Waterways of Sussex
Upper river Ouse navigation

Ouse Navigation
The river Ouse had been navigable for small craft for some years, in 1724 records show that small boats used a tributary stream to the powder mills and forge at Marsfield, just above Shortbridge, and there seems to have been a flash lock where the stream joined the Ouse.
In 1788, William Jessop was commissioned to survey the river above Lewes. As a result of his report, an Act of Parliament was passed in 1790 to make the Ouse navigable from Lewes to Hammer Bridge in the parish of Cuckfield via Barcombe Fletching and Lindfield. Also a Branch of the river, to Shortbridge, in the parish of Fletching The contract for the work was let to the Pinkertons, who were at that time also working with Jessop on the Basingstoke Canal. By April 1793, the river was navigable as far upstream as Sheffield Bridge, but the money had run out and the navigation was put in the hands of the Receiver while the company set about raising funds. 1805 saw another 1.5 miles and two locks completed taking the navigation as far as Freshfield Bridge. In 1806 the company obtained a further Act of Parliament. Which enabled them to raise a further 30,000, repealed the section of the 1790 Act which required them to continue the navigation from Hammer Bridge to the far side of Cuckfield Parish, and gave various landowners the right to use surplus water at Isfield Lock and Barcombe Mill. Work commenced, and the navigation reached Lindfield Mill in 1809 and finally Upper Rye-lands Bridge in 1812.


The navigation from Upper Ryelands Bridge was 22.5 miles long with nineteen locks, and the 3/4 mile branch to Shortbridge. The locks were built 52ft 6in by l3ft 6in to take barges carrying up to 18 tons. Like most of the Sussex rivers, the Ouse was an agricultural waterway, with an upstream traffic of bulk goods such as chalk, coal and stone, and a return traffic of agricultural produce. The Ouse navigation was very much concerned with local trade, and continued quite successfully in this way until the railways came to the area. This time in the form of the London and Brighton Railway and later in the mid 1840s, its south coast section from Brighton to Lewes and Hastings. There then followed a succession of toll reductions between 1844 and 1859. In 1858, the railway between Lewes and Uckfield was opened, and it was this more than anything else that finished the navigation. The section above Lindfield became disused in 1861, and the rest of the navigation followed by the end of the decade.

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