The Itchen is the product of three spring-fed tributaries which winds its way for 20 miles through Hampshire, passing through Winchester, Eastleigh and Southampton before entering Southampton Water. The last 5 miles of the river are a flooded inlet, currently navigable along its tidal extent which terminates at Woodmill Bridge.
The lower stretches of waterway have played host to most of the rivers historical activity, although it seldom secures a second glance from the incidental commuter or accidental tourist. To the casual observer, it may appear unkempt, littered with decaying structures and flanked by remnants of a once prosperous industrial age.
To the archaeologist and historian it harbours a wealth of information that casts light on the social and physical evolution of the region.
The Itchen River Project: 1997 – 2002
The Itchen River Project was set up to highlight and assess the remaining maritime heritage. It aims to identify and record the diminishing archaeological archive before it is lost.
Between 1997 and 2002 a range of intertidal structures in the river were recorded. These included hulks, structures, prehistoric landscapes and previously unrecorded anomalies lying in the mud flats. The fieldwork was carried out by the MAT, Southampton City Council Archaeological Unit, local community volunteers and students from Southampton University and University College London.
To aid the survey, equipment was provided by the Department of Geography, University of Portsmouth which developed a GIS survey for the project and facilitated a website (no longer online). An underwater imaging survey was conducted by a team from the School of Ocean and Earth Science, University of Southampton.
The project highlighted several important sites which were the subject of indepth study. The most exciting find was wooden posts at St Denys opposite Bitterne Manor, the site of the Roman settlement Clausentum. Dendrochronological analysis dated the posts to AD 201, suggesting it is the remains of a Roman waterside structure with a pier, jetty and wharf. This structure has recently been resurveyed (in 2013) by students from Southampton University as part of their Masters course in Maritime Archaeology.