The river Itchen and ‘Spike Island’

The Spike Islander

The city of Southampton is divided – geographically and to some extent culturally – by the river Itchen.  Those who live on the eastern side of the Itchen are still sometimes referred to by Sotonians as ‘Spike Islanders’, and there is a pub in Sholing called The Spike Islander.

In his remarkable book Spike Island, author Philip Hoare gives various, disputed explanations for the nickname. One refers to the spiky gorse that once covered the area; another refers to the settlements of gypsies (‘pikeys’) around Woolston, Weston and Netley; yet another is believed to derive from the spike shaped peninsula formed by the rivers Itchen and Hamble.

The Itchen is one of the world’s most beautiful chalk streams.  It rises near Cheriton in Hampshire, a village that is home to one of my favourite pubs, the Flower Pots. After flowing north for a few miles, the Itchen is joined by the river Arle at Alresford. The tiny Itchen subsumes the larger Arle and continues, now flowing west, towards Winchester, once the capital of England and the home of King Alfred.

The river Itchen at Twyford

The Itchen now turns south and heads for Southampton, passing through Bishopstoke in the borough of Eastleigh. At Southampton, having divided the city, it passes beneath the impressive Itchen Bridge to join the river Test and become Southampton Water.

Itchen Bridge, Southampton

Southampton is thus a city of two rivers, which, when they meet, form Southampton Water, along which most of the great ocean liners of history have sailed on their way to and from the famous port. Further down, Southampton Water is joined by the river Hamble at the well-known yachting village of the same name.


5 thoughts on “The river Itchen and ‘Spike Island’

  1. Hello Stephen. Once again you have been persuaded to continue. I completely agree with the writers who protested your intention to close your blog. You may have few readers, but we who appreciate you would miss one of the better reasons for turning on our computers. There are few opportunities to read interesting, well-constructed, gentle descriptive prose these days, so please carry on the good work!

  2. Yes, don’t give up Stephen! We may not check it every day, but when we do, it is always a pleasure to read. Beautiful pictures of the river Itchen – I have just returned from Easter in the UK and was amazed how green the countryside is. In Poland, the cold winter has delayed things and green shoots are only just appearing. Always nice to visit home though!

    1. Thanks for your comment. I’m afraid my blog posts are only infrequent now. What you see here is all there is.

  3. I was told many years ago the the term refers to those prisoners who were made to stay over night in the area before being “transported” to Australia. They were chained to a large spike in the ground before loading onto the ships. When I was a boy this particular area was called the brickfields. (In S. California these days!)

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