bridge was built and operated by the Itchen Bridge Company, founded in 1833, whose original idea was to build a seventeen-span bridge across the Itchen. The Admiralty, however, objected on the grounds that such a bridge would create a major obstruction to navigation. Instead, the company opted for a new type of river crossing - the steam driven floating bridge just invented by Plymouth engineer James Meadows Rendell, and already in use at Dartmouth and Saltash. The company duly installed the new bridge, and approach roads on both sides of the Itchen were also constructed. A toll house (image 1) was built on the Southampton side in what later became known as Floating Bridge Road. Part of this building survived until at least 1941 when it was photographed by O. G. S. Crawford (image 2). It has since been demolished.

Financial difficulties beset the company in its early years. It went bankrupt twice and the bridge closed down altogether for two years from 1849. It was only later in the century, when the Woolston shipyard had been established and when new housing had been built on the eastern side of the Itchen, that there was sufficient demand to put the enterprise on a firm financial footing. The Corporation acquired the Bridge and its approach roads in 1934.

Laurence Stephen Lowry (1887-1976), famous for painting industrial scenes in the north west of England, was an occasional visitor to Southampton and painted in c.1956 two pictures of Southampton’s floating bridge (image 4).

Floating Bridge Cottages

In the 19th century these cottages stood in Floating Bridge Road at the east end. They formerly housed employees of the Floating Bridge Company.

Floating Bridge Road

1) The approach to the Floating Bridge east of the Chantry Road / Canute Road junction, constructed 1836 by the Itchen Bridge Company as the approach to the new Floating Bridge.
2) In the early 19th century the name was also applied to whole of the approach east of Bernard Street (before construction of Central Bridge Road).
3) Contemporaneously the same name was applied to what is now Marine Parade and Albert Road in Chapel.

1. Floating Bridge Toll House

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Engraved from a drawing by W Carpenter, c.1840.

2. 19 Floating Bridge Road

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This building, photographed in 1941, incorporated the remains of the Toll House.

3. Floating Bridge Ferries in Mid-Stream.

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Photographed in 1977 from the newly-built Itchen Bridge.

4. The Floating Bridge by L. S. Lowry

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Oil on canvas, c.1956

Further reading:

The Missing Link, by Brian Adams. (HS/ln)
History of Southampton Vol 1, by A. Temple Patterson, p169-171. (HS/h)
Georgian and Victorian Southampton, by A. J. Brown, p37. (HS/h)
Picture of Southampton (1849), by Philip Brannon, p59 (HS/h)
Woolston Before the Bridge, by Rita Hill. (HS/h.WOO)


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