THERE was a time when Woolston and the surrounding areas on the eastern bank of the Itchen were largely isolated, when only a scattering of villages and their few inhabitants made a living by fishing and farming.

For centuries the Itchen divided the area from the centre of Southampton, creating a barrier that had to crossed by ferry-boat - unless the traveller was willing to make a large detour to use the bridge at Mansbridge.

The crossing, however, could not always be relied upon as bad weather frequently made the journey hazardous.

On the Southampton side the ancient building, the Crosshouse, which remains to this day, was built as a shelter for the ferry passengers.

Cash was raised for its construction through the legacy of an old lady who caught a fatal chill while waiting for the ferry.

A company was formed in the 18th century in order to improve communication and transport links between Southampton and Portsmouth. This funded by landowners and and businessmen and resulted in the first Northam bridge, a wooden structure, complete with a toll bar, being completed in 1796.

Before long, the bridge and the approach roads, which had also been built, were in full use as an important highway on the way to Portsmouth.

Although this was convenient for private carriages and mail coaches which passed through, the improvements to the eastern approaches of Southampton were of little benefit to the people of Woolston who continued to use the old ferry.

As the importance of Southampton as a major port developed, there became an increased need for a more direct route eastward. In spite of determined opposition from the Northam Bridge Company, which recognised a serious threat to its monopoly, the promoters of the Itchen bridge gained an Act of Parliament in 1834.

Unfortunately the company was compelled to abandon its original proposal for a swing bridge across the Itchen because the Admiralty regarded this plan as a danger to navigation.

Instead, it was agreed to purchase a steam floating bridge, a new invention of the engineer James Rendel. In this way Southampton gained its first floating bridge, establishing a method of transport which continued in use until the 1970s.

The new bridge gained high praise when it made its first crossing of the river in 1836. As Woolston gradually transformed from a rural village to a thriving industrial area, the floating bridges formed a valuable link between the two shores.

However, in the last century, the increased volume of traffic, which these unique craft had to bear, often caused congestion and delays, and proposals for a fixed bridge were discussed time and time again until finally the dream became a reality on June 1, 1977.