Old Millpond

Old Millpond

River Rother in flood

River Rother in flood

Coultershaw Bridge is a rural community situated 1.5 miles (2.4 km) south of the town Petworth in West Sussex, England where the A285 road from Petworth to Chichester crosses the River Rother. Between 1792 and 1888, there were also wharves and a lock at Coultershaw on the Rother Navigation. Until the 1970s, a water mill stood on the river housing a beam engine which was originally installed in 1782 by the 3rd Earl of Egremont to pump water from the river to Petworth and his home at Petworth House. Following the demolition of the mill, the Coultershaw Beam Pump was restored to working order and is now a Scheduled Ancient Monument, which is open to the public on summer weekends. In Saxon times the locality was known as "Cuóheres Hóh", meaning "Couhere's spur of land". By 1240, the name was given as "Cuteresho". Since then, the name has been spelt in many different ways, including "Cowtershall" (1535), "Cowtershawe" (1564), "Coultersole" (1716), "Cowdersole" (1779), "Cowters Hall" (1795) and, finally by its present name in 1800.


The Domesday Book, compiled in 1086 records a mill at Petworth, which almost certainly referred to the mill at Coultershaw. By the mid-13th century, the mill was owned by the Percy family, and in July 1240, William de Percy endowed the priory at Shulbrede near Linchmere with the mill at "Cutersho" while retaining the right to "the free grinding of all kinds of corn which shall be used in his house at Pettewurth". He also granted the priory the right to take earth from his land near the mill to repair the mill-pool when necessary, and granted that the "villeins" at Tillington and Petworth should give the prior up to three days' aid each year to repair the mill-pool. In consideration for the transfer, the prior was to pay Percy or his heirs two marks of silver each year until such time as Percy gave "ten librates of land in a suitable place in Sussex or Yorkshire" to the prior, after which the mill would revert to Percy.


The Percy family failed to exercise their right to reclaim ownership of the mill; in the Sussex Hundred Rolls of 1275, the mill was shown as belonging to the priory, with an annual value of £10. In 1291, in Taxatio Ecclesiastica (a survey of temporal property held by religious bodies granted to King Edward I by Pope Nicholas IV), the mill (now valued at £2 per annum) was recorded as at "Catesstowe" or "Cotestoke" while in 1380 it was recorded as at "Codestowe". When the priory was surveyed for Valor Ecclesiasticus (a survey of the finances of the church made in 1535 on the orders of King Henry VIII), the mill (now at "Cowtershall") was still recorded among the priory's assets, with an annual value of 53s 4d. Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536, the priory and its possessions were granted by charter by King Heny VIII to Sir William FitzWilliam, 1st Earl of Southampton. The mill subsequently reverted to the Percy family. Lady Elizabeth Percy inherited the Petworth properties on the death of her father in 1670. In 1682, she married Charles Seymour, 6th Duke of Somerset, and so became Duchess of Somerset, with the Duke thus becoming the owner of the Petworth estate.


In 1703 the court roll refers to a "mill called Coutershoal Mill" being kept up "for the conveniency and service of the tennants and that it is the custom of this manor for the tennants to grind at the said mill". The Duke of Somerset died in 1750, followed two years later by his son, the 7th Duke. On the death of the 7th Duke, his nephew, Charles Wyndham, inherited Petworth and the title Earl of Egremont. There were two corn mills and a malt mill recorded on the site in 1534. The corn mill was modernised in 1910, with the wheel being replaced by a water turbine and the grindstones being replaced by steel rollers. An engine house was built in 1919 to provide supplementary power for when there was little water in the river, and a second turbine was added in 1922. The mill was destroyed by fire in 1923, and an unattractive steel-framed concrete building replaced it. From the early 20th century until the mill was closed in 1972, the mill was operated by the Gwillim family, who also operated North Mill in Midhurst. In 1930, John Gwillim and Novadel Limited registered a patent for "Improvements in plansifters and the like". A "plansifter" was "a stack of sieves of decreasing mesh size that separate particles by size" for use in milling operations. In 1992, Phyllis Catt, the daughter of John Gwillim published "A Miller's Daughter" in which she recorded her experiences living at the mill and North Mill, Midhurst to a background of the "rumble of machinery and the rush of water". Following the death of John Gwillim in 1972, the mill ceased to operate and the building was demolished the following year, although the beam pump and water wheel were saved for restoration.


Before the supply of piped water to the town, the residents of Petworth obtained water from springs to the east of the town, such as the Virgin Mary Spring, from which water can still be drawn. The first piped water supply to Petworth was established in the early 16th century by Rev. John Edmunds, the local Rector, who installed a 3 inch diameter lead pipe from springs at the junction of the lower greensand and Atherfield clay, in Boxgrove Paddock, about 1 mile west of the town, to supply the Manor House (now Petworth House) and conduits in the town. The main pipe led to a stone reservoir on the north side of the churchyard with branches to points in the lower levels of the town. By 1575, the pipes were severely decayed and to help pay for their maintenance, Henry, 8th Earl of Northumberland endowed the town with the 7 acres Conduit Field. In 1625, there were fountains outside the church and in the Market Square and conduits in the town, including outside "The George" inn at the north end of South Street (now Pound Street). By this time, the revenue from the lands at the Conduit Field were insufficient to finance the maintenance of the pipes and agreement was reached between the townspeople and the earl that, in return for receiving back the Conduit Field, he would carry out the necessary repairs and be responsible for the ongoing upkeep of the pipes with two wardens being chosen, one by the Earl and one by the town, who would supervise the maintenance of the supply. By the late 18th century, the conduit system was inadequate to meet the needs of the town and in 1782, George, 3rd Earl of Egremont installed a pump at Coultershaw Mill on the River Rother. The pump was driven by an undershot wooden wheel and forced the water along a main pipe of 3 inch inside bore to feed two reservoirs, one in Petworth Park, on Lawn Hill and the other in the south-east corner of the town to the west of Percy Row near the old gaol. The supply was kept separate from the supply from the conduit system, as the river water contained suspended fine sediment of greensand and other pollutants and was not considered fit for human consumption.


Connection to the new supply required approval from the Earl of Egremont; despite this, there were a large number of unauthorised connections although the system was not intended to be used for drinking, being untreated river water. In 1839, it was recorded that the pipes from Coultershaw supplied 7 public and 146 private stopcocks in Petworth, including the brewery, malt house, a windmill and the Swan Inn. In 1874, Dr Charles Kelly reported to Lord Leconfield on the state of the town's water supply and the health of the townspeople. His report showed that the town's sewage was drained onto fields to the south of the town, where it flowed along ditches into the River Rother, about 1 mile upstream of the pump at Coultershaw; thus the water that was extracted from the river and pumped to the town was polluted by human waste. Although there was still a plentiful supply of clean drinking water from the 17th century system, its distribution around the town was inadequate with only a small number of cisterns. As a result, the inhabitants of the town found it more convenient to obtain water from the river system rather than make the long walk to and from the conduits. Dr Kelly recommended that a new system should be installed to obtain fresh water from three springs in the neighbourhood and that sewage should be prevented from entering the river to avoid the risk of cholera or typhoid. A new pumping station was built, under consulting engineers Hassard & Tyrrell, at Haslingbourne from where the water was pumped by a 6 h.p. Mason & Weyman steam engine with a Cornish boiler, through 5 inch pipes to a new reservoir near the Cottage Hospital, on high ground a mile east of the town. The supply to the town from the new reservoir was connected to the existing river mains which were plugged so that only spring water could circulate through the town, while the water from the river continued to supply the reservoir in Petworth Park.


Although Coultershaw was about 1.5 miles south of Petworth, it was the nearest wharf on the navigation and quickly eased the transport of fertiliser, coal and building materials to the town and surrounding areas and improved access to wider markets for agricultural, timber and other products. The wharf at Coultershaw was the busiest on the navigation, handling over half the navigation's traffic. In 1820, 1,683 tons of coal were carried to Coultershaw. By 1808, the wharf stretched over both sides of the river. "Big Wharf" on the north (east) bank, contained a small warehouse (leased to William Upton, a Petworth merchant, until 1840), a blacksmith's shop and shoeing shed (leased to Michael Ford), and six coal pens. A variety of huts and storehouses also stood on "Little Wharf" on the south (west) bank. Adjacent to the wharf stood the flour mill (now leased to William Dale), with Lord Egremont's limekilns nearby. The navigation was at its busiest from 1823 to 1863, with the annual tonnage never falling below 10,000. In 1843, the quantity of coal carried to Coultershaw had risen to 2,000 tons with a total of 7,000 tons of merchandise passing through Coultershaw that year, which represented 55% of the total traffic on the navigation.[


In October 1859, the London Brighton and South Coast Railway opened the railway line from Pulborough to Petworth with the new Petworth station being sited half a mile south from Coultershaw, 2 miles in all from the town centre. At first, the railway had little effect on the navigation until, in 1863, the Arun Valley Line was extended south from Pulborough to Arundel and Ford where it connected to the south coast mainline. Within a year, the navigation had lost 5,000 tons or 40% of its annual traffic. The extension of the railway to Midhurst in 1866, resulted in further loss of traffic, with the canal traffic being restricted to loads, such as large trees, which were too large for the railway. Commercial traffic continued on the navigation until 1888 although it was only formally abandoned in 1936. The toll house at Coultershaw was demolished in the late 1870s, although its foundations were still visible on the west side of the canal bridge in the 1950s. The lock and bridge have survived despite being threatened with destruction by the need to widen the narrow bridge carrying the A285 road from Petworth to Chichester. There are two bridges at Coultershaw wharf: that over the River Rother, built in 1803, still carries the heavy traffic of the A285; the bridge over the former navigation was originally a steep hump back type, but the road bed has since been flattened out.


The beam pump was installed in the mill in 1782 by the 3rd Earl of Egremont to pump water from the river to Petworth and his home at Petworth House, which was 1.5 miles north of the mill and more than 150 ft higher. The identity of the designer of the pump at Coultershaw is now unknown but, as it is very similar in design to the pumps installed by George Sorocold under London Bridge in 1705, it is probable that Lord Egremont was aware of these pumps from his visits to London. Similar pumps were installed nearby in West Sussex at about the same time, at Uppark and Bignor Park, and in the 1840s at Woolbeding, although these as well as those at London Bridge have now been destroyed, leaving the pump at Coultershaw as the only surviving example, although a project to restore the pump at Woolbeding commenced in 2014. The pump was operated by a breastshot water wheel which was direct coupled to a three-throw crankshaft (cast in 1912) which swung three 12 ft 6 inch long beams pivoted at one end through connecting rods. The pump plunger rods connected to the outer free ends of the beams travel in a substantially straight-line motion; these were fitted with back to back 6 inch diameter leather cups and non-return valves made from leather flaps. The pump has three cylinders with a 6.5 inch bore and a stroke of 13 inches. The pump could produce an operating pressure of in excess of 75 psi (520 kPa).


The water was drawn from the main culvert feeding the wheel by means of a vertical oak penstock, through a 4 inch diameter cast iron pipe, and delivered through a 3 inch diameter cast iron pipe to the reservoirs at Petworth. At a later date, a compressed air vessel was installed in the delivery line to reduce pressure fluctuations. Between the pump and Petworth, there were a number of non-return valves. At its peak, the pump could deliver water at the rate of 20,000 imp gallons per day, or "a hogshead a minute". The original water wheel was made entirely of wood but was replaced in the mid-19th century by an iron wheel cast at the Chorley Iron Foundry at Cocking. The present wheel has two cast iron spiders with hexagonal centres fixed to a wrought iron shaft. The spiders are 8 ft 6 inches in diameter with oak paddles 16 inches deep by 4.5 feet wide, making the overall diameter of the wheel 11 ft 2 in. The alignment between the crankshaft and the waterwheel shaft was not very accurate; to reduce friction, the bearings between the wheel and the pump were left loose. When operating, the pump was very noisy and the clatter could be heard throughout the mill building.. Since it has been restored, a flexible coupling has been inserted between the two shafts, thus reducing the amount of clatter. The pump survived the fire which destroyed the original mill in 1923 and continued to operate in the replacement building until about 1960. Because no other beam pump of similar size and age in working order is known to exist, the restored Coultershaw pump was declared an Ancient Monument in 1980.


At Coultershaw you can: Watch the waterwheel drive the Beam Pump to produce an impressive water spout. Learn how the Beam Pump was installed in 1782 to pump water to Petworth House and town, 1 ½ miles to the north. See the Archimedes screw turbine using water to generate electricity. Visit the Engine House, and try pumping water with the hand pumps. Walk around the canal basin to see the remains of the 18th century lock, canal warehouses and stables. Look out for the wide variety of wildlife and you may see fish climbing the fish ladder! The site is wheelchair accessible and assistance dogs are welcome. There are toilet facilities in the Warehouse.


Location : Coultershaw Heritage Site, Petworth GU28 0JE

Transport : Pulborough (National Rail) then bus (1 to Petworth, then 428). Bus Routes : 428 stops close by.

Opening Times : first and third Sunday in the month plus Bank Holiday Mondays from Easter until the end of September 11:00 to 17:00

Tickets : Adults £2.50;   Children (under 16) Free.

Tel. : 01798 865774