Northam Bridge

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Northam Bridge
River Itchen, Northam Bridge (geograph 5049896).jpg
Aerial view of the bridge in 2016
Coordinates50°54′54″N 1°23′10″W / 50.915°N 1.386°W / 50.915; -1.386Coordinates: 50°54′54″N 1°23′10″W / 50.915°N 1.386°W / 50.915; -1.386
Carries4 lanes (road)
CrossesRiver Itchen
LocaleNortham, Bitterne Manor (both in Southampton)
Maintained bySouthampton City Council
Preceded bySt Denys Railway Bridge
Followed byItchen Bridge
Total length148 metres (485 ft 7 in)
Width13.5 metres (44 ft 3 in)
Longest span32 metres (105 ft 0 in)
No. of spans5
Piers in water4
Clearance aboveopen-air
Clearance below9.2 meters (30 ft 2.2 in)
Construction start1796 (original);
1954 (current)
Construction end1799 (original);
1954 (current)
Opened1799 (original);
1954 (current)
Northam Bridge is located in Southampton
Northam Bridge
Northam Bridge
Location in Southampton

The Northam Bridge is a road bridge across the River Itchen in Southampton, England, linking the suburbs of Northam and Bitterne Manor. The current bridge was the first major prestressed concrete road bridge to be built in the United Kingdom.[1] The bridge carries the A3024 road as a dual carriageway, with two lanes on each carriageway.


Prior to the construction of the Northam Bridge, the southernmost bridge across the River Itchen was at Mansbridge.[2] Mansbridge was the lowest crossing point of the river until the early 18th century, when the Itchen Ferry began operating between Woolston and St Mary's, downriver of Northam.[2]

The Northam Bridge was the idea of David Lance, who acquired land in Bitterne and built Chessel House there in 1796.[2] Realising that access to his land was poor, he encouraged the building of a bridge linking Bitterne Manor to Northam, together with roads from the bridge to Botley and a further bridge over the River Hamble in Bursledon (and onwards to Portsmouth), with the fork between the Bursledon and Botley roads passing close to Chessel House.[2] The Northam Bridge Company was formed in 1796, funded mainly by Portsmouth businessmen.[2]

The new route between Portsmouth and Southampton would be four miles (6 km) shorter than travelling via Mansbridge, and as a result the proposal to improve transport between the two important port cities was keenly supported by the Admiralty, especially since this was the time of the Napoleonic Wars.[2] Consequently, when the Northam Bridge Company sought an Act of Parliament to build a bridge, the Act was passed quickly.[2]

The 1799 Northam Bridge

The new roads and bridges were built in 1799, and were originally operated as toll roads. The first Northam Bridge was of wooden construction.[2]

The Northam Bridge Company spent 1834 and 1885 putting much effort into opposing first the construction of a swing bridge further down the Itchen and then construction of the Woolston Floating Bridge.[3] In the case of the former they were successful in the later they were not.[3] The Northam Bridge company responded to the opening of the Woolston Floating Bridge by reducing their tolls by three quarters. [4]

The wooden Northam Bridge was replaced in 1889 by an iron bridge[5] at a cost of £9,000.[6]

The bridge remained a toll bridge until 1929[5] when the ownership was transferred from the private sector to the Southampton Corporation.[7]The bridge cost the council £79,238 after arbitration.[8] It was this change of ownership that allowed the first bus route across the River Itchen to be established in Southampton; Southampton Corporation decided against extending the existing tram lines across the bridge, opting instead to establish a double-decker bus service.[7] On 18 March 1941 the bridge was damaged during an air raid.[9]

The modern bridge from the eastern (Bitterne Manor) bank

The iron bridge was replaced in 1954 with a third bridge, made of prestressed concrete, and it is this bridge that still stands today.[1][5] The third Northam Bridge was the first major prestressed concrete road bridge to be built in the UK[1] and cost £600,000. However this figure included the compulsory purchase of land and about 2,000 feet (610 m) of embankment construction as well as the bridge construction itself.[6]

In January 2015 the bridge was partially closed to allow waterproofing work to be carried out at a cost of £1.2m as part of a national £317m programme of works dubbed the "pinch-point programme".[10]

Construction and dimensions[edit]

The parapets of the first (wooden) bridge were 24 feet (7.3 m) apart, as were those of its wrought-iron successor.[6]

The third bridge utilised the latest technology available at the time but the style of the bridge was of the pre-war era.[11] The main deck structure has transverse diaphragms and narrowly spaced beams, which were pre-cast on site using deflected cables.[11] Pre-cast, pre-stressed slabs, known as junction slabs or continuity slabs, were placed between the tops of the beams by transverse stressing over a length where the flanges of the tees were removed.[11] These, together with in situ diaphragms between the ends of the beams, allowed the deck structure to be made continuous for live and superimposed loads.[11] After the junction slabs were in place, the main beams were post-tensioned through the diaphragms.[11]

The cement used to make the concrete in the bridge was Ordinary Portland Cement, which was both cheaper and resulted in less shrinkage than using rapid-hardening cement. It was used in a ratio of 1:1​12:3 - a mix which used more cement than German and British practice at the time - and a water-to-cement ratio of 0.3.[6]

The consulting engineers responsible for the new bridge were Rendel Palmer & Tritton, the same firm used for Waterloo Bridge in London nine years earlier.[6]

At mid-span, the bridge is 44 feet 4 inches (13.51 m) wide,[11] 4.7 metres above mean high water springs and 9.2 metres above chart datum.[12] The bridge is 148 metres long in total, and the supporting piers are up to 32 metres apart.[13]

Local Legend[edit]

The bridge is reportedly haunted by the ghost of a soaking wet young girl. In a local variation of the classic vanishing hitchhiker urban legend the girl is picked up by police but vanishes from their car before they arrive at the address she has given. Later inquiries at the address reveal she has been dead for several months.[14]


  1. ^ a b c "History of Concrete Bridges". Archived from the original on 11 October 2013. Retrieved 11 October 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Holt, John; Anne Cole (February 1992). A bend in the River. Southampton: Bitterne Local History Society.
  3. ^ a b Patterson, A. Temple (1966). A History of Southampton 1700–1914 Vol.I An Oligarchy in Decline 1700–1835. The University of Southampton. pp. 169–171.
  4. ^ Brian, Adams (1977). The missing link : The story of the Itchen Bridge. Southampton City Council. p. 17.
  5. ^ a b c "Northam Bridge Approach - PortCities Southampton". Retrieved 11 March 2008.
  6. ^ a b c d e Adams, H.C.; C W Pike; D H Lee; F I Childs; G O Kee; A Goldstein; J R Lowe; A D Holland; Wooldridge; J Cuerel; HAUCH (1 May 1955). "NEW NORTHAM BRIDGE, SOUTHAMPTON" (PDF). Institution of Civil Engineers Proceedings. 4 (3): 290–298. doi:10.1680/iicep.1955.11382. Retrieved 14 May 2012.
  7. ^ a b Gould, Peter. "Southampton Corporation Transport: 1898-1986". Peter Gould. Retrieved 11 March 2008.
  8. ^ Brian, Adams (1977). The missing link : The story of the Itchen Bridge. Southampton City Council. p. 31.
  9. ^ Rance, Adrian (1986). Southampton An Illustrated History. Milestone Publications. p. 168. ISBN 0903852950.
  10. ^ "Southampton travel delays as Northam Bridge repairs begin". BBC News. Retrieved 6 January 2015.
  11. ^ a b c d e f Sutherland, R. J. M.; Dawn Humm; Mike Chrimes (2001). Historic Concrete. Thomas Telford. ISBN 0-7277-2875-X.
  12. ^ "Southampton Port Users Information & Navigation Guidelines" (PDF). Associated British Ports. Retrieved 29 August 2008.
  13. ^ Hewson, Nigel R. (2003). Prestressed Concrete Bridges: Design and Construction. Thomas Telford. ISBN 0-7277-3223-4.
  14. ^ Legg, Penny (2011). Haunted Southampton. The History Press. ISBN 9780752455198.

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