DURING the 19th century, as Southampton's importance as a port grew, the population of the town increased rapidly which led to overcrowding and appalling sanitary conditions in the area around St Michael's Church.

Attempts to solve the problem by demolishing dilapidated buildings meant that the people and the problem simply moved elsewhere in the Borough.

At the same time, many people had set up home outside the Borough in the parishes of Shirley, Freemantle, Bitterne, Millbrook, Woolston and Sholing.

In 1894 the population of the Borough was around 67,000 while almost 30,000 people lived in the surrounding parishes.

The 1890 Housing of the Working Class Act had given the Council the ability to build homes for working people but land was needed for this. It was at this time that the Council sought to extend the Borough to include the outlying parishes that were included in the Parliamentary boundary.

In January, 1895, a Local Government Enquiry was established and despite local and county opposition the decision of the enquiry was that Freemantle, Shirley, and part of Millbrook be included in the Borough.

With this decision the area of the Borough almost doubled in size with a population of almost 90,000 people.

In January of 1895 a meeting of Woolston residents took place at the Boys' School in Woolston where opposition to the expansion of the Borough was carried, but a proposal was made that the meeting support the scheme conditionally subject to free communication across the Itchen.

To cross the Itchen to Southampton, residents of Woolston used the Floating Bridge or Northam Bridge both of which involved a toll.

When the Liberal Land Company sold off plots at Bitterne Park to builders they built a toll free bridge known as Cobden Bridge across the Itchen to St Denys.

Employment in shipbuilding had led to a local population of around 10,000 people living in Woolston while Bitterne was just starting to develop.

In April of 1918 the then Sheriff of Southampton, Sidney Kimber, was chairing a Court Leet when he broke with tradition and made a presentment to the Jury for an enlargement of what he considered to be a one sided Borough.

The Court Leet supported his presentment and Sidney Kimber then made representation to the Council meeting in June for a further expansion of the Borough to include Woolston, Sholing, Bitterne Manor, Bitterne, Bitterne Park, Swaythling and Bassett. This was well received and a team was formed to manage the proposal to be presented to Parliament.

Meetings took place with the various Parish Councils with general agreement subject to a number of clauses being included, two of which were specifically for the Bitterne and Woolston Parish Councils. These stated that within five years the Town Council would purchase the Floating Bridge and the Northam Toll Bridge.

The only parish that opposed the expansion was that which included Bassett leading Sidney Kimber to state that they enjoyed all the benefits of the town but were unwilling to share the responsibilities.

In January 1920 a Local Government Board met in the Bargate to investigate the application for expansion of the Borough which they subsequently endorsed and a Bill for the expansion of the Borough went unopposed in Parliament and received Royal Assent in July 1920. As a consequence of the Act the area of the Town doubled in size to over 9,000 acres and the population of 130,000 increased by 31,200.

In March 1929 the Corporation purchased the Northam Bridge for £79,238 and all tolls ended from May that year. As was to be expected this had an immediate effect on the income of the Floating Bridge which quickly fell and in 1934 the Corporation completed its purchase for £54,543, a figure agreed after arbitration.

By Godfrey Collyer, tour guide with SeeSouthampton.co.uk.