It’s Been a Long Road! By Ian Edwards

Hayling Seaside Railway volunteer Ian Edwards, indulges in a few personal musings, on the the Island’s railway history since closure of the Hayling Island branch line in 1963. And the forthcoming commemoration in 2013, of 50 years since its final trains by the Hayling’s BEST group’s ‘Hayling Billy 50’ project.

“It’s been a long road, getting’ from there to here………..” Sang Russell Watson in his theme song for the erstwhile Star Trek sequel, ‘Enterprise’. I sentiment I would suggest is equally valid to my fellow volunteers at the Hayling Seaside Railway, as we approach 2013 with its multitude of notable anniversaries to commemorate. Which as well as 50 years since ‘The Billy’, soon to be marked in style by the ‘Hayling Billy 50’ project. Also includes the 25th anniversary of the East Hayling Light Railway Society, and 10 years since the opening of the Hayling Seaside Railway between Beachlands and Eastoke Corner.

“There” in the case of the EHLR Society and Seaside Railway, would perhaps be as far back as Sunday 3rd November 1963. When Stroudley ‘Terrier’ steam locomotives 32636 and 32670, at the time the oldest engines on British Railways, hauled the final passenger train on the old London, Brighton & South Coast Railway’s standard gauge branch line from Havant to Hayling Island. The “long road”, began almost immediately afterwards, with innovative plans to electrify the branch line for use by electric tram cars. Indeed one Blackpool single decker was actually purchased for the project, and spent many years stored in Havant Goods Yard. Imagine how wonderful it would be today, to skim swiftly and silently along the shores of Langstone Harbour in a classic old tram!

Perhaps by now they would have extended by street running, along Staunton Avenue and down to the beach? Who knows? They might even be running to Eastoke Corner along what would later become the HSR’s narrow gauge formation, or maybe even to The Ferry? Sadly, and allegedly amidst tales of dark skulduggery within British Railways, their substantial bid was ignored and soon the line was totally demolished. But among the lasting legacies of that project are the ‘Terrier’ locomotive ‘Newington’, originally purchased from BR to run alongside the trams, and which for many years subsequently stood beside Mengham’s ‘Hayling Billy’ pub. Happily it can now be seen back in steam pulling trains, just across the Solent on the Isle of Wight Steam Railway.

Another legacy is the motorway bridge that carries the A27 Havant Bypass, which although never having seen the passage of either a train or a tram, was apparently a legal requirement forced onto the then Ministry of Transport by the tenacious preservationists in their quest to save the railway. Largely because it seems then as now, and as echoed recently by the modern Department for Transport’s Virgin Trains franchise fiasco, Civil Servants cannot always be relied upon to do their homework properly when it comes to dealing with railways!

Plans to rebuild the old ‘Hayling Billy’, or at least part of it, have resurfaced from time to time ever since. Indeed only a few years ago when researching a sadly unsuccessful Lottery bid, Havant Borough Council officers tentatively investigated the possibility of Seaside Railway volunteers laying a 2ft gauge line to serve the popular windsurfing area at ‘North Hayling Halt’, as it is still widely referred to locally. This was in turn an echo of plans hatched in the 1980’s to rebuild the line, between the old terminus in West Town and North Hayling, as a 4ft 8 1/2 inch ‘standard gauge’, ‘heritage steam railway’. Sadly this plan also never came to fruition, largely due to the pressure of those lobbying to use the old route as a footpath and cycleway. A movement which it has to be said gave us the highly popular ‘Hayling Billy Trail’, with the valuable legacy legacy it has given us being very much a core part of ‘Hayling Billy 50’.

Another plus side of this later ill starred and belated rescue plan, was that the wooden bodies of a number of Victorian railway carriages, that had long ago retired to Hayling as makeshift bungalows and chalets. Were at that time saved by the ‘Hayling Island Railway Society’, and these still survive to this day in the barn of an Island farm. Still gently slumbering away awaiting their call to action should ever the long lost tracks be relayed. It was at a meeting of the now long defunct ‘Hayling Island Railway Society’, that I first met a gentleman by the name of Bob Haddock, who was at the time serving as their Publicity Officer. Very much the job that I now do as a volunteer for the Seaside Railway, and whenever time permits assist with on Hayling’s BEST and Hayling Billy 50. I suggested to him then that a narrow gauge line might be the answer, to threading a train service of some kind alongside a footpath, bridleway and cycleway. Something that has since been achieved in many other locations elsewhere. He agreed but told me then that their Committee had already firmly decided, that they would insist on their new railway being “Standard gauge or nothing”. Which as I have now written many times since was in the event exactly what they got!

I next met Bob in the early 2000’s, when he was the proprietor of ‘The Bookstack’ in Cosham High Street. An Aladdin’s Cave of an emporium which still exists under a new name and management, and then as now could always be relied upon for a regular supply of good quality cut price railway books. In 1988, now nearly a quarter of a century ago, he and other like minded individuals had formed the East Hayling Light Railway Society, and had together opened a 2ft narrow gauge railway within the confines of Mill Rythe Holiday Camp. Problems with public access however meant that this line had never realised its true potential, so he was by then in discussion with Havant Borough Council to relocate the railway on Hayling Seafront where it can be found today. The shirt-tug factor from my two then very young children, who begged their poor old Dad that they “Wanted to go for a ride on the little train”. Meant that I soon joined the EHLR Society, and became one of the team of volunteers that built what is now the ‘Hayling Seaside Railway’, which first opened to passengers almost 10 years ago in July 2003.

So you will see that between us, the Hayling Seaside Railway and our volunteer colleagues at ‘Hayling Billy 50’, and the Hayling’s BEST group of which it is a part have much to celebrate in 2013. Quoting Star Trek themes may well have been a tad corny way to start this article, but I would suggest an apt one as the Hayling Seaside Railway as well as all of the Hayling’s BEST projects, which include ‘Playing on the Plaza’, the ‘Scarecrow Festival’ and now ‘Hayling Billy 50’. Were built and have been run almost entirely by unpaid volunteers. People who certainly had ‘Faith of the Heart’, the song’s proper title, in shedloads. Lets just hope that in the face of future adversity, we can continue in that faith and that “the long road”, of Hayling’s railway history and that of its many volunteer groups, continues to thrive into the future for many decades yet to come.

Ian Edwards,
Volunteer P.R.Officer,
Hayling Seaside Railway.

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