Portsmouth & Arundel Canal and the Chichester Canal

Portsmouth & Arundel Canal

Seal of the Portsmouth & Arundel Navigation Company
Map of the Portsmouth & Arundel Canal

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.

Remains of lock at FordRemains of a lock at Ford. © Robin Webster (cc-by-sa/2.0). Image from www.geograph.org.uk.

Dry canal and towpathDry canal and towpath near Lidsey. © Simon Carey (cc-by-sa/2.0). Image from www.geograph.org.uk.

Salterns LockRemains of Salterns Lock, Birdham. © N Chadwick (cc-by-sa/2.0). Image from www.geograph.org.uk.

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. It seems that the channel north of Thorney Island was never made navigable but that boats passed to the south and west of the island.

Chichester BasinChichester Basin. © Dave Spicer (cc-by-sa/2.0). Image from www.geograph.org.uk.

Poyntz Swing BridgePoyntz Swing Bridge, Chichester. © Rob Farrow (cc-by-sa/2.0). Image from www.geograph.org.uk.

Remains of lock at MiltonRemains of lock at Milton. © N Chadwick (cc-by-sa/2.0). Image from www.geograph.org.uk.

The Sussex section which was opened throughout on 26 May 1823 (the Birdham to Chichester section had been opened on 9 April 1822 and the Portsea Island section on 19 September 1822), was 11 miles in length, the Chichester branch being 1.3 miles 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 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 1½ miles 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 canal was drained in 1827 and 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. 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.

Chichester Canal

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 canal can be found on the following websites:

Website Link
The Chichester Ship Canal Trust https://chichestercanal.org.uk/
Wikipedia: Portsmouth & Arundel Canal https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portsmouth_and_Arundel_Canal
Wikipedia: Chichester Canal https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chichester_Canal
Welcome to Portsmouth https://www.welcometoportsmouth.co.uk/portsmouth%20arundel%20canal.html

Further information about the canal 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.

Title Author ISBN Publisher Notes
The Canals of South and South East England Charles Hadfield 978-0715346938 David & Charles - Nov 1969 A comprehensive history of the inland waterways east of Bristol and south of and including the Thames.
Hampshire Waterways P.A.L. Vine 978-0906520840 Middleton Press - Nov 1990 Illustrations including the Portsea Canal, Portsbridge Creek and Hampshire portion of the ‘bargeways’.
West Sussex Waterways P.A.L. Vine 978-0906520246 Middleton Press - Nov 1985 Illustrations covering the Sussex portion of the waterway.
London to Portsmouth Waterway P.A.L. Vine 978-1873793435 (1 873793 43X) Middleton Press - Nov 1994 Illustrations of the waterway route between these two places.
Portsmouth and Arundel Navigation P.A.L. Vine 978-0752445182 The History Press Ltd - Oct 2008 A history of the Navigation. Have been unable to find any copies of this book via the internet.
London’s Lost Route to Portsmouth P.A.L. Vine Hardback: 978-1860772832 Paperback: 978-1860775147 Phillimore & Co Ltd - Hardback: Sep 2005. Paperback: Nov 2007. Detailed history of the Portsmouth & Arundel Canal. Further books by P.A.L. Vine cover the Arun Navigation, Wey & Arun Canal, Basingstoke Canal and the River Rother Navigation to Midhurst.
Lost Canals and Waterways of Britain Ronald Russell Hardback: 978-0715380727 Paperback: 978-0722175620 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).