Locks Heath covers an area from Warsash in the west to Titchfield in the east. In the past, the most important local activity in this area was the growing of strawberries.
The industry developed as a result of the 1866 Enclosure Acts which allowed the common land to be split into a large number of small plots. The new plot owners needed a crop that would give them a quick income from a small outlay. It only needed between two and four acres of land to support a family for a year. The combination of suitable soils and a mild climate, free from spring frosts, proved ideal for the production of early cropping strawberries. Their early ripening made them desirable in markets across the country. When Swanwick railway station opened in 1888, large quantities of strawberries were soon being sent to all over the country.
The picking season was the busiest time of the year, running from the end of May to mid-July. Family, friends and neighbours were all co-opted as pickers and children were given "picking holidays" from school. Gypsies and the unemployed were also hired.
The strawberries were transported in large wicker baskets called "gallons" until the early twentieth century when they were replaced by disposable containers called "chips". The "gallons", made by the prisoners in Winchester jail, were not always a standard size. This caused arguments over the weights of strawberries and the money to be paid. The gallons also had to be returned to the growers, which was a major inconvenience. "Chips" were cheap, mass-produced, nonreturnable containers made from thin strips of wood woven into a rectangular shape and stapled together. They were produced by the local Swanwick Basket Company (see below). By the 1960s the chips were made from cardboard, which in turn were replaced by the plastic trays used today for the pick-your-own market.
For a short period each year, Swanwick Station became one of the busiest in the country. Long lines of wagons queued, waiting to unload their baskets onto a "strawberry special". Small boys were employed to pack the baskets onto specially constructed shelves in the railway vans. Each basket had a cover provided by the wholesaler who was being supplied by a particular grower. In a good season before the Second World War, three million baskets of strawberries were sent from Swanwick Station, requiring 160 special trains with 4000 railway vans. As well as trains, anything from bicycles to lorries were used over the period to transport strawberries to centres of population.
In 1905, the Swanwick and District Fruit Growers Association was established. The Association negotiated terms with the railway companies and wholesale markets, on behalf of the growers, as well as providing information and advice.
In 1913, the Association set up the Swanwick Basket Factory in Duncan Road to make punnets, chips, baskets and other requirements for the growers. The factory employed mainly women and produced over a million packages in 1949, at which time there were 60 workers. By 1964 there were only six and the factory finally closed down in 1989.
The strawberry industry hit its peak in the 1930's and then began to slip into decline. This was caused by a variety of factors, including the demand for development land, competition from abroad and the increasingly strict requirements of supermarkets for standardised products.
Although strawberries are still grown in the area, much of the land once used is now covered with houses. Because of the nature of the plots of land, which were once the strawberry farms, many of the houses are built in relatively small estates. The mixture of old and new gives Locks Heath a unique character.
The Locks Heath Area
The same mixture of old and new occurs with the local businesses and shops. Some have been in Locks Heath for a very long time, and some are relatively new. The Locks Heath shopping centre was built in the 1980's to provide additional facilities and a focal point for the area. Before that time, nobody was quite sure where the centre of Locks Heath was.
The village of Titchfield is very important to the history of Locks Heath, as it was the nearest village of any size for a very long time. Saint Johns church at Locks Heath was originally built to reduce the distance that people had to walk to go to church each Sunday - the nearest church was in Titchfield.
There are a number of interesting facts about Titchfield. The ruined abbey was founded by the Bishop of Winchester and originally inhabited by an order known as the White Canons. It was destroyed during the dissolution of the monasteries.
The Wriothesley family were prominent for hundreds of years, and they were created Earls of Southampton. The grandson of the first Earl was Shakespeare's patron, so it is likely that some of Shakespeare's plays were first enacted at Titchfield. It is rumoured that the first performance of Romeo and Juliet took place in the tithe barn of Fern Hill Farm, near to the abbey ruins. This barn dates back to the fifteenth century.
The river Meon, which flows through Titchfield, was originally open to the tides, and the town was a port until 1611. In that year, the third Earl dug a canal, blocked the river mouth, and reclaimed the salt mashes as pastures. This severely affected the livelihood of the villagers, and this has never been forgotten. The Bonfire Boys annual bonfire, with the burning of an effigy of the Earl, is still held annually in October.
Westbury Manor Museum
Westbury manor Museum, in Fareham, is well worth a visit to find out more about the local area. The museum is open from 10:00 to 5:00 on Monday to Friday, and 10:00 to 4:00 on Saturday. It is closed on Sunday. Admission is free.
Areas of the museum include Bricks and Tiles, Chimney Pots, Archaeology, Portchester Castle, Strawberry Fare (exhibit about strawberry growing), the Parish, local schools, the General Store, Clay Pipes, and the Victorian Garden.
More details can be obtianed by phoning 01329 824895.
The Locks Heath area continues to grow and attract new residents. Hopefully, they, and visitors will find this Web site useful.