Thursday, 21 June 2007

A Short History of Navigation on the Avon

The river Avon rises in Wiltshire (near Pewsey) and flows for 65 miles to the sea near Christchurch in Dorset.

2550 BCE: One theory puts forward that the bluestones of Stonehenge were brought from Wales, via Lundy Island (as suggested by Rodney Castleden) and then around the Cornish Peninsula to the Salisbury Avon and up river to Salisbury and Amesbury

1535: A Commission was appointed in order to clear weirs and obstructions from the river. It is likely that this was to allow navigation but no action seems to have resulted

1623 the Water Poet, John Taylor, wrote an account of a journey he made from London following the south coast to Christchurch in a wherry, accompa­nied by four friends. From Christchurch he was rowed up the river to Salisbury

In 1664 an Act was passed for making the River Avon navigable from Salisbury to the Sea. (36 miles) Work did not start until 1675 and the navigation opened in 1684. Traffic on the river at this time included 25 ton barges. The Avon remained navigable to small craft for 50 years Traffic ceased about 1730

Ten navigation cuts were constructed between Salisbury and Christchurch The first of these runs for about 2 miles from below Harnham Bridge, Salisbury, past the village of Britford, to rejoin the main river by Longford Castle. Other cuts were at Downton, Horseport (close to Fordingbridge), Ellingham Church, Ringwood, Avon, Sopley and Winkton,

In 1730 plans that had been intended to make Ringwood an inland port were finally abandoned and the river was used thereafter solely for pleasure craft.

1889 witnessed the inauguration of the Fordingbridge Regatta. This was held on the River Avon each August until 1928. At this time there was a rowing and sailing club. The Regatta attracted people from all over England and became known as the Hampshire Henley

In 1907 the ancient public rights to sail boats on the river at Ringwood were denied by the fishing and riparian inter­ests, and although the case was brought before the High Court, there was not enough money to pursue it successfully

Very little remains of the navigation and much of the river is inaccessible to the public. Many changes have happened in the Avon Valley in the three hundred years since barges travelled the waterway. The construction of water-meadows, particularly in the 18th century, has had a great effect

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