One of my adventures in Chichester was to go for a boat trip along the canal – which was not a thing I knew anything about until I was reading about things to do in Chichester the day before.
The surviving part of the canal is part of a much larger endeavour, the Wey and Arun canal, which was in turn part of a grand plan to create an inland route by water from Portsmouth to London, without braving the dangers of the Channel. Parts of the canal works to and along the Arun are still visible on the map, as well as the channel of the Great Deep at Thorney Island, not yet closed off.
But much of the danger must already have been gone by the time the canal was completed, with the French wars over, and only the section from Chichester to the sea was still in use by the late 19th century, mostly bringing in coals for the gasworks.
At the very end of the 19th century a railway was built from Selsey Bill to Chichester which seems to have taken over that function, although the owners caused themselves some trouble by trying to build it ‘on the cheap’ as a tramway, to avoid the regulations and expenses of a railway act, only to find out that they also lost out on the benefits of compulsory purchase orders.
The Canal Preservation Trust has a base in the canal basin, and two boats which they use for trips (as well as two battered looking barges used for shifting things about, as they have responsibilty for the banks).
The gas works which used up all the coal is now the Royal Mail sorting office, but two of the original buildings still exist at the basin – a pub called the Richmond, named after one of the main proprietors, and a building used as a custom and toll house.
About half of the remaining part of the canal is accessible by water from the basin – the rest is filled with water, but blocked by road bridges, although the sea end is used as a marina. So the trip is just down to a place where the boat can turn and back, but it was a nice trip, with coots on their nests, mostly in very precarious places, and moorhens not on their nests.
There were originally several swing bridges over the canal, all to the same design, but some have been removed and some have been replaced by fixed road bridges. One still exists, near the basin, but although it’s an original bridge it’s not in its original place – it should be one further down.