Terrier replenishing its water tanks at Havant
My family moved to Hayling in 1949 when I was just four years old. We frequently used the train and as children my friend and I enjoyed playing on the tracks and along the adjacent shore. I had the privilege of travelling on the Hayling Billy twice daily during term time (and often during the holidays) from 1955 until the line closed. I had a season ticket which enabled me to travel at any time, any day and as many times as I pleased. I certainly took advantage of that!
The platforms at North Hayling Halt and Langston (notably without the ‘e’) were both of inadequate length, and it was not unusual for travellers to be stranded. They presumably jumped the distance to the ground or made sure that they travelled suitably close to the engine. The number of coaches/carriages used varied of course with demand, but there were generally two or three. Sometimes an engine was coupled at either end of the train. During peak summer periods, the Billy was packed. I was told that the sign at Langstone was misspelled because the designated sign was too short! I wonder whether in fact that is true.
My eight years of travelling daily to school were incredible. (When asked what I liked best about my school I’d reply, ‘The journey!’). What could be better than the smoky smell, a smut in your eye and the comforting rhythm of ‘Puffing Billy’! Who could forget the firm ‘click’ of the door and the lovely old leather ‘buckle’ strap that formed the window opening mechanism! All part of the rich and exciting experience aboard the Hayling Billy! We often watched the firemen stoking the engine, the refilling of the tank with water at Havant, and we loved to hear the hiss and hoot as the steam built up. It was as if the engine was real and alive!
As I approached the station daily, having stowed my bike safely away at the home of the Trigg family who lived opposite, I was struck by the great number of happy, welcoming and familiar faces flooding on to the platform to catch the 7.55 train to Havant. The railway staff always passed the time of day and frequently waited for a regular passenger who had cut it a bit fine!
Friends and like-minded passengers formed their own ‘groups’ and had ‘their’ compartments. (No open-plan carriages in those days on the Billy Line!). No one else ever ventured into ‘our’ compartment (such was the understanding of the accepted code of conduct) and it became a sanctuary from the stresses and strains of everyday life at school.
Friendships evolved; they were not exclusive to age, gender or school, although in our case the group was generally all female, with the all-male group in the next compartment (although it wasn’t unheard of for the two to mix on the return journey!) Both were very diverse groups, but we bonded well and the loyalty and support endured. It was truly unique and a fine example of community spirit and integration. Some of us travelled through to Portsmouth; others finished their journey at Havant.
At 7.55 every morning a friend would be hanging out of the open carriage window to welcome you aboard and once on the move, we completed unfinished homework and supported each other in a very special way.
The return journey was slightly more relaxed, with a greater emphasis on fun! Someone might choose to have a window wide open and to travel with their head poking out, or sit sedately, chat and exchange news and gossip.
The emergency pull cord posed an ever-present temptation! Being isolated from the outside world, we were not restricted by prefects who would have insisted that our hats be worn at all times and that no food be consumed while in school uniform. We were indeed free! We could be warm or cool and we didn’t have to breathe in other people’s cigarette smoke (often a problem in those days).
Crossing the bridge was exhilarating; there was a sense of being suspended above the water and the view from the carriage window was always spectacular, rich in the abundance of wildlife and the ever changing mood of the sea – as it still is today along the Hayling Billy Trail.
Of course, strange and amusing incidents occurred from time to time. It wasn’t unusual for a cow to stray on to the line, resulting in the inevitable delay while it was unceremoniously shooed away. There were
time-honoured customs too, such as hurling the hated school hat out of the window as the train crossed the bridge on one’s very last day at school. I never got to hurl mine! – I had a few months to go when the line closed, and I had to use the buses!
Notable too was the huge crowd of summer tourists who emerged on to the South Hayling platform from each very packed train in the school holidays. The doors opened and out they poured, swarming like ants on to the platform complete with buckets and spades, picnic baskets and rolls of towel-wrapped swimsuits. The air of excitement and enthusiasm
was electric. Extra coaches and two engines were required and the trains used both sides of the platform at such busy times.