The Portsmouth & Arundel Canal was an extraordinary speculation and an ignominious failure. Planned to complete the inland navigation between London and Portsmouth Harbour, the waterway was strongly supported by William Huskisson, M.P., and the 3rd Earl of Egremont. When it opened, in 1823, it was part barge canal, part ship canal and part open water over which barges had to rely on a primitive steam tug and a favourable tide. Built to safeguard coastal shipping from French privateers and the hazards of the Foreland passage, the outcome of Waterloo and the development of steam vessels transformed its prospects. The navigation company suffered from poor management and lack of financial control. Contractors' accounts were queried and left unpaid, resulting in their refusal to carry out repairs. The Portsea Ship Canal had to be abandoned almost as soon as it opened, because it leaked, and there was no money to put it right. From the Thames to Portsmouth was 115 miles and involved the passage of 52 locks. Only when there was sufficient water available and there were neither floods nor ice could the voyage be made in less than five days.
But the London merchants, frustrated by the need to pay tolls to six different Navigations, continued to prefer the coastal route. Nevertheless, between 1824 and 1838 barges, escorted by Redcoats, carried many tons of bullion from Portsmouth to the Bank of England. Only the Chichester Ship Canal proved successful, but it had to be closed in the early 20th century. Today, plans are in hand for that section to be re-opened to Chichester Harbour for pleasure craft, whilst local history enthusiasts are making strenuous efforts to uncover the remains of the barge canal. This new book, by the unchallenged authority on his subject, will receive a warm welcome from canal and waterway students everywhere and from local history lovers in Sussex and Hampshire.