Railway Benefits by Noel Pyecroft

My father and mother kept cows. Between 1934 and 1946 we were given permission to remove the grass cuttings which the railway platelayers had cut and left to dry on the railway embankment. We also gathered Sea Spinach (now called Sea Beet) from harbour side of the railway embankment, this was good to eat but not so today as there are too many dogs about.

Arthur Lemm was the Foreman Platelayer, Arthur lived in Waterloo Road, Havant. Albert Grout worked with him. Albert also worked as a Porter at Havant station and lived in North Hayling. There were other railwaymen working with Arthur but I cannot remember their names.

My mother and we children would gather the dry grass, cut by Arthur and his gang, in canvas sheets, bundling them up. We then carried or dragged them about half a mile to our field and lifted them over the wooden railway fence. where we would build a hayrick. My father would scythe the grass in the orchards to add to the hayrick. This hay was carted on  the brickyard ‘bearing off barrow’. Altogether, about 2 tons of hay would be in the hayrick.

The embankments were infested with Adders which we killed when we could. On reflection I am sorry we killed them.

We would put halfpennies on the line to get them squashed by the train as it passed. This was a popular past-time for children with dreams of making pennies from the halfpenny coins – quite a few bottled sweets could be bought from the sweetshop for a penny or eight caramel toffees for 1/2d.

Wild strawberries and Vetch grew on the banks alongside the railway attracting honey bees which swarmed around. Between 1934 and 1939, we caught these using inverted wooden Typhoo tea boxes with a hole cut in the base which was covered in pieces of gauze soaked in black treacle (this was very cheap). We placed the open end of the box over the swarm (the queen bee would be in the centre of the swarm), taking care to leave a gap for other bees to join the swarm in the tea box. In the evening, the bee keeper would collect the tea boxes and pay us 1 shilling for each box. We would catch a swarm or two a year.

To supplement the family diet and to sell them, my father and his friend would shoot pigeons (known as rock doves) on the railway embankment during August.

My father would also shoot, with his punt gun, many Widgeon ducks, Teal and Brent Geese which were stored in our shed before being carted to North Hayling Halt and be taken to Havant for onward shipment to Campbell and Longley Central markets, London. The shipping cost was originally 10/- per sack but this was reduced to 2/6 per sack with the help of Arthur Scutt, Havant station clerk. The birds were sold for: Teal 6d each, Widgeon 1/- each, Wild Duck 2/6 each and Brent Geese 1/9 each before WW2. During the war, meat was scarce and the prices rose.

 I believe Arthur Scutt lived at that time, in Market Lane, Havant. He later moved his family to Havant Road, Hayling Island which was next door to me. Nice neighbours.

We lived and still live, 200yds from the Havant to Hayling railway. From 1934 till 1940, during the summer, we lived in sheds and re-occupied the house in winter. We had a small brickyard from 1934 to 1992. We miss the railway in winter as it acted as an alarm clock with the passing of the goods train at 6:40am and 2 or 3pm.

The train drivers sometimes stopped the train to set snares to catch rabbits. They also threw lumps of coal at the rabbits whilst passing the fields at North Hayling, hoping to kill them. Meat was rationed at the time and was very expensive, this helped to supplement their family’s diet.

The sparks from the engine caused fires on Stoke Common and other places on several occasions.

Bill Vaughan collected drift wood and coke from the sea shore and also the coal thrown by the train crew, to supplement the fuel for his stove and fire.

The only engine drivers I remember were Ron Palett, Westfield Road, Eastney and John Atkins of Portsmouth.

Peter Jordan was working with me in our brickfield when his father was tragically killed whilst opening the gates at Langstone crossing. A car crashed into the gates. This happened in 1946 or 1947.

Best wishes

Noel A Pyecroft.

Meet the Author

4 comments… add one
  • Langstonian 27 February, 2014, 4:06 pm

    In November 1946 Jock Jordan was manoeuvring  the Langstone level crossing gates when  he was knocked down by a  Hayling-bound hit-and-run driver.  The gate fell on Jock and he died at the scene.

    • peterd 27 February, 2014, 4:53 pm

      Thanks for this update and clarification.

  • ChairmanFish 28 February, 2014, 10:08 am

    Great recollections from Noel, as ever!

    • peterd 28 February, 2014, 1:28 pm

      Thanks for your comments. Noel is a mine of information.