We have two beautiful rivers in south Hampshire, the Test and the Itchen. Both chalk streams, in their upper reaches these are noted for their water quality. In fact, due to the chalk aquafer on the Itchen, which has excellent storage and filtration, we get our water supply from this river.
But here in Chandler’s Ford we know of another, less well-known river, the Monks Brook. ‘Fordians see it popping up here and there, through Hiltingbury Lakes, at the bottom of people’s gardens, under roads: sometimes pretty as in Flexford Reserve, sometimes business-like as it rushes down a manmade culvert under Hursley Road.
So what do we know of our local river? It is difficult to give a length as it is formed from seven streams that rise on the chalk west and north of our town. Its official source is at Bucket’s Corner (at the sharp bend on the road from Valley Park to North Baddesley, near the old church, take an even sharper bend towards Ampfield). After flowing though Chandler’s Ford and Eastleigh it joins the River Itchen at the medieval salmon pool at Swaythling.
It is first documented in 932 in a charter where King Athelstan granted the estate of North Stoneham to a man called Alfred, as the river formed the estate boundary. Earlier than this, however, it is thought that the river may have been used to prevent flooding at South Stoneham.
In the fourteenth century the monks of Hyde Abbey, Winchester, owned the North Stoneham estate and the river’s current name came from them, at least for the northern stretch of the brook. For the southern stretch we find that a tenth-century charter calls in the Swaethling Well. ‘Swaethling’ means ‘misty stream’ and so the area of Swaythling is named after our river.
After the river rises near Bucket’s Corner, the principal branch of the stream flows north-east until it reaches the railway line towards Romsey. From here it flows south-east following the railway, under Flexford Road (where it is joined by a tributary that has risen near Hursley), through Flexford Reserve and all the way alongside the cycle/footpath through Valley Park to the station, where a tributary from Valley Park joins it. Here it is channelled through a culvert to go under Hursley and Winchester Roads and on to rejoin the railway as it progresses to Eastleigh.
There are other tributaries that flow through Chandler’s Ford that may be familiar. One rises on the western reaches of Cranbury Park, flows through Hocombe Mead and Cuckoo Bushes, under Valley Road and then seems to go underground though Merrileas until it joins the main branch at the bottom of Park Road. Another course that flows down some front gardens of Park Road, ending up around Mead Road, also originates in Cranbury Park before flowing through Hiltingbury, including the grounds of St Martin in the Wood. (This is the same stream that had to be diverted when St Martin’s was built as its original course went right through the middle of the new church’s site.)
Another tributary originates at some ponds on the Cranbury estate then flows through Hiltingbury to become part of Hiltingbury Lakes. It continues down the lower end of Kingsway to come out again south of Brownhill Road, then down to the main stream near the station.
Once the main river leaves the railway near Oakmount Avenue, soon it is channelled to go under Leigh Road and the M3 and then is allowed to flow more naturally through the Fleming Park golf course where a tributary that comes from Templars Way joins it.
It passes under Chestnut Avenue and travels south adjacent to Stoneham Lane towards the airport. Here it is has to vanish again to pass under the M27 and the sliproads for J5 before finding the railway again (this time the Eastleigh to Southampton stretch).
It goes under the railway and the A27 before passing the back of South Stoneham church. Here it enters the grounds of Southampton University’s Wessex Lane halls where the river was once a feature of the gardens (landscaped by Capability Brown) of the eighteenth-century South Stoneham House, designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor. The river feeds a large salmon pool and flows in to the river Itchen at Woodmill.
The southern stretch of the river between Eastleigh and Southampton forms a green corridor and is home to roe deer, badgers, otters, voles, lizards, kingfishers, great crested newts, wasp spiders and slowworms as well as many wetland plants.