Wickham Water Meadows
The Water Meadows were converted to a public open space as a Millennium project and are managed by a village trust. Although a tranquil area now, this was a busy, noisy and probably smelly centre of
village life – a brewery, smithy, tannery and iron foundry have all been located around the
Meadows at different times.
Wickham and the River Meon
The River Meon is a 22-mile predominantly chalk stream emerging from springs at East Meon and entering the Solent at Titchfield Haven. Wickham was the lowest easy crossing of the Meon until the bridge at
Titchfield was built. The river now carries only about a third of the water that it used to.
It may have been possible to bring cargo to Wickham from the sea by small boat – perhaps the origins of the ‘boat field’ recorded on early maps of the village.
The River Meon played a crucial role in the development and life of the village. Not only was it a
vital crossing point but it also supplied water and power for local tanneries, corn mills and two iron works (one just north of the village and one at Funtley).
Finally, it provided a good fishery – salmon and sea trout both used to spawn in the River Meon and sea trout still do, although in smaller numbers than before
The New River
The stream running to the right of the history board was called the New River on a map of 1715 and irrigated about 80 acres of water meadows between Wickham and Funtley. It was built in the 1650s and although it now only runs a short distance it originally flowed to Great Fontley Farm on Titchfield Road. The water was used to help grow a grass crop several weeks early in the spring, by flooding the fields between the New River and the original river below using a combination of sluices and channels. There was even an aqueduct over the river at Mayles Farm.
Water was often a source of conflict. Local mill owners claimed their ‘ancient rights’ to have enough flow in the river to power their water wheels, while farmers claimed the right to irrigate their land. In 1754 men from the Funtley Mills had to apologise to the Duke of Portland for breaking down a sluice in
an argument over water rights.