Portsmouth & Arundel Canal and the Chichester Canal
Portsmouth & Arundel Canal
Distance: Ford to Salterns Lock 11.5 miles (18.5 km)
The Portsmouth and Arundel Canal was authorised by an Act of Parliament in 1817 to make a canal from the River Arun near Ford to Chichester Harbour at Salterns near Birdham with a branch from Hunston Common to Chichester. Powers were also granted to make and dredge channels (or ‘bargeways’) through the tidal areas of Chichester, Langstone and Portsmouth Harbours. From Langstone Harbour at Milton on Portsea Island a further canal was to be dug towards Portsmouth.
Before the construction of the canal, Chichester’s port was Dell Quay - over 2¼ miles (3.8km) from the city centre.
Three further Acts of Parliament made changes to the navigable route to the north of Portsea Island to Portsmouth Harbour. The company was also empowered to make those parts of the canal between Chichester Harbour and Chichester, and Langstone Harbour and Portsea, with depths sufficient to take ships of 100 tons and 150 tons respectively. The channel north of Thorney Island was never made navigable but instead boats passed to the south and west of the island.
The Birdham to Chichester section (the Ship Canal) had been opened on 9 April 1822 and the Portsea Canal section on 19 September 1822. The Sussex section from Hunston to Ford opened on 26 May 1823. The canal from Birdham to Ford was 11.5 miles (18.6km) in length. The Chichester branch is 1.3 miles (2.1km) long. The Sussex section had four locks: two locks at Ford with a total rise of 12 feet to the summit level, and two locks at Birdham named Salterns Lock and Manhood End (or Casher Lock) - with a total rise of 12 feet to the summit level. A further 13 miles of dredged channels through Chichester and Langstone Harbours led to the Portsea Island section of the navigation. This was known as the Portsea Canal and was about 2.4 miles (3.9km) in length with two locks at Milton giving a total rise of 12 feet.
Intended as a key link in a through route to London via the River Arun Navigation, Wey & Arun Junction Canal, River Wey and River Thames, it was not a success. By the time it was built, there was no real need for an inland route as larger and better ships, coupled with an end to hostilities with France, meant that the coastal route was an easier and cheaper option. One of the few regular through cargoes carried was gold bullion from Portsmouth to the Bank of England, with armed guards on the barges.
Water levels in both of the canal sections were maintained by steam powered pumps at Ford and Milton. Within a few years, there were complaints on Portsea Island that water supplies were being contaminated by salt water pumped into the canal. The Portsea Canal was abandoned by 1830. The Sussex section from Hunston to Ford saw little traffic and was effectively abandoned by 1847 when the canal had ceased to be used commercially and the railway from Shoreham to Portsmouth was fully opened. It is thought that the last boat passed through in 1856. Only the canal from Birdham to Chichester Basin remained in use.
In 1892, as part of the winding up of the Portsmouth & Arundel Canal company, the section between Birdham and Chichester was transferred to the Chichester Corporation. The last recorded traffic on the canal was in 1906. The Chichester Corporation resolved to close and abandon their canal undertaking in 1928.
Apart from a number of breaks caused by the wartime airfield at Ford, housing development in the village of Yapton and some breaks in the two miles (3.2km) east of Hunston Junction, it is possible to follow the course of the canal on foot.
Distance: Milton to Portsea 2.5 miles (4.0 km)
The Portsea Canal was opened on 19 September 1822. All bridges along the canal were originally swing or lift bridges to enable masted vessels to pass. There were soon complaints about fresh water supplies being contaminated with salt water seeping from the canal. It was emptied in 1827 and had been abandoned by 1830 when the canal company turned to making Portsbridge Creek navigable to gain access to Portsmouth Harbour (see below). In 1824, the canal company had become embroiled in disputes with the contractors who built the waterway complaining that work was not completed satisfactorily and withholding payments.
The remains of the entrance lock at Milton are still visible and are Grade 2 listed - contemporary documents refer to this structure as Sea or Second Lock. The site of the other lock, referred to as First or Upper Lock, seems to have been overbuilt in the 1960s. Continuing south-westwards, the line of the former waterway follows the south side of Locksway Road where most of the houses are built on the canal bed.
Just under a quarter of a mile (0.3km) from the Sea Lock and on the south side of the former canal just west of the road Waterlock Gardens, lies a rare survivor of the canal dating from 1820-1. This building was constructed to house a 40HP steam pumping engine complete with living quarters. This pumped salt water from the tidal Eastney Lake into the canal until the company was forced to stop puming in 1827. Today it is private housing.
When Locksway Road bends to the west, a public footpath follows the line of the towing path along the north side of the canal, the bed of which is now occupied by housing. There used to be a second towing on the south side of the canal but most of that is no longer passable.
After half a mile (0.75km), the path reaches the junction of Milton Road (A288) and Goldsmith Avenue (formerly A2030 but now B2153). Almost the whole of the latter road was built along the line of the canal. West of Fratton railway station, the railway was built along the canal in the 1840s almost as far as Portsmouth & Southsea station. On the north side of the railway runs a road (part pedestrians and cyclists only) which may have replaced the towing path when the railway was built. The western part of this road is called Canal Walk.
When Canal Walk bears away from the railway, it follows the line of the canal. The canal ran in the region of Upper Arundel Street before turning westward to run into the terminal basin east of Commercial Street and to the south of Arundel Street. Both of these roads are now pedestrianised in this area. Arundel Street was laid out when the basin was filled in for development in 1829-30. It has been suggested that the road gained its name from the name of the canal company. The basin’s dimensions were 517ft x 77ft (157.6m x 23.5m) and extended for most of today’s pedestrianised length of Arundel Street and between it and Lower Church Path.
When the canal was being planned, it was envisaged that a second basin would be required but in the event it was not constructed. It would have been in the area around Upper Arundel Street and north of the road that later became named Railway View. The toll office was built at the junction of these two roads and would have been at the south end of this proposed second basin to enable the toll collector to deal with all vessels entering and leaving the basins. This toll office survived until 1960.
The tidal channels
Distance: Salterns Lock to Milton Lock 13.0 miles (20.9 km)
The Portsea section was connected to the rest via a 13-mile channel dredged through Chichester Harbour, past the southern side of Thorney Island and to the north of Hayling Island, and finally across Langstone Harbour. To ease passage between the Chichester and the Portsea sections a steam vessel, the ‘Egremont’, was built to tow 40-ton barges in trains of six.
Prior to dredging the new channel north of Hayling Island, the island was connected to the mainland by an ancient, hard-surfaced “Wadeway” whereby pedestrians and wagons could travel between the two at low water. The New Cut dredged at least 3ft 6in (1.07m) deep at low water severed this route. Thus a wooden road bridge with an opening span was opened in 1824. When the railway line from Havant to the island (affectionately known the Hayling Billy) was opened in 1867, the wooden Langstone Viaduct also had an opening span. The road bridge was replaced in 1956 by a concrete bridge with no opening span. The railway was closed in 1963 and the bridge demolished in 1966.
Thorney Island was connected to the mainland by a similar wadeway but it was decided to avoid the expense of a bridge as a route south of the island was possible without taking to the open sea.
Distance: Langstone Harbour to Portsmouth Harbour 1 mile (1.6 km)
This tidal waterway is what makes Portsmouth lie on an island. This has been known by various names over the years:
Portcreek, Ports Creek, Portsea Creek and Canal Creek. Ports Creek is usually used today but Portsbridge Creek was the name used in the early 19th century.
The creek and in particular the creek’s crossing (Ports Bridge) has been the site of defensive works possibly as far back as the reign of Henry VIII as defensive measures to protect the naval port at Portsmouth. The first mention of a bridge joinng the island to the mainland dates from the 1190s. In the 15th-century, a double-arched stone bridge was built at the western end of the creek. From the Ordnance Survey One Inch map published in 1810, Ports Bridge at that time was about 400 yards (0.4km) east of the current structure near today’s Peronne Road Footbridge.
To enable barges to access Portsmouth Harbour, the creek was widened, straightened and made navigable by the Portsmouth & Arundel Navigation company in 1830 after the failure of the Portsea Canal. The work to deepen the creek cost £1000. The dredged western approach to the creek from Portsmouth Harbour ran north of Horsea Island along Paulsgrove Lake at the insistence of the Admiralty. The shorter channel east of Horsea Island, Tipner Lake, passed close to a naval magazine and it was feared that sparks from the steam tug used to tow the barges might cause an explosion. The land for the residential section of Port Solent and the nearby M275 motorway was reclaimed during the 1970s with the marina opening in 1988. So the water access to the creek from Portsmouth Harbour is now via the Tipner Lake. The magazine is no more.
It proved difficult to keep the creek clear for navigation and a canal called the Cosham Canal to provide an alternative route was proposed, although it was never built. The insolvent canal company abandoned the creek in 1838 when regular through traffic to London ceased.
In 1756-7 defenses, consisting of a ditch and rampart and known as Hilsea Lines, were first constructed on the Portsea Island side of the creek. An army report in 1853 on the status of the Hilsea Lines mentioned that the creek was filled with weeds to the point where for 3 to 4 hours every day it could be walked across. Later in the 1850s the Hilsea Lines were upgraded. As part of these works, the creek was widened and deepened to allow it to be used by gunboats. Dams and flood gates were constructed at the ends of the creek to maintain high water levels at all states of the tide. The western dam disappeared under motorway works but part of the eastern dam remains.
In 1867 a new retractable Ports Bridge was constructed at a cost of £5,000 to allow the passage of gunboats. Transferred to the Portsmouth Corporation in 1904, it was fixed in place and reinforced to allow trams to run across it. The bridge was replaced by a wider bridge in 1927, which in turn was augmented by the current twin-bridge roundabout structure in 1970 during the construction of the M27.
During the second world war, a road causeway called Peronne Road was built to supplement the previously existing Ports Bridge. It was built under Emergency Powers, and subject to the implication that it would be removed at the end of the emergency. In the early 1960s there were proposals to fill in part of the Creek in order to accommodate the route of a new motorway. The remainder of the Creek would (quite officially) ‘be allowed to dry up’. The Inland Waterways Association (IWA) was prominent among the objectors and the proposals were dropped to be replaced by construction of the present footbridge and work to reinstate through navigation for small boats.
Today the creek is just about navigable in a small boat. However, it is now crossed by seven bridges, some of which offer low clearance at high water and the creek is very shallow at low water.
Distance: Salterns Lock to Chichester Basin 4.0 miles (6.4 km)
What is known today as the Chichester Canal is in fact the part of the former Portsmouth & Arundel Canal between Birdham and Chichester. It was sold to West Sussex County Council in 1957. In the late 1970s the Portsmouth & Arundel Canal Society was formed with the aim of restoring the canal. They intended to concentrate on the length from Chichester to Salterns, and later changed their name to Chichester Canal Society (and more recently to Chichester Ship Canal Trust) to reflect this.
Taking over the lease of the canal from the local angling club in 1984, the Society began by dredging Chichester Basin. Then, assisted by Waterway Recovery Group volunteers, they began to work back down the branch towards the main line, using a floating dredger with Bantam tugs and hopper barges to shift the silt. By the late 1990s they had reached the junction at Hunston and were working westwards along the main line towards Chichester Harbour. Navigation became possible to near Crosbie Bridge. The stretch from there to Salterns Lock at the Harbour awaits restoration.
Further information about the waterway can be found on the following websites:
Further information about the waterway can also be found in the following books. Note: all these books are currently out of print but may be found secondhand via the internet, bookshops or even your local library.
The Canals of South and South East England
David & Charles - Nov 1969
A comprehensive history of the inland waterways east of Bristol and south of and including the Thames.
Middleton Press - Nov 1990
Illustrations including the Portsea Canal, Portsbridge Creek and Hampshire portion of the ‘bargeways’.
West Sussex Waterways
Middleton Press - Nov 1985
Illustrations covering the Sussex portion of the waterway.
London to Portsmouth Waterway
978-1873793435 (1 873793 43X)
Middleton Press - Nov 1994
Illustrations of the waterway route between these two places.
Portsmouth and Arundel Navigation
The History Press Ltd - Oct 2008
A history of the Navigation. Have been unable to find any copies of this book via the internet, new or used.
David & Charles - Hardback: Jan 1982. Sphere - Paperback: April 1983.
Expanded and updated version of ‘Lost Canals of England and Wales’ (published Oct 1971 ISBN: 978-0715354179).
If you wish to delve even deeper into the waterway’s past, there is a page on this website which provides information about various resources that might help you to find out more than the above books and documents provide.
Details of various resources, local and national, can be found here.