The first official passenger service from Havant to Hayling opened on 17th July 1867.
On 3rd August 1867 an article was published in The Railway News as part of a series called Railway Rambles. The author urged train buffs to “take a dog-day flight to a terra incognita called The Isle of Hayling”.
The advice was to start the journey at 8.20 a.m. from the City terminus of the “London and Brighton” and to leave the train at Horsham for the one to Portsmouth. “After little more than an hour the train reaches Havant, where there is a sign ‘Havant for Hayling’, pointing to a siding. There, true enough, stands the Hayling train, as queer and quaint-looking a train as ever we saw in our life.” The author and his companion board the train, which is drawn by a “donkey engine” belonging to Mr Furniss, the contractor, who at present works the line.
The reader learns that the two terminal stations have only one station master, who travels up and down on the train, working like a shuttle. The station master also has the role of booking-clerk, guard, porter, signal man, treasurer and ticket taker. However, it appears that in these early days the new service is not at all busy.
On the Hayling section of the journey the train keeps close to the western shore, on land that seems to have been reclaimed from the sea; large oyster beds can be seen in the distance, as well as beautiful countryside, “rather thickly wooded, with numbers of pretty farm-houses and smaller homesteads peeping out from amidst orchards and flower gardens”.
Hayling station, consisting of “a chalet-like cottage in the midst of a field”, is reached in less than ten minutes and seems a strange place to be let out. However, the two gentlemen are directed to The Royal Hotel and enjoy the walk, via thickly-shaded lanes. They are met with a wonderful view of the Isle of Wight “with the whole of the British fleet lying on the calm waters between us and the opposite shore”.
The magnificent scene leads the two men to feel that if the investors could be brought down from Threadneedle Street to the Hayling Beach they would make the lithographed picture of how Hayling might look, a reality, “and cheerfully convert their bank notes into bricks, to build up the new town on the sea-side”. The pair spend the day exploring on foot. They consider the beach to be firm and free from shingle and, therefore, superior to Brighton (“London-sur-Mer”). Hayling’s shady lanes, orchards and flower gardens line the beach area and the view is expressed that “another Margate here would be awful, indeed, to contemplate”. Horror of horrors – “there are already some half-a-dozen bare, ghastly houses near the beach – those stuccoed, pillared, balconied things in which London architects delight; with a row of iron spikes in front and behind a flagstone-covered area like a small graveyard” (presumably Norfolk Crescent). However, east of the Royal Hotel there are some “charming abodes” with large gardens and sheltered among trees; they include “one immense mansion quite palatial in style but in harmony with the rest”. On inquiry the two gentlemen learn that the property is inhabited by Mr G G Sandeman, a London wine merchant, and that “Sandeman and Co pay duty annually to the British Government for near two hundred thousand gallons of wine which they import. Undoubtedly, Mr Sandeman has a right to gaze daily upon the British navy”. Our friends describe the Royal Hotel, run by Mrs Elizabeth Davies, as “one of the cleanest, nicest and least expensive hotels to be met with anywhere on the English sea coast”.
They take their leave and at Hayling station are met by a melancholy-looking navvy, temporarily in charge, who seems surprised to see any customers. He receives this solemn address – “Fear not, O Porter of the future! There will come a time when crowds will be flocking down from the metropolis to this beautiful island….” Then the fierce snorting of the donkey engine is heard, the train comes into the station and “from a third-class carriage on to the platform steps the solitary passenger, an ancient dame carrying a sack of potatoes”.
Adapted by Ann Griffiths from a 3,000 word account.