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.