No records exists
of cargo carried and today it is hard to visualise how the construction
of a waterway to Titchfield could be justified.
But, a Tannery and
a large Corn mill near existed in the village and upstream at Fontley was
located an important iron works. All these industries could have provided
the bulk cargoes for the Canal.
Prior to this canals construction
Titchfield was a busy port situated two miles up the Meon Estuary. This
changed in 1611 when the Third Earl of Southampton built a dike across
the entrance to the River Meon Cutting it off from the Sea. To the West
of the river the Earl had Canal built, this was only the second Canal to
be built in Britain the first being the Exeter ship Canal.
The reason for construction
this major engineering work is not fully known. A possibility exists that
the estuary was silting up and the Canal succeeded to keep Navigation open.
Some local inhabitants considered that the Canal was only built to provide
the Earl with more agriculture and hunting ground at a cost of their free
access to the sea. The feeling against the Earl was so high that at an
effigy was burnt of him every year at a bonfire in Titchfield. Even today
the group that organises the annual carnival is called the bonfire boys,
a memory of the hatred that the canal caused against the local landlord.
Little is known about the
period of the Canals operation. The waterway appears too narrow to accommodate
any seagoing ships and no turning basin exists at Titchfield. If indeed
the canal was used for Navigation it has been suggested that small tub
barges may have been used. The sea lock
was a simple staunch lock giving access for vessels at high water only.
No records of cargo tonnage's carried exists some consider the waterway
was only used for irrigation and providing sporting ground. There is no
doubt that the flood plain created by the dike and canal became valuable
agricultural land and a rich area for wildfowl hunting.
Mystery also surrounds the
closure of the canal Some authors state the Canal was closed within 100
years of opening and others in the 1870's. The entrance became blocked
by shingle movements and trade declined
as a result of improvements in local roads.
Whatever the facts are behind
the history of the Canal the habitat created by its construction forms
a valuable asset as a nature reserve.