MEMORIES OF ‘PUFFING BILLY’ by Debbie Brett

I was just five years old when the ‘Hayling Billy’ stopped running and must have personally done my last journey in the summer of 1963.

My family come from East Molesey in Surrey but my uncle and aunt, Ken and Phyllis (Eileen) Chandler, had lived on Hayling since the 1940’s and my great aunt, Lilian Richardson, since the 1930’s.

Two or three times a year, in the spring and summer months, I and my older sister, Rosemary, would travel with our parents from Molesey to Hayling to stay with Ken, Phyllis and Lilian in Mengham Avenue.  It was exciting enough, going on the ‘big train’, complete with our Traditional bottle of Tizer which my father would pour into plastic cups as the train pulled out of Hampton Court station, but there was no doubt, when we crossed over the platform at Havant and onto ‘Puffing Billy’, that our holiday had really begun!

My sister says she remembers the way the engine started moving;  a lot of effort seeming to be required initially,  moving forward in jerks, and then, with a sort of ‘urgency’ in the puffing, the train would get into a strong motion.  Then of course, the wonderful first sight of “THE SEA!!!!” as we travelled over the bridge, which was so exciting for us, even if the tide was out. My mother says she remembers travelling through fields of corn as we puffed our way down the Island. There was such a ‘homely’ feeling about the little carriages, which I felt even at this young age, and I do remember it so vividly.

The down-side of it was that we had a long trek from the station in West Town, down Hollow Lane, with our suitcases (which, fortunately, I didn’t have to carry in those days!) to Mengham Avenue, but it was a lovely feeling, as we staggered through the little back gate in Webb Lane, having arrived at last.

I do have a particular memory of my last journey on the Billy. I was aware that the service was soon to be stopped and sensed the rather sad but resigned atmosphere from the other passengers. At one point on that journey, the train stopped and then started going slowly
backwards  and then stopped again for a while.  Much as I loved my home in East Molesey, I just wished it meant I could stay on Hayling Island and I had a strong feeling of wishing for time to stand still, for me to not grow any older and for things to stay the same.

Of course, after the train stopped running, we used to catch the bus, which of course does not have quite the same ‘romance’ as travelling on a steam train! The plus side of this was that the bus dropped us much nearer to Mengham Avenue. Unfortunately, though, I was often
travel-sick on buses and invariably my mother would have to get off with me at some point and walk the rest of the way. I think it was the’windey-twisty’ part of the road that did it and it was usually soon after this, for instance, the Mengham Rythe stop, where we would have to make our quick exit!   My sister and father carried on on the bus with the cases and my mother and I would arrive some 20 minutes or half-an-hour later, with me looking a bit pale!  Having said all this, I do want to stress how greatly I now appreciate the bus service between Havant and Hayling and often use it – and i’m glad to say i’m no longer ill on buses!

But, back to ‘Puffing Billy’, I remember the engine being outside ‘The Hayling Billy’ pub for many years and it’s good that it was then taken to the Isle of Wight and put back into service.

Strangely, although we used to love walking along the beach and exploring other parts of Hayling all through the 1960’s and ’70’s,  it was only in about 1979 when we discovered that you could walk along the old railway route. Since this discovery, we (and my partner Simon)
have walked or cycled the Billy trail many, many times over the years. It’s wonderful, too, that the old station has been put to such good use.

The pull of Hayling Island was always very strong for me and eventually, in 1994, I bought a bungalow on Fairlight Chalets. Then, in 2006, I moved into the house in Mengham Avenue that was our holiday home for so many years. My great aunt Lilian, aunty Phyllis and uncle
Ken passed away in 1991, 1994 and 2005 respectively.

As the years go by, the Hayling Billy becomes more and more of a memory from the past and because I was so young when I used to travel on it, I may, if I live to old age, become one of the last people to remember those days!

I am glad that so much is taking place on Hayling and in Havant to commemorate this railway service and look forward to being part of the various organised events during 2013.

Debbie Brett

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1 comment… add one
  • mark chadwick 4 July, 2013, 8:33 am

    I remember my Auntie Marjorie – who wasn’t really an aunt, but who eventually became my step Gandmother (work that one out)! saying that pre war she lived on Hayling and travelled on the train to Portsmouth daily. She worked at Handleys in Palmerstone Road and told me that when she crossed the bridge she always wondered what would happen if the train came of the track. Would it be better if the tide was in or out and whether it be better to have a hard landing on the mud or a soft wet landing in the water! Of course fortunately neither eventuality ever arose.