As can be seen from the OS map on the left there is a car park just west of Greatham Bridge on the road running between the A29 at Coldwaltham and the A283 Pulborough to Storrington road. It is only a small car park but there is usually no problem in parking unless it happens to be under water during times of flood, then there is a place to pull over on the east side of the bridge.
Before moving off the bridge itself is well worth a look. It was first built by Sir Henry Tregoz in the early fourteenth century but was completely reconstructed in the 1790s as a series of masonry arches. In 1838 some of the arches were replaced by a timber bridge after part of the bridge was swept away
by floods but this only lasted until 1839 when it was replaced by the wrought iron lattice girder span construction that you see today (but is neatly hidden from view by the bush in the first picture above right, taken in 2009). There were more works in 1912 and in 1942 the bridge was strengthened in order to carry military vehicles. Further strengthening took place in 2003 for which West Sussex County Council received a commendation for the sensitive way in which it was carried out.
The course of the river Arun was altered here and a cut of 700 yards (636 metres) was made on or before 1327 when the original Greatham Bridge was built and could have been done at the same time. Before the cut was made the river executed a loop past Hardham Priory, Hardham and Coldwaltham, and the bridge, if built before the cut would have been in the middle of a field!. If you enlarge the OS map by clicking on it you will see I have marked out the original course of the river in blue. If you want to read more about the the alterations made to the course of the Arun over the centuries go to The Changing Course of the River Arun from Pulborough to the Channel.
Bed of the Old Canal Looking North: Jan 2010
Bed of the Old Canal Looking South: Jan 2010
Waltham Brooks: Winter 2009
Waltham Brooks: Winter 2009
Brief History of the Cut
The cut was part of the Act of Parliament passed in 1785 authorizing the improvement of the tide-way above Houghton and the building of two canals between Coldwaltham and Stopham via a tunnel under Hardham Hill and between Pallingham and Newbridge. Originally it was intended to open at the same time as the other canal but due to lack of funds was delayed by three years and only opened in 1790. Ostensibly the aim of the cut was to reduce the amount of time barges took by by-passing the three and a half mile loop in the river around Pulborough.
The real reason for the building of this cut was an attempt to make some extra cash. When proposing the original bill to Parliament the sponsors of the bill had wanted to levy tolls from Houghton upwards, but after protests by the inhabitants of Pulborough and adjacent parishes to the effect that this stretch of the river had always been toll free, the imposition of tolls was rejected and the river was to remain toll free between those points ‘even if locks have to be, in time, erected between Houghton and Greatham Bridge’.
However things didn’t quite work out as planned. If barges came up with the tide only six hours was saved using the cut and at a price of 9 pence a ton most traffic
chose to still use the river except in times of flood or drought. So a ‘cunning plan’ was devised to counteract this and a new bridge upstream of the Swan Bridge at Pulborough was built and opened c.1793 and called Clements Bridge. The stated purpose of the bridge was to provide access to the water meadows for cattle, but its low arches betrayed its real purpose which was to discourage laden barges from using the toll free river.
1793 Plan of the Cut
Clements Bridge: 1886
Clements Bridge: 1953
This was only partially successful as it was discovered that barges could sometimes navigate the river if not fully loaded. Clements Bridge continued to span the river although it started to decay badly during the first half of the twentieth century.It was finally swept away in the great floods around Pulborough in 1968. All traces of the bridge were then subsequently removed.
Other problems came to light as well. It was realized later on that the dimensions of the tunnel were rather small, not allowing some of the larger barges to pass through. But despite all this the Coldwaltham Cut survived and only closed with the rest of the canal. The last barge carrying chalk passed through the tunnel in January 1889 and for a while after it became quite an attraction for the more adventurous Victorians who organized boating parties and expeditions down the derelict navigation with the tunnel an intriguing site of exploration. All this came to an end in 1898 when the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway which was concerned about subsidence decided to block it where the railway lines to Petworth and Arundel crossed. They drilled down to the crown of the tunnel, broke through and tipped chalk and gravel into it until the tunnel was full to the roof. So ended any boating adventures through the tunnel although you can still find the south entrance to it today.
Walking the Cut
The cut can be neatly divided into two parts, that south of the road, running down to the river Arun and the longer northern section running through the tunnel and joining the river Rother just south of Stopham Bridge.
To get to either section leave the car park and head west along the road. After a short distance you come to a footpath on your left heading south. A few yards along the road on the right is the signpost for the Wey South Path heading north along the canal.
South to the Arun
Climbing over the stile it is only a few yards before the path starts to run along the east bank of the canal. Initially it is quite wooded and the course of the canal, although quite easy to discern, is quite difficult to photograph as the bed of the canal has become quite filled in over time. This first
stretch can also be quite muddy. As you progress along you would have come across an information board about Waltham Brooks, a 43 hectare reserve run by the Sussex Wildlife Trust but it has disappeared! Click HERE to see it as it was. In winters with heavy rain the Arun floods almost the entire reserve turning it into a giant lake. Wildfowl such as teal, shoveler, wigeon and pintail then take advantage of the sanctuary and feeding opportunities offered.
After a short while the bed of the canal is a lot more obvious and after periods of rain can contain quite a lot of water. There are some lovely all around views as you walk along. Finally you come to a bridge that crosses the canal and you have arrived at Coldwaltham Lock although you would be forgiven for not realising it as it is completely silted up and overgrown now as can be seen from the pictures below left. Looking underneath the bridge you can see that it is actually resting on some of the remaining brickwork of the lock.
Lock Chamber Looking South: 2010
Northern Entrance to Lock: 1980
Southern Entrance to Lock: 1908
Lock Cottage: 1908
Lock Cottage: 1950
Site of Lock Cottage: 2010
Coldwaltham Lock and Cottage
Sadly there are no pictures of the lock and cottage intact but a 1876 25 inch plan shows the cottage with garden attached. Just to the north of the lock and cottage was a winding hole where barges would wait for the tide to turn before entering the lock and travelling along the 2 Furlong (440 yards, 400 metres) channel to the river Arun (see picture at top of the page).
Unfortunately it is not possible to follow this channel as there is no footpath and the channel has become almost invisible over the years. The only way to get to where the entrance to the channel from the river Arun was involves walking along the western embankment of the river until you come parallel with the lock and even then there is no obvious sign of the entrance as the flood defence work done in the 1960’s has obliterated it. One can only guess at its possible location by observing changes in the vegetation growing nearby.
The lock keeper and his family would have led quite a hard life. Not only would have they been charged with collecting the tolls from the barges passing through but would also have been responsible for the upkeep of the lock and surrounding canal. As well as this they were faced with their home being flooded most winters and one keeper in the 19th century fell into the lock in front of his wife and drowned whilst another was best known for always being ‘toxacaped’.
The cottage has fared even worse than the lock over the years and was by 1908
roofless and derelict. During the Second World War it was used by the Canadian Army for target practice and the second picture of 1950 shows only a few bits remaining. By the time I arrived in 2010 only the mound and a few bricks marked where the cottage once stood. If you enlarge this picture, above right, by clicking on it, you will be able to see more clearly the footbridge over the canal and the line of trees to its right indicates the site of the lock itself.
The colour pictures, with the exception of the 1980 picture of the lock, on this page were taken by me on my walks.The photographs of Clements Bridge are from West Sussex Past Pictures, the official database of heritage photographs, prints, drawings and paintings provided by local museums and the County Library Service. The black and white pictures and sketches are from P. A. L. Vines pictorial history, The Arun Navigation, available from the Wey and Arun Canal Trust’s Store. The exception being the one of the entrance to the canal from the Arun which comes from London’s Lost Route to the Sea by the same author which is unfortunately out of print. Second hand copies are available from the Amazon online store however (checked on 4/9/2011).
Footpath Looking South: Sept 2009
Bed of the Canal: May 2009
Footpath Looking South: Dec 2009
Bed of the Canal: Dec 2009
North toward Stopham
As mentioned above, the Wey South Path is a few yards further along the road and on the right. The path runs for quite some distance through a narrow strip of woodland along what would have been the towpath. It is a pleasant walk with the extremely overgrown bed of the canal on your right. Although the line of the canal is obvious as you walk along it is quite difficult to photograph as the tangle of foliage and trees (fallen and standing) in the bed and on its banks make it very difficult to get any perspective as can be seen from the top two photographs. Also the bed of the canal is dry for virtually the entire length of this section. The best time of year for getting a better look is in the middle of winter when the foliage has died back and parts of it are in water, as can be seen from the pictures I took in December 2009.
Eventually you start to hear the sound of the traffic on the A29 and after a while the path starts to climb steeply to meet the road. But before doing this look for a path to your right. This leads down to the South Portal of the Hardham Tunnel, mentioned above in the brief history section. As you approach the tunnel entrance the remains of some brickwork can be seen on the left. The artist’s sketch on the left was made in 1868, although looking at the dimensions I think a little artistic licence may have been used! The first two pictures below, taken by me in December 2009 show just how silted up it has become. The picture on the right, taken in 1953 shows the chalk and gravel blockage created by the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway in 1898.
Finally I would like to say that I did not damage the grill covering the entrance, it was already unlocked and all I did was move it aside to take the pictures before replacing it.
Beyond the A29
Having returned to the main path, climbed the steep but short hill, nipped over a rather large and imposing stile and crossed a very small field you arrive at the road. Having negotiated that the path continues slightly to your right and crosses the main railway line from Victoria, London via a bridge. After walking through another small field you end up on the bed of the old Pulborough to Petworth railway line (opened 10th October 1859 and closed in stages between Feb 1955 and May 1966 (Source Wikipedia).
However no sign of the canal can now be seen. The path turns right along the bed of the old railway but if you look immediately ahead and slightly to your right there are a line of shrubs and small trees denoting where the tunnel emerged from under Hardham Hill. There was a lock just before the entrance to the North Portal shown in the
Sketch of Tunnel Lock: 1843
North Portal: 1952
North Portal: Dec 2009
North Portal: Dec 2009
sketch of 1843 above and when the Pulborough to Petworth line was opened a brick tunnel was added to allow horses to pass under it.This was to the left of the tunnel, itself. Any signs of the old lock were removed when, in 1952, the Water Authority built a concrete dam across the bed of the canal. There is no path going to the portal but I did nip across to take the two pictures above and it can be seen that it is even more silted up than the south portal and the brickwork looks in imminent danger of collapse.
No further trace of the remaining stretch of the Coldwaltham cut now exists and the area is covered by a complex of water board buildings associated with the pumping station. But looking at the map below left a lock was built to afford access to the River Rother which connected to the River Arun a short distance away. Some years after the building of the lock Hardham Corn Mill was opened in 1827, the 99 year lease allowed the mill to use all the waste water running out of the river near the lock at 6d a year. The sketch below right shows the mill with the lock to the right. It was bombed in 1943 by the Germans and subsequently demolished. The lock keepers cottage was demolished in 1956 and the remains of the lock was filled in by the river authority in 1968.
Hardham Lock: 1889
Hardham Mill and Lock: 1846
Hardham Mill: 1843
From here you have the choice of either returning to the car park at Greatham Bridge or if you are feeling thirsty and in need of refreshment it is only a relatively short walk to the the White Hart public house at Stopham Bridge, a very picturesque spot indeed.