Portsmouth & Arundel Navigation – The canal

Portsmouth being an important naval base required an improved transport link with London for the conveyance  of goods. At the time goods had to be carried by ship, through the English Channel, to the Port of London. These waters were dangerous due to the numerous sandbanks and exposed to potential enemy action.

The canal was proposed in 1815 to link Portsmouth with Arundel and thereby to access the canal system to London (In 1815 the Napoleonic war was successfully concluded in the ‘Battle of Waterloo)’.

1815 Proposal

The route chosen would require a channel to be he dredged between Langstone and Chichester Harbours to the north of Hayling Island. This was called the ‘new cut’ which severed the ancient wade-way.between Langstone and Hayling Island as can be seen below.

The Cut

Canal link cutting the Wadeway which was known as ‘The Cut’

An Act of Parliament was granted, in 1817, authorizing the construction of the canal. The Portsmouth and Arundel Company was formed and construction began in 1818.

The seal of the Portsmouth and Arundel navigation company

The seal of the Portsmouth and Arundel navigation company

The canal was completed in 1823.

Extract from ‘The Hayling Bridge and Wadeway’ history booklet, Introduction by Vic Pierce-Jones;

If you had been looking out to Langstone from Northney in February 1825 you would have seen a steam tug pulling two barges east towards Thorney. On board each was an escort of four ‘redcoats’ armed with muskets and they were carrying a total of 75 tons of gold bullion, possibly worth in today’s values one billion pounds. They were the first to use a new canal from Portsmouth Harbour via Chichester, Arun and Godalming, eventually docking (in two days, sixteen hours) close to the Bank of England in the City of London.

The canal was the brainchild of William Huskisson, the Minister of Works and MP for Chichester. It was his answer to the same economic problems we have today: unemployment and the need for more lending by the banks. Unfortunately the canal never achieved its early promise being supplanted by the railways in the 1840s. Poor Huskisson himself became the first person to be killed in a railway accident whilst taking a comfort break beside the carriages of a train near Liverpool. The full story of the canal can be found in P.A.L. Vine’s book ‘London’s Lost Route to Portsmouth’ (Phillimore).


The Portsea section had to be drained in 1827 due to water supply contamination. A section of the Portsea canal system (Fratton area) was sold in 1845 to the London and Brighton railway for the construction of its main line from Brighton to Portsmouth.

The canal route was changed in the Portsmouth area. A new route linking Portsmouth Harbour with Langstone Harbour via the channel to the north of Portsmouth was created.

The canal ceased to be navigable from Portsmouth to Chichester by 1847. The Company was finally wound up in 1892.

If you visit Arundel, you can find this tile picture of the canal on the bridge over the river Arun. This is located on the north east bridge abutment.

Tile map of the Portsmouth and Arundel canal at Arundel – Peter Drury

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