Captain Hargreaves, when in residence at The Mount, was a keen fisherman. The public had enjoyed the right to fish along the towpath of the Itchen Navigation until 1874 when Mr. Chamberlayne who owned most of the land in Eastleigh, put up notices saying that all fishing rights belonged to himself. In defence of what he considered to be long standing public rights, Captain Hargreaves fished the whole extent of the river. The charge of illegal fishing was brought before Southampton Magistrates Court, by Mr. Chamberlayne of Cranbury Park, against Thomas Hargreaves. His bailiff, George Diddams, had witnessed the offence. Captain Hargreaves was found guilty and fined the sum of 1 shilling.

In the same court, on the same day, John Alexander, a bricklayer, of Southampton, was fined 10 shillings with costs of 18 shillings for poaching from the River Itchen and given a week to pay the fine or face a custodial sentence.
The difference in severity applied to the two individuals is clear and easy to understand. One was a gentleman who, unselfishly, was testing a matter of legal principle, whilst the other was clearly a villain who was robbing the landowner of his rightful property.

Captain Hargreaves instructed his solicitor to appeal the magistrate’s decision and, a year later, the case appeared before the Queen’s Bench and was reported in the Hampshire Advertiser on 12 June 1875. The crux of the appeal was that the river was part of the Itchen Navigation. The public had been given access rights to the Navigation by Act of Parliament and, therefore, Captain Hargreaves’ defence was simply that no offence had been committed.

The case was closely followed by many in the area, rich and poor, who had themselves fished (or poached) the river for many years. The court held the view that “whilst the Canals Act confirmed a right for barges to pass over the water,… it did not affect the rights of the riparian owners and, … the public did not have the right to fish in private water.” The original fine levied by the magistrates’ court was upheld.

By Chris Humby of the Bishopstoke History Society.

Read more about the history of The Mount