Coultershaw is an important example of 18th century industrialisation in a rural area. It has been the site of several corn mills from before 1086 up to 1973. It was on the routes of the Rother Navigation (1794-1888), the Petworth to Chichester Turnpike (1800-1877) and the Mid Sussex Railway to Petworth (1859-1966).
This mill at Coultershaw was burnt down in 1923.
It was replaced the following year by a modern steel- framed concrete building.
In 1972 the mill ceased operation and was demolished in 1973. Only the sluices, turbine pit and the engine house remain. In one of the sluices, and Archimedes Screw turbine now uses water power to generate electricity.
The Coultershaw Beam Pump was installed alongside the corn mill in 1782 to provide an extra water supply for Petworth House and Town. The Beam Pump now supplies the fountain.
The Rother Navigation was constructed between 1791 and 1794, closing in 1888 after the arrival of the railway. There were eight locks between the River Arun and Midhurst.
In 1800 the Petworth to Chichester Turnpike was diverted to cross the River Rother at Coultershaw. There was a Toll house and gate on the north side of the bridge over the navigation. The turnpike ceased to be a toll road in 1877.
The railway from Pulborough to Petworth was built in 1859 and extended to Midhurst and Petersfield in 1866. The station is located ¼ mile south of Coultershaw. It is now bed and breakfast accommodation and serves excellent cream teas. ‘The Railway Inn’, later renamed ‘The Race Horse’ now ‘Badgers’ has an excellent reputation and offers fine wines, good food and deluxe accommodation.
Coultershaw is in the Rother Valley, near the centre of the South Downs National Park. Framed by the dramatic chalk escarpment at Duncton, just south of Coultershaw, the Rother Valley has a wide range of landscapes. These range from wet meadows around the river to open chalk grassland, woodland hangers and heathland. At Coultershaw, the river basin is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna.
Coultershaw developed because of the River Rother and its good transport links. The Petworth to Chichester turnpike was diverted to cross the River Rother at Coultershaw in 1800, and the railway from Horsham arrived at Coultershaw for Petworth in 1859.
Roads and Turnpikes
Until the end of the 18th century, traveling and carrying goods by road was very difficult. Roads consisted of wide rough tracks which were poorly maintained. Many roads were impossible to use in wet weather or the winter months. Where possible, heavy loads went by water; around the coast and along rivers or canals.
When Emperor Charles VI visited England in 1703, his 50 mile journey from London to Petworth took three days, during which the Imperial Coach overturned 12 times. To complete the journey, Sussex labourers were hired to walk alongside the coach to keep it upright and force it through quagmires.
To try and improve the main roads, turnpike trusts were set up by individual Acts of Parliament in the eighteenth century. They had powers to collect tolls from road users for pay for maintenance. Road users had to keep to the left and not cause damage to the road surface. Trusts had to erect milestones indicating the distance between the main towns on the road- there is a replica milestone on the road at the entrance to this site.
The turnpike trusts were inefficient and unpopular. Competition from the railways and heavier road traffic caused their decline. The Local Government Act of 1888 gave responsibility for maintaining main roads to county councils and county borough councils. This turnpike ceased to be a toll road in 1877, when it was taken over by the County Council.
The Petworth Trust was set up in 1757 to maintain a branch turnpike to Petworth from the main London to Portsmouth road at Milford. The Trust also continued the road south of Petworth to Duncton for Chichester. Until 1800 this turnpike road passed through Robertsbridge, 1½ miles upstream from Coultershaw. The Petworth Turnpike trustees suspected that William Warren, the miller at Coultershaw, was allowing people to avoid the turnpike toll by using the mill bridge. So, in 1800, a new turnpike Act was passed allowing the turnpike road to be diverted to cross the River Rother at Coultershaw.
In 1841 the main London to Brighton line opened, with the route from Brighton to Portsmouth being completed six years later. With Horsham being connected to the main line by 1848, promoters looked to develop railways in West Sussex.
The Mid Sussex Railway was formed to build a line from Pulborough to Petworth, with another company, the Mid Sussex and Midhurst planning to build the section to Midhurst.
The line opened to Petworth on 15th October 1859, providing connections to the main London to Brighton line through Horsham.
The single track line began at a loop line at Pulborough, and went through Fittleworth before reaching Petworth Station just south of Coultershaw. The final six miles to Midhurst was opened on 15th October 1866. This involved a diversion of the Turnpike at Coultershaw to cross the railway and River Rother on identical bridges.
As with many branch lines in 1950s, passengers reduced as car ownership increased and faster rural bus services started to run. Sunday trains, which had few passengers, stopped in 1951, with the end all passenger services on 5th February1951. Goods services on continued to Petworth and Midhurst until May 1966, when the line closed
The mill at Coultershaw used the railway freight services. In the 1960s, a new silo at Petworth goods yard was used to store imported Canadian wheat for milling.
The Rother Navigation was constructed between 1791 and 1794. It was promoted by the 3rd Earl of Egremont to improve trade by making it easier to move goods and agricultural products. The Navigation closed in 1888, as most of its goods traffic had moved to the railway which reached Petworth in 1859.
Until the end of 18th century roads were very poor, which made transporting goods extremely difficult. Carts with heavy loads often become stuck or toppled over. Ships were used to carry goods around the coast from port to port. Then rivers were used to transport the goods as far inland as possible before horse-drawn waggons, and carts were used for the final section of the journey.
After 1732, improvements to the River Arun allowed barges from Littlehampton to reach Fittleworth. In 1780s there were proposals for more improvements to the River Arun. This encouraged the 3rd Earl of Egremont to consider if the River Rother could also be improved. In 1783, he asked the well-known canal engineer, William Jessop, to survey the river.
A route for the navigation was prepared, using as much of the existing river as possible but cutting off the worst of the meanders and widening where required. A tow path was built to enable horses to pull the boats along. The improved river navigation would be 12 miles long with eight locks between the River Arun at Stopham and Midhurst. The 3rd Earl of Egremont obtained a private Act of Parliament to enable him to ‘make and maintain’ the River Rother Navigation, at his own expense. Construction work took place between 1791 and 1794, with the work at Coultershaw being completed by 1792. Here the river continued to flow through the watermill, with barges using the waterway and lock, a short distance to the south.
Barge traffic increased after the opening of the Wey and Arun Junction canal in 1816. These wharves were the busiest, handling over half of the navigation’s traffic. The tolls received for goods using the navigation were an important source of income for the Petworth Estate. As the Rother navigation ended at Midhurst, barges had to return the same way. Therefore all tolls were collected at Fittleworth, a few miles from Coultershaw. The heyday of the navigation was from 1823 until 1859, when the arrival of the railway brought its commercial use to an end.
In 1782, the 3rd Earl of Egremont of Petworth House installed the Beam Pump alongside the watermill to provide more water for the town of Petworth. Before then, water had been supplied by springs and conduits as well as private wells.
The Beam Pump was powered by a waterwheel, and pumped river water for 1½ miles (2.4 km) to Petworth through a cast iron pipe, 3 in (7.6 cm) diameter. The water was stored two cisterns; one on Lawn Hill for Petworth House, and the other in Grove Street to serve the town. The first water wheel was wooden and undershot. This was replaced in 1858 by the present more efficient breastshot iron wheel.
The Beam Pump was capable of delivering up to 20,000 gallons (91,000 litres) of water a day to Petworth – it was likely to have been operated twice a week to fill the cisterns. Although no doubt the river water was drunk on occasion, it was not intended for human consumption.
In 1839, as well as Petworth House, the Beam Pump was supplying water to 7 public stopcocks and 137 private taps owned by 69 people in the town.
The Beam Pump survived after the last mill building was demolished in1973. The water from the pump has now been diverted to the fountain just outside the Pump House.
The 3rd Earl of Egremont
Coultershaw has always been part of the Manor of Petworth, which is now within the Leconfield Estate.
George O’Brien Wyndham was born in 1751 and succeeded to the title, the 3rd Earl of Egremont before he was 12 years old. Until the 1780s he spent much of his time in London being a man around town, attending court balls and spending time in the company of beautiful woman.
He took very little interest in political life but was interested in science and literature, and became a great patron of the arts. The artist, JMW Turner, was a close friend spending time at Petworth House, where many of his paintings are displayed today.
The Earl’s other interests included improving his estates. These included supporting horse-racing, cattle breeding, agriculture and improvements to water transport.