Portsmouth & Arundel Canal

The following is reproduced from Canal Walks, a leaflet published by West Sussex County Council in August 2004.

London's Lost Route to the Sea

The 18th Century rise of the Industrial Revolution saw the development of a system of canals throughout the country enabling heavy, bulky loads to be transported with ease. They became even more important during the Napoleonic Wars because inland routes were much safer than the exposed waters of the English Channel. A route linking London with Portsmouth was of vital importance and the link from Arundel to Chichester was the final section to be built.

19th Century Planning Permission - Environmental Issues are not new

An important condition of the Act of Parliament allowing construction of the canal was that vessels had to "consume their own smoke". No steam was to be blown into the atmosphere but had to be passed through condensers.

Sales Pitch of 1823

"The canal forms a short means of conveyance by water from the Metropolis to the British Channel, whereby the tedious and often dangerous passage through the Downs can be avoided enabling the Merchant to forward his goods from London to either of the ports westward of Arundel with nearly as much despatch as usually attends the common roads waggons incurring in no case so much as one third of the expense (sic) and in several cases not even one sixth."

The Great Pump at Ford

In order to lift water from the River Arun into the canal, an enormous pump was constructed. Contained in a building the size of a four storey house, it had a brick-built factory-style chimney in order to build up the necessary head of steam to lift 5,000 gallons or 96 hogsheads of water per minute. Only fresh water was used, so pumping could only take place for an hour or so either side of low tide.


Coal, iron, building materials and grain were transported along the canal routes but perhaps the most interesting cargo of all was gold bullion. Every month until 1826, precious cargoes of bullion left Portsmouth bound for the Bank of England.
25 - 30 tonnes was the usual consignment but one day the Union and Portsea went through together with 72 tonnes on board. Armed guards stayed on board at all times and an old inhabitant of Birdham was reported to have remembered seeing redcoat soldiers on guard duty.

Grand Opening - Bad Investment

Costing £170,000 the canal was opened in 1822 with much pomp and ceremony, booming of cannon and wining and dining. 304 people had invested in the Arundel to Portsmouth Canal Company including such notables as the Duke of Norfolk, Earl of Egremont and Viscounts Keith and Exmouth - but the timing was bad. As early as 1825, plans for a Surrey and Hampshire Railway were published and with the coming of the railways, the canal went into rapid decline. By 1840, through traffic from London had ceased and no dividends were ever paid by the company to its investors.


Owned by West Sussex County Council, much of the route from Birdham to Chichester has been restored in conjunction with the Chichester Ship Canal Trust. The whole length provides interesting walking, where a rich variety of wildlife can be seen. The Canal flows into Chichester Harbour which is managed by the
Chichester Harbour Conservancy. Good coarse fishing, especially between Chichester and Donnington is available by purchasing a day ticket from the Canal Trust. Bream, roach, carp, tench, rudd, and perch abound. Boats can be hired during the summer months at the Canal Basin from which a trip boat operates.

Historical Milestones

1815 - Plans drawn up.
1817 - 7th July, Act of Parliament passed "For making and maintaining a navigable canal from the River Arun to Chichester Harbour and from thence to Langston and Portsmouth Harbours with a branch to Chichester".
1818 - Construction began.
1819 - Roman remains found - pottery, hand mills, funeral vessel, 700 denarii.
1821 - Southgate basin filled.
1822 - Chichester Canal open to navigation.
1823 - Arundel to Portsmouth completely navigable.
1825 - West Sussex Weekly Advertiser published details of a proposed Surrey and Hants Railroad Company.
1840 - Through traffic from London had ceased.
1856 - Section Ford to Hunston disused.
1892 - Ownership transferred to Chichester City Council.
1906 - Last recorded cargo to Chichester.
1957 - West Sussex County Council purchase the Canal.
1984 - Anglers relinquish their lease which is taken over by Chichester Canal Society.


August 2004


A probably idealized view of the engine house and lock at Ford (date unknown)
Useful links:
The Canal Group (Sussex Industrial Archaeology Society)

Previous page: Bilsham Chapel
Next page: Ford to Hunston Canal