Cement haulage on the Ouse

Rouser 2013
Rouser 2013

A sight from yesteryear on the Ouse near Lewes. A Thames barge carries cement from Asham in the 1950s. The photograph was sent in by former Lewes area farmer Roger Brickell, now living in Chichester.

For hundreds of years boats navigated the tidal reaches of the river from the sea up to Lewes and beyond to Barcombe Mills.

But by the end of the 18th century, the national economy was booming and people were looking for new ways to improve efficiency and productivity. Some prominent local landowners saw in the Ouse an opportunity to invest and modernise.

An engineer of national repute, William Jessop, was asked to survey the river in 1787, with a view to extending navigation right up to Slaugham.

Three years later the Upper Ouse Navigation Act was passed,

a company of proprietors was formed and work began. Progress was slow and costs quickly exceeded initial estimates. Eventually, about 1812, work finally finished with the river made navigable up to Upper Ryelands Bridge, near Balcombe, a not inconsiderable 22 miles and 19 locks above Lewes.

Trade consisted mainly of the carriage of lime, chalk and manure for soil improvement, aggregates for road improvements and coal for the limeburning process and domestic use.

In 1801 there were 51 barges registered as trading on the river, 21 of which worked the river above Lewes. But as a commercial undertaking the navigation was never a success.

The arrival in the 1840s of the railway struck the final blow.

Attempts were made to attract more trade by reducing tolls, but this had little effect and by 1868 all trade above Lewes had ceased,

although boats continued working on the Lower Ouse to Lewes right up to the 1950s.

Hence this photograph.