Did you know there is a waterwheel on the Wey & Arun Canal – and a unique one at that.
At the southern end of the canal, on the Arun Navigation, you’ll find Lordings Lock and Orfold Aqueduct (a single structure), along with a waterwheel. Here the canal is carried over the river by the three-arched aqueduct, while the waterwheel – powered by the river – lifts the water into the canal. It is thought to be the only one of its kind on the national waterway system.
Sadly, recent vandalism and deterioration have rendered the waterwheel unusable but thanks to a grant from a charitable trust, Wey & Arun Canal Trust volunteers have begun to restore this heritage asset.
The project, led by former mechanical engineer Brian King, has called for painstaking precision; a bespoke single stainless steel shaft with associated end flanges had to be commissioned, manufactured to exact size and fixed in place by a specialist engineering contractor. All the peripheral steelwork had to be removed, then brushed up and rejuvenated with a special underwater paint. The stainless steel buckets that move the water also needed rewelding, another specialist task. The chute from which water flows into the aqueduct has been replaced with a Cor-Ten steel equivalent (the previous one made of wood having rotted through), while the current rubber seals used to prevent water loss between the buckets and the stone wall have also been removed and replaced with a unique stainless steel lip.
Brian follows in the footsteps of restoration pioneer Winston Harwood in attempting to bring this very special structure back to life. Back in 1992 Winston and fellow volunteers discovered what appeared to be the foundations of a building. They decided to excavate (by hand) and eventually uncovered the lock and aqueduct and exposed the waterwheel chamber for the first time in 140 years. Working from only the internal dimensions of the chamber, Winston constructed a waterwheel – no mean feat with no drawings or other example.
Further improvements have been made to the wheel over the years and work on the wheel will recommence in the spring (the area floods in winter making it difficult to get equipment on site). It is hoped the Wey & Arun Canal Trust will soon be able to show off this special structure in its full glory.
If you want to know more about the restoration of the Wey & Arun Canal and ongoing projects, go to www.weyandarun.co.uk.