The History of Kimbridge On the Test
In Roman times, the land was turned from marshy land into what is now the river Test at Kimbridge. Engineers controlled the river by installing drainage, water works and many watermills, which were used for milling.
By the time of the Normans, there were around 300 mills in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, the first weed cutting practises were carried out on the river to enable strong flows to work the Mills.
Salmon, Trout, Eels, Pike and Perch could all be found in the Test at this time, Grayling were introduced around 1815. These were possibly from the River Avon in Wiltshire.
As the Test Valley was formed it was drowned for grazing and most of it was left treeless so that early Fly-fishing technique’s such as Dapping could be carried out unhindered. As the first Casting rods were built, trees were planted to stop wind and provide shelter for the cast.
Once the railways came along most of the Mills were stopped, water was no longer impounded overnight to run the Mills the following morning.
At the centre of the estate is the main gravel track. This was the old Andover to Southampton line known as the Sprat and Winkle line, opened on the 6th March 1865. There are a few explanations for why the line was called this; 1. Was that illicit goods were covered with Sprat and Winkles to deter the Inspection Guards, 2. Named after railway couplings and 3. The name refers to the size of the line linking the main Southampton to London line and the London to West County line. The steel bridges, gradient/bridge markers and the odd concrete fence post are all that remain.
At the end of the 1800’s, an Arthur Humbert came to Kimbridge and purchased the Millers house and Mill. In 1906 the Mill was replaced with a workshop, garage and Cottage.
During the 1920’s and 30’s gravel roads were tarred; the previous owner of Kimbridge, Arthur Humbert, can remember as a child seeing trout that had gone blind due to the runoff of the tar into the river.
At Mottisfont Bridge, the Estate joins the National Trust land. A large gravel bar can be seen just below the road bridge; this is the remains of a Ford used to cross the river before the road bridge was built in the mid 1920’s.
At the lower end of the main river bordering with Kimbridge House water, is the Ginger Beer Hatches. There are two stories of how the hatches got their name. One was a rhyming slang term for weir as being Ginger Beer; the other was local people, who used to drink homemade Ginger Beer, named the hatches as the tumbling water frothed and looked like their home brew.
Arthur died in 1934, his nephew Charles Humbert eventually bought the Estate but not without some issues. Charles presumed the estate had been left to him in the will, but it was left undecided. The Estate went on the market later in the year. Due to the drought at the time, the river looked dreadful; Charles also left weed uncut to make the place look worse than it was because he was managing it at the time. Nobody showed much interest in a purchase and when the executors took it off the market in October Charles pounced and purchased Kimbridge. Apparently, it rained the following day.
During the WW2 years river management lapsed due to most workers going away to war. River weed and banks were left uncut, predation control was non-existent, Trout became rare and Pike multiplied. It took years for the keepers on the river Test to sort this out. This was also the case on the river Itchen; around 80 keepers are employed on these two rivers today and with the help of endless volunteers, friends and family keep the rivers in very good shape.
Land drainage for increased Agricultural production and domestic consumption increases were two huge impacts on the Chalk Streams after WW2.
At Kimbridge we are fortunate enough to have a varied river system. The stretch that starts at Mill Cottage and carries on upstream to the National Trust waters has classic River Test characteristics. Beautiful gravel bottoms and very fast currents make these a visual treat. The stretch that we call our Main River is lovely and there is a large section that is very deep. In the late 1940`s the Hampshire River Boards chief engineer had an idea of rushing water to the sea as quickly as possible, bridges were removed, and spawning gravels dredged. Ralph Collins, who used to be the keeper at Mottisfont, can remember the riverbed just up from the Ginger Beer hatches as beautiful clean gravel, now it is over ten feet deep.
When the Sprat & Winkle line was closed in 1964, due to faster modes of transport, the Humbert`s bought this piece of land from the Railway. Thankfully they did as most of the remainder turned into the Test Way footpath.
When the coal trains used to rattle through the Estate it was known that the driver and engineer would throw lumps of coal at the pheasants milling around the edge of the track hoping to hit one and retrieve it for the larder. The Gamekeeper at the time didn’t mind too much as their aim was very poor and resulted in few hits. After the train had gone by, he took his wheelbarrow and picked up the loose coal for his fire.
Charles’ son Arthur, who was named after his great uncle, lived with his wife in Mill Cottage until 1977, when they moved to the Farmhouse. Mill Cottage was then split in two, the other being named Moody’s cottage. The Chauffeur lived one side and the gardener the other. In later times Moody’s cottage was occupied by Trout Farm workers and Mill Cottage was used for Corporate hospitality.
Arthur took over the Estate from Charles, and when his son William took over the management, he became the fourth generation of the family to manage Kimbridge.
Gravel extraction from Kimbridge started from the early 1900`s but it was in 1987 when Mr Humbert and Halls Aggregates applied to extract Hoggin and sand from 45 acres of poor-quality agricultural land that caused a bit of a stir around the area. Lots of local people did not fancy numerous lorries driving through the village to collect the gravel. A solution was put forward of a conveyor belt to carry the material to a site adjacent to the A3057. The belt would be over a mile long and would stand no more than three feet high, it would cross under a road and over six areas of water. After a public inquiry, then an appeal to the High Court, which was dismissed, the Company received approval to go ahead with their proposals. The construction of the belt would only proceed in suitable weather conditions and be hidden by woodland where possible and camouflaged in open sections. And most importantly construction needed to accommodate the fishing season.
Full production was achieved by June 1991 and ended around 2009. The site where the gravel was extracted is now a 4-acre lake.
During the 1980’s a day ticket fishery was created, Meadow Fishery. It lies alongside the wildlife area that used to be a fish farm. This secluded area is very popular with small fishing groups as well as individual anglers.
Kimbridge has been selected three times over the years as a host to Fly Fishing competitions, chosen because of the availability of the river and diverse range of main river, carriers and side streams.
The World Fly Fishing Championships were held in 1987 on the 26th and 27th May. England were champions with Australia second.
In July 1989 the Commonwealth Fly Fishers was hosted at Kimbridge, with a catch and release policy. The competitors stayed in Mill Cottage and had to fish dry fly only. They struggled during the day and asked to use nymphs, this was refused; thankfully once the evening arrived there was a fantastic rise of fish and everyone was happy.
In 2000 the World Fly fishing championships were held again at Kimbridge. The event ran from the 14th May to the 21st, each day being split into two sessions of 3 hours. 22 teams with five anglers each participated. Mayfly were just beginning to hatch out, as you can imagine the fishing was very sporting. France finished first with Wales second and Australia third. England finished in a disappointing 12th.
The current owner purchased the Estate in 2002.
Today the Estate is around 400 acres, it has just over three miles of the river Test and just under half a mile of the river Dun. This is mostly double bank fishing which totals up to around seven miles of fishable bank. There is also a day ticket fishery called Meadow Fishery. This totals just over one and a quarter mile of river and two and a half miles of fishable bank.
The rivers have been looked after for some years now by Steven Brown, the current Head Keeper, assisted by Stuart Currie.
Much work has been carried out across the estate since 2002. The owner and staff have worked tirelessly to ensure that nature lives happily alongside the humans who venture on to the estate. This work is described in detail on the Environment page.
In 2010 the owner changed the fishing on the main river at Kimbridge from season rods to club members. The club allows members to fish as often they wish to during the season. They have use of a clubhouse and can use the Farmhouse to stay overnight, to catch those early rises and late evenings.
A small number of corporate guests are welcomed each year, to enjoy the tranquillity that Kimbridge provides.