Ford to Hunston Canal

At the beginning of the 19th century the British Government were very fearful of moving materials, especially bullion to finance the Navy, from London to Portsmouth by sea. The ever-present threat from enemy ships motivated the Government to construct an inland waterway from London making full use of the River Wey and the River Arun.

An Act of Parliament, backed by the 3rd Lord Egremont of Petworth, was passed in 1818 to build a 12 mile stretch of canal to carry barges from the River Arun at Ford, to Chichester Harbour at Salterns. Conditions laid down with the planning consent were rather extreme to say the least. The Company’s engines had to consume their own smoke and any steam produced had to be passed through a condenser to prevent any steam entering the atmosphere. Whether these conditions were adhered to is unknown. The route would take the canal through the villages of Yapton, Barnham, Aldingbourne and Lidsey. The section of canal from Hunston to Salterns was excavated wide enough to allow sea going vessels to sail through to Chichester via a further stretch of canal connecting Hunston with the city.

Intended Route from Ford to Lidsey

The route from Ford to Salterns was surveyed under the direction of John Rennie C.E. F.R.S (of the Kennet & Avon Canal and Waterloo Bridge fame) in 1815. Work started in 1821. Canals were part of the 'inland navigation system' consequently the labourers became known as Navigators or ‘Navvies’ for short. The number of men required to complete such an undertaking must have been quite substantial but no evidence as to where they were accommodated has been uncovered.

Two sets of locks were constructed at Ford along with a Lock Keeper's cottage, with another pair at Salterns. Part of the canal was enlarged at Yapton to allow barges to turn, the site of which now lies under the children’s play area on Yapton playing field. There was no natural feed of water into the canal so an extremely large pump was built at Ford, capable of extracting 5,000 gallons a minute from the river. This pump was housed in a building described as 'high as a four-story house'. Because the River Arun was tidal there was only a period of approximately two hours at low tide when fresh water could be pumped into the canal. Even so there were many complaints from farmers who complained that their crops were being destroyed from salt water leaking from the waterway. Along the route several bridges were built to carry roads and farm tracks, some of these were swing bridges to allow masted water born traffic through when a permanent one wasn’t feasible.

The stretch of canal from Ford to Hunston opened on the 26th May 1823 making available the new route to barges transporting their cargoes which included grain, building materials, coal and gold bullion complete with armed guards. The opening ceremony consisted of several vessels 'decorated with gay streamers and colours' which set out from Ford. On board the lead barge was the Earl of Egremont and his guests followed by a barge carrying The Mayors of Arundel and Guildford with their parties. These were followed by another six barges with groups of Ladies and Gentlemen on board entertained by bands playing music. Bringing up the rear were another eight barges laden with goods.

The canal was never a financial success. With the reduction of hostilities between England and France, merchants found it quicker and more cost effective to transport their goods by sea to Portsmouth. The final nail in the coffin was the arrival of the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway taking away most of the remaining trade. The section of the route from Ford to Hunston closed in 1847, the pump at Ford was dismantled and pump house demolished. The operating company applied for a winding-up order in 1888 which was granted by an Act of Parliament in 1892. The Chichester Canal was transferred to the Chichester Corporation.

Evidence of the Yapton/Hunston canal is slowly disappearing but it is still possible to discover remnants of it in the countryside. Sections of the earthworks still remain in places, and the towpath, especially from Barnham to Ford, is a public footpath. Sussex Industrial Archaeology Society have been actively researching and preserving what is possible along the route. A small housing development called The Pines was built on part of the canal bed in Yapton over which stood Tack Lee bridge. The developers agreed to restore the bridge and provide funds for its upkeep thus preserving part of Yapton’s heritage. This is the only complete bridge remaining.

Tack Lee bridge in The Pines housing development

Remains of other bridges still exist in Yapton. The most complete of these is situated near the new housing development of Navigation Drive and there is evidence of the Drove Lane bridge in the bushes near the entrance to the lane. There was also a bridge, known as Bognor Bridge, carrying the Main Road (B2233) over the canal opposite the village hall. The only indication is a slight rise in the road from west to east.

Former canal bridge near Navigation Drive

Should anyone wish to help preserve the canal please contact Vince Anderson on his Facebook page 'Friends of the Old Ford to Hunston Canal'. He hopes to organise walks and practical support in association with local landowners.

Allen Misselbrook
September 2018

(Originally published in Sussex Local Magazine, Arundel, November 2018)

Previous page: Portsmouth & Arundel Canal
Next page: Ford Aerodrome