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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.