- Hits: 2501
The Wey and Arun Canal is a 23-mile-long (37 km) canal in the south of England, between the River Wey at Shalford, Surrey and the River Arun at Pallingham, in West Sussex.
The canal comprises parts of two separate undertakings – the northern part of the Arun Navigation, between Pallingham and Newbridge Wharf, which opened in 1787, and the Wey and Arun Junction Canal, which connected the Arun at Newbridge to the Godalming Navigation near Shalford, south of Guildford, opened in 1816. The canal was built with 26 locks.
Passing through a rural landscape, there was little freight traffic to justify its continued existence, and the canal was officially abandoned in 1871.
Without maintenance, the canal gradually became derelict over much of its length. However, since 1970, active restoration by The Wey & Arun Canal Trust has resulted in several miles of the waterway being restored to navigable standard. Work is continuing, with the ultimate aim of re-opening the entire canal to navigation.
The River Arun was used in an unimproved condition for centuries, but work was carried out on the river itself and the port of Arundel in the 16th century, which allowed boats to reach Pallingham Quay near Pulborough by 1575.
An Act of Parliament received the Royal Assent on 13 May 1785, entitled "An Act for amending and improving the Navigation of the River Arun, from Houghton Bridge, in the parish of Houghton, in the county of Sussex, to Pallenham Wharf, in the parish of Wisborough Green, in the said county; and for continuing and extending the Navigation of the said River Arun, from the said Wharf, called Pallenhara Wharf, to a certain Bridge, called New Bridge, situate in the parishes of Pulborough and Wisborough Green, in the said county of Sussex".
As its name describes, this Act authorised works to improve the Arun upstream from Houghton Bridge (the tidal limit) to Newbridge, near Billingshurst. The route involved a new artificial cut of 4.5 miles (7.2 km) from Newbridge along the river to Pallingham, crossing the river by an aqueduct on three strong brick arches at Lordings Lock near Wisborough Green. An undershot waterwheel of a design unique on the waterway system was built into the aqueduct. Driven by the flow of the river this had scoops on the back of the blades which raised a small proportion of the flowing water into the higher canal. This was completed in 1787.
A second artificial cut was added in 1790 from Coldwaltham to Stopham, including a 375-yard (343 m) tunnel under Hardham Hill: this avoided a large bend in the river near Pulborough, saving 5 miles (8 km).
The route of the Navigation from Newbridge to Houghton was 12.25 miles (19.7 km) with six locks.
The River continues a further 15.5 miles (25 km) to the sea at Littlehampton.
The last barge to travel on the section between Pallingham and Newbridge was recorded in 1888, and Hardham tunnel was closed in 1889.
The artificial cuts were officially abandoned in 1896, but limited traffic continued on the old river sections into the 20th century, notably bricks from Harwoods Green below Pallingham and chalk from Houghton Bridge: they were finally stopped in 1938 by a new, fixed bridge on the Havant to Brighton railway line at Ford.
Part of the justification for this canal through a very rural area, with few of the cargoes which had made other canals profitable, was to provide an inland route from London to Portsmouth and the south coast of England, an important consideration as England was at war with France and thus coastal shipping at risk of attack.
Josias Jessop (son of the more well known William Jessop) was appointed consulting engineer and made an estimate of £72,217 for construction of the canal, later increased to £86,132 when part of the route was changed.
A survey was carried out in the same year by Francis and Netlam Giles for an alternative route, from the Croydon Canal to Newbridge, via Merstham, Three Bridges, Crawley and Horsham.
An Act of Parliament received the Royal Assent on 19 April 1813, entitled "An Act for making and maintaining a navigable Canal, to unite the Rivers Wey and Arun, in the counties of Surrey and Sussex". This authorised the construction of the canal from the Godalming Navigation (an extension of the River Wey) near Shalford, south of Guildford to the northern terminus of the Arun Navigation at Newbridge.
May Upton was appointed resident engineer in July, and work began. Construction was completed in 1816.
The route of the canal was 18.5 miles (29.8 km) with 23 locks.
By the time it was opened, however, the war with France was over and thus one of the key reasons for its construction was removed. As a result it was never very prosperous, but did reasonably well, with a maximum of 23,000 tons carried in 1839.
However, railway competition hit hard in 1865 with the opening of the Guildford and Horsham Railway, which was in direct competition with the canal.
There were also engineering problems with few sources of water to tap into, compounded by porous soil on the summit level, which led to water shortages.
An Act of Parliament of 1868 authorised closure. It was offered for sale in 1870, but officially abandoned in 1871, with the land sold to many along its route.
After a century of disuse, the canal is being restored by The Wey & Arun Canal Trust.
In 1970, a group of enthusiasts formed the Wey & Arun Canal Society, with a view to reopening the canal. The Society evolved into The Wey & Arun Canal Trust, the present custodians of the canal restoration, in 1973. The Trust has reached agreements with several landowners to allow restoration work to be undertaken over half the length of the 23-mile (37 km) canal. By 2005, twelve bridges had been reconstructed, eight locks restored, an aqueduct re-instated, and several miles of canal bed cleared and dredged.
Having completed the multi-million pound B2133 road bridge project, restoration is continuing to move northwards. The newly completed Devil's Hole Lock was reopened in April 2010, and working parties have since concentrated on Southland Lock.
A photo-history of the canal's restoration to date and the latest progress reports may be found on the Trust's website.
The hump-backed road bridge at Loxwood was removed and in-filled in 1905, severing the canal in two and leaving a major obstacle to restoration. The last boat passed under the bridge in 1869.
Modern regulations prevented the installation of a replacement hump-backed bridge, so restoration required the canal to burrow underneath, leaving the road at its existing level.
This was a major engineering exercise, achieved by lowering a 400 m length of canal so that there is adequate headroom for a boat to pass under the road.
At the southern end of the length, Brewhurst Lock was reconstructed reducing its fall to 2 feet (0.6 m) from the original drop of 8 feet (2.4 m), and hence lower the level of the water in the pound crossed by the bridge.
At the other end, a new lock (Loxwood Lock) was constructed, to provide for the 6 feet (1.8 m) difference between the new and original levels of the canal.
In between, the canal bed was lowered by 4.5 ft (1.4 m), the banks shored up with piling, and a new winding hole created. The new bridge crosses the canal on a skew angle, the resulting 'tunnel' through which the canal passes is 23 metres (25 yd) long. The towpath runs through the tunnel, alongside the canal, and also allows pedestrians to cross the road safely; however, the restricted bridge height means horse riders must cross at road level. (Suitable access pathways had to be designed-in as the towpath is a bridleway at this point.)
The work was completed, and the first boat passed under the new bridge into the new Loxwood Lock in April 2009.
The Canal Trust website includes a comprehensive photo-diary of the construction work.