This is the first in a series of posts about the Titchfield Canal and we start with a piece by Dr Peter Mills, published in a recent newsletter, posing the unanswered questions.
Following this I will publish other articles written over the last 40 years which offer some explanations. I will also publish maps and other evidence. Finally, I will conclude with a summary of what has been presented with some pointers to further research.
The Canal Revisited by Peter Mills
Historical facts can be difficult to establish, but at least we usually know why people made things or did things.
Until we come to Titchfield, of course, with what is termed its canal, the artificial watercourse stretching from the village to the sea. Although it is inescapably there, we simply do not know when it was formed, who paid for it, and above all what it was for.
And to compound the problem, a short distance away we have the sealed-off mouth of the river Meon. This time we know (probably) when it was sealed and who paid for it, but the purpose remains a complete mystery. And finally, turning the issue upside down, we all know what a port is for.
But the problem with the ancient port of Titchfield is that we do not know for certain that it ever existed.
In the absence of knowledge, many different ideas have been developed. The simple common notion is that the sealing of the estuary stopped trading vessels from reaching Titchfield, but the link was restored by the construction of the canal.
This notion has been challenged, particularly by Ken Groves and John Mitchell (neither sadly still with us), their ideas being set out in detail in the Blue Book.
Both assumed that Titchfield had previously been a port, but neither thought (for quite different reasons) that the sealing-off directly prevented trading.
This happened much later, but whereas Ken thought that the canal subsequently retained the link, John regarded the loss as terminal, with the watercourse formed to support a water meadow system.
The principal reason for the continuing uncertainty is the almost complete lack of documentary evidence. What little we have is enigmatic and offers no clue as to purpose.
Yet the canal and the sealed estuary are both there, and what interests/exasperates me is the thought that when the construction work took place the people of Titchfield must have known quite clearly what it was all about.
But over the years all that common knowledge slowly dissipated, until today it has completely vanished. Following Ken and John’s endeavours, I have three thoughts about how we might make some further progress.
Firstly, in the absence of additional factual information, I think there needs to be a stronger focus on why things happened rather than on the when or the how.
Secondly, if possible we should pick up on Ken’s idea of commissioning some exploration of what lies at the bottom of the canal or the estuary. Finally, I think we need to look critically at the assumption that trading vessels actually made their way up the river to Titchfield.
If they did not, then the debate would take a very different turn.
Maybe none if this will yield anything more, but we could give it a try!