Rother Valley History Project
The South Warehouse at Coultershaw
A major restoration project is underway on the South Warehouse at Coultershaw. One half of the building, shown on the right above, will provide approximately 57m2 new exhibition space. We aim to have permanent interpretation panels around the walls allowing the central space to be used for temporary exhibitions and talks etc.
When in 2020 we knew that we would have this new exhibition space, we took the decision to build on the story we already tell at Coultershaw and extend the scope of our interpretation and storytelling. The first idea was to look at the use of the River Rother as a source of power for industry.
The seeds sown then have germinated into the Rother Valley History Project.
The Rother Valley History Project
We have identified three themes to the project
- The Power of the Rother: the River Rother as a source of industrial power
- Travelling in the Rother Valley: Road, Navigation, Rail and back to Road – the Transport Network
- Living and Working: Settlements and the Economy
- The Power of the Rother
The Rother runs for 52k (32 miles) from Emshott in Hampshire to the Arun at Hardham and there are a further 19k or so of tributaries. We have identified that, over the centuries, there have been around 40 uses of the river to power mills of all description: flour, paper, fulling, dyes as well as furnaces and foundries.
We aim to identify all the sites and then explain the technology and machinery behind each of the processes. A selection of the mills will then be explored in more detail and some of the stories about the people who worked in the mills will be told. This will begin to explain life of the people along the River Rother.
- Travelling in the Rother Valley
Over the centuries travel in the Rother Valley would have been on foot and then on donkey and horseback. With the invention of the wheel, carts, wagons and carriages began to be used to transport people and goods along the valley. The roads were improved with the introduction of turnpikes. At the end of the 18th century the Rother was made navigable from the Arun, first to Coultershaw and then to Midurst. From the mid 19th century the railway took over but the mid 20th century saw its demise. Roads once again became the main method of transport along the valley.
We will be telling this story of changing transport along the valley and why, and how, the canals/navigation, railway and roads took the routes they did. We hope to bring this alive by recording memories of the railways and other modes of transport along the valley.
- Living and Working
The final part of our study will take us back to the beginning as the power of the river would not have been used, and there would have been no transport, if it were not for the people who lived and worked in the Rother Valley. We will look at the history of the settlements and how the river, agriculture, industry, commerce and the local economy have all played a part in shaping our towns and villages. The trades and occupations of the people of the Rother Valley will be explored – this will be a history of people and place.
The River Rother – a unique story to tell
The River Rother is unique as it is the only river that runs its full length within a national park – in our case, the South Downs National Park. The opportunity to tell the story of this river, and the valley it runs through and drains, will ensure the South Warehouse has an important function that will help to raise the profile of Coultershaw on the heritage venue map, as well as providing a focus for connections across the valley.
The next steps
We are aware that what we have set out above is a broad vision and could be an overwhelming task. The limits of our volunteers’ time and energy, as well as the physical space in the South Warehouse, will limit what we can include in our new exhibition space, but we would not want this to place a limit on the Rother Valley History Project. The following strategies will help us achieve our aims:
- Partnership & collaboration: We will seek support from other heritage venues and organisations who can contribute to the research on the project.
- Digital technology: We will make full use of technology to help us share and interpret the history and heritage of the valley.
- A living project: We will seek to make connections with community groups in the valley and encourage them to research their areas with the aim that the Rother Valley History Project will become an ongoing, and living, project.
We currently have support for the project from the following:
- Sussex Mills Group
- Hampshire Mills Group
We will be seeking support from
- Sussex Industrial Archaeology Society
- Sussex Archaeology Society
- South Downs National Park
- Arun & Rother River Trust
- and others
Funding the project
Funding will be sought from relevant bodies to enable the project to progress.