IT is the Southampton landmark that can be seen up to five miles away - Itchen Bridge is is not only visually striking but has been critical for the growth of the city.

1. A better way to cross between Soton and Woolston

During the rise of Southampton as a significant port in the 19th century, there emerged a growing demand for a more efficient eastward route from the town than ferry.

Despite facing strong resistance from the Northam Bridge Company, a group of individuals successfully obtained an Act of Parliament in 1834 for the construction of a bridge in Itchen.

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This development posed a significant challenge to the existing monopoly held by the Northam Bridge Company.

They were compelled to abandon their original proposal for a swing bridge across the Itchen because the admiralty regarded this plan as a danger to navigation.

2. A floating bridge was decided upon

It was agreed to that a steam floating bridge, a new invention of engineer James Rendel. would be a much better fit.

Southampton's acquisition of its inaugural floating bridge marked the establishment of a transportation system that remained in operation until the 1970s.

Daily Echo: Floating Bridge toll house.

The new bridge gained high praise when it made its first crossing of the river in 1836.

The rapid urbanization of the eastern regions surrounding Southampton brought about significant changes, turning once-sleepy villages into bustling districts.

In this evolving landscape, the floating bridge emerged as a crucial connector between the two shores.

3. The floating bridge had its problems

During the initial years, the company faced significant financial challenges.

This resulted in the company declaring bankruptcy on two separate occasions. Additionally, the bridge was forced to shut down for a period of two years beginning in 1849.

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Well before the floating bridge's final days, the surge in traffic frequently led to gridlock and significant wait times.

A new way of crossing was desperately needed.

4. Itchen Bridge opened in 1977

After countless discussions and deliberations, the long-awaited fixed bridge plans finally materialized into a tangible reality on the memorable day of June 1, 1977.

Daily Echo: Itchen Bridge opening.

With the arrival of a horse-drawn carriage on the once untrodden tarmac, a momentous chapter in the city's transportation history unfolded, marking the culmination of an audacious vision that had spanned nearly one hundred and fifty years.

5. The first vehicle was a landau

Embarking on the recently inaugurated Itchen Bridge was a sight to behold - a splendid 18th-century landau, pulled by a grand duo of grey horses, led the way with its coachmen adorned in authentic period attire.

Daily Echo: Itchen Bridge opening.

Julie Corps, a former Miss Southampton, emerged from the carriage to set free 50 balloons filled with hydrogen, painting the sky with vibrant colours.

6. The bridge cost £12m

The dazzling behemoth of a structure that jutted high into the skies and stretched across 

Daily Echo: 16 Jan 2013 - Itchen Bridge stock photo

Under the scorching rays of the sun, a dazzling £12m structure stood tall. 

7. The first person to drive over was the then-mayor

In a historic moment, the Mayor of Southampton, Councillor Joyce Pitter, became the first official driver to cross the bridge. Joining her on this momentous occasion was Councillor John Deacon, the esteemed chairman of the city's planning and transport committee.

Daily Echo: Itchen Bridge.

A group of councillors and civic officials trailed behind the duo, while the city's Silver Jubilee bus, filled with both children and adults, followed closely behind.

8. The Daily Echo reported on it at the time

The Daily Echo reported at the time: “Lord Maybray King recalled that he was one of the first people to use the floating bridges when they were brought back into service at the end of the Second World War.

“It’s a great day for this part of Southampton,” he said.

“”I am proud the City Council had the courage to make plans to go ahead.””

9. The bridge was opened early to pedestrians

  Although the opening was met with fanfare and processions, pedestrians were permitted to cross on foot the day before with Edith Park of Sholing being the first. 

From the moment of its completion, the Itchen Bridge has served as a vital lifeline connecting Southampton's core.

Daily Echo: Snow in January 1978 - Itchen Bridge

This architectural behemoth has not only shaped the city's growth but has become an everlasting symbol of its progress.

As time continues to pass, the Itchen Bridge remains poised to leave an indelible mark on Southampton for generations to come.

10. Will it ever be toll-free?

Speculations frequently circulated regarding the potential removal of the toll once it had accumulated sufficient funds to pay for the initial structure, estimated to be around £12 million.

After nearly five decades, the toll remains firmly established and its future shows no signs of change.

This may be because there has never been an official agreement or plan in place for it to be removed.

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The origin of the popular urban legend may be traced back to an old parliamentary discussion. In this debate, the question was raised as to whether the bridge would ever pay for itself.

It was deemed improbable, yet not entirely impossible, according to the response provided. This particular response did not hold any weight nor was it legally binding. It was solely an opinion given at that moment.