Woolston is a suburb of Southampton on the east side of the Itchen River and was the east terminal of the Floating Bridge (as distinct from the traditional ferry which ran further north to Itchen Ferry Village). In the Domesday survey it appears as Olvestune, signifying ‘the tun of Olaf’. This is perhaps a reference to Olaf I (Trygvesson), King of Norway, 995-1000, who was here in 994-5. There are references to ‘Wolveston’ in documents from the 13th to the 15th century, but very little is revealed about the settlement.

There are no further references until 1631 when Sir George Rivers conveyed the Woolston estate to Nathaniel Mill, although John Speed marks the manor of Wullstone on his map of 1611; it appears to be an area of meadow and woodland.

The traditional means of crossing the Itchen was by ferry boat between Cross House and Itchen Ferry Village to the north of where Woolston is now situated. The coming of the floating bridge in 1836 led to a decline in ferry boat trade and Itchen Ferry Village, and a commensurate development in the vicinity of the floating bridge terminal. The railway arrived in 1866 with the establishment of the Southampton – Netley line. These improvements in communication provided a stimulus to the growth of the suburb and attracted industry.

Thomas Ridley Oswald arrived in Woolston c.1875 and opened up a shipbuilding and ship repair yard, thus beginning a tradition of shipbuilding in the suburb that lasted for over one hundred years. In 1902 the yard was taken over by John Thornycroft and Co., later Vosper Thornycroft, who were to become Woolston’s biggest employers. In 1912 the Supermarine Aviation Works opened in a disused coal yard on the banks of the Itchen. The firm, with R. J. Mitchell as chief designer, went on to build planes that won the Schneider Trophy outright, and to design the Spitfire fighter plane.

Traditionally part of South Stoneham, Woolston was incorporated into the borough of Southampton in 1920. Itchen Bridge was opened in 1977, linking Woolston with central Southampton and replacing the old floating bridge which had operated as the main crossing since 1836.

External links:

Further reading:

Woolston Before the Bridge, by Rita Hill. (HS/h)
Woolston and Sholing, by R. King (et al). (HS/h)


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