History Of The Western Rother

Today when you fish the lower part of the Coultershaw fishery you may be blissfully unaware of a major engineering project that was undertaken here some two hundred years ago.

The Rother Navigation was planned to make the Rother navigable over an 11 mile stretch downstream from Midhurst. The work was instigated in 1791 when King George III granted Royal Assent to The Earl of Egremont. However, the Petworth Canal was one of Britain’s shorter lasting canals, opened in 1795 and dismantled in 1826.

On completion of the Rother Navigation the Earl of Egremont used his estate workforce to build the 1¼ mile long canal from just upstream of the Shopham Cut to Haslingbourne,with two locks, each with a rise of 8 feet and 6 inches. The Haslingbourne Stream was diverted to provide the water supply.

River Rother by Cowdray Ruins, Midhurst

The main products carried on the canal were chalk, coal and timber. Coal from Newcastle or South Wales was transferred from coastal ships into barges at Arundel. Chalk was barged up the River Arun from pits at Houghton and Amberley. Timber and all kinds of timber products, including charcoal and oak bark for tanning were barged out from the Petworth area.
Other local ‘exports’ were lead, corn, and an apparently beautiful variegated fossil limestone, well known in London by the name of Petworth Marble. A lime kiln was operated at Haslingbourne wharf, and some lime barged down the canal but most of the Petworth trade went to Coultershaw wharf on the Rother navigation, which was further away from the town but was on the well maintained turnpike road to Chichester.

At the top end of our stretch at Coultershaw an example of the ingenuity of our ancestors is still visible, a working Beam Pump. This waterwheel-driven three-throw beam pump was installed in 1782 to pump water  from the River Rother up to Petworth, 1½ miles away and 150ft. higher.

To learn more about the restoration of this valuable bit of history please click HERE.

So when you next sit by the river imagining it to have always been a ‘rural idyll’ remember that it was once a bustling trade route during the Industrial Revolution.