Pulborough is a large village sitting in the geographic heart of rural West Sussex and about the centre of the northern boundary of the South Downs National Park. There is a population of about 5,000 people living in some 2,600 dwellings.
The A29 and A283 roads cross in Pulborough and there is railway station on the Arun Valley line giving direct trains to London and the South coast. There are two main bus routes serving the village, the Compass 100 between Horsham and Burgess Hill and the Stagecoach 1 between Midhurst and Worthing.
The River Arun, which flows along parts of the western and southern edges of the parish and eventually to Littlehampton, is tidal to Pallingham, about a mile north of Stopham bridge. High tide at Swan Bridge, Pulborough is about four hours after Littlehampton.
There are two industrial estates, one by the rail station and the other on the A29 to the north at the junction with Broomers Hill Lane. Brinsbury College, on the north boundary of the parish and part of Chichester University, is increasing the number of businesses on its estate. Harwoods garage on London Road, is currently planning to move to a new site near the college which will allow redevelopment of the existing site.
Pulborough has developed piecemeal over the centuries and currently has no specific High Street or shopping centre. Originally, in medieval times, shops were concentrated near St Mary’s Church but progressively moved to Lower Street as the river traffic became central to the economy and the road became a more important east-west link. The first village hall was here.
Pulborough businesses have formed an organisation titled ‘Pulborough Traders Association’ and they have a new website which is rapidly expanding as more businesses ask to be added. See www.pulboroughtraders.co.uk and support your local traders.
Towards the end of the 20th century both a large factory, Spiro-Gills, and a cement works on the A29 both closed and the sites were redeveloped for housing. In 2007 a new medical centre took the doctors’ surgery and the chemist away from Lower Street. A Tesco supermarket opened on the same site and about the same time a Sainsburys supermarket opened in Codmore Hill. There are now shops in Station Road, Lower Street, London Road and Codmore Hill, so fragmenting any claim to be the centre.
Around 16 per cent of respondents to the 2014 Neighbourhood Plan survey live and work in the village with most others who are employed travelling north to Horsham, Crawley, Gatwick, Surrey and London. About 30 per cent of the population is over 65 with the figure expected to rise to around 40 per cent in ten years.
The River Arun and the marshes of the flood plain, now known as the Wildbrooks, were an attractive hunting ground from time immemorial. Stone Age flint arrowheads and other tools are often found on the higher ground surrounding the Wildbrooks and dug-out canoes have been found in the mud of the marshes. One is on view in Worthing Museum. A Bronze Age hoard of axe heads was found near Broomers Hill.
In the later Iron Age (around the 100 years before the Roman conquest) there are indications that the Pulborough area was a centre of political and industrial life. Recent archaeological discoveries suggest there was a Roman military presence around Chichester area before the Claudius invaded Kent in 43AD. Work around Borough Farm and Beedings Castle northeast of Pulborough suggests settlements using luxury Roman products at the same time. It is thought that the first stretch of Stane Street may well have connected the landing place at Dell Quay on Chichester Harbour with the Pulborough area before both Chichester and London had been established as towns. Once those towns were established then a change of direction from Pulborough took Stane Street towards Londinium.
Pulborough was where Stane Street crossed the River Arun and the area has many Roman remains such as Bignor villa, Borough farm and the industrial remains and a bath-house found near Wiggonholt. Stane Street was one of the first Roman roads but later there was another, the Greensand Way, running east from Hardham, just south of Pulborough, across the Wildbrooks to Wiggonholt, onwards past Hassocks and then Barcombe, north of Lewes, to reach the harbour and fort at Pevensey. Another branch was later built from Wiggonholt to join Stane Street just north of Pulborough and so avoid crossing the River Arun – then known as the Trisantonis.
In the thousand years between the end of the Roman era and the 15th century the causeway and river crossing disappeared and there was a ferry and, in dry periods, a ford. The river was made navigable up to Pallingham by the Earl of Arundel in Tudor times and there were wharves along the north bank of the river either side of where the Swan Bridge now stands. Road travel remained very difficult and any north-south traffic generally went to the east or west of Pulborough.
In the 18th century travel became more common, turnpikes made the roads better, and the Old Swan Bridge was built in 1785, paid for by a rate on the parishes of the Arundel area. Church Hill was excavated to reduce the slope of the road in 1757 and again in 1830 and a causeway across the Wildbrooks from Hardham was built in 1828. The Swan Hotel opened as a coaching inn with rooms and stables.
At the same time canal traffic developed with the opening of the Wey and Arun canal and the tunnel at Hardham in 1816 and there were regular barges travelling to London until the canal closed in 1871.
The railway arrived in 1859 with a line from Horsham to Petworth through Pulborough. The route to Arundel and the south coast opened in 1863.
By 1900 the village had a tourist industry with visitors coming for the country walks and the boating on the river. Country walks are still popular, as is the RSPB Nature Reserve at Pulborough Brooks which has beautiful views across to the South Downs and is set in one of the richest areas for nature in the country.
The last canal barge stopped working in 1920 after carrying a load of coal to Greatham. Better roads and more reliable vehicles together with rail for longer distances had changed the world – and Pulborough.
For a gentle view of Pulborough history in the early part of the 20th century, see the Pulborough video on this page of the website of 'The Arun Valley Postcard Trail' (opens in a new tab)