Hayling in prehistory and early history (to Domesday)

by Sue Humphrey

In prehistoric times Hayling Island was, so far as we know, uninhabited. The Solent, separating the Island from the Isle of Wight was at that time a tributary of the River Frome. As the last of the ice melted during the final ice age, the level of the ocean was raised and this completed the drowning of the River Frome. Hayling’s riverbank was converted into a beach and the Frome’s tributaries both from the newborn Isle of Wight and from the mainland side were shortened into rivers flowing into the sea. These fast flowing rivers covered Hayling partially with deposits of shingle; other slow-moving streams precipitated the rich brickearth “to which the Island owes its significance in the scheme of things” in the words of F.G.S. Thomas. The Ice age deposited large boulders, known as erratics, which have been used for the foundations of many of the oldest buildings on the Island including St. Peter’s Church, Old Fleet Farm, Rook Farm and Langstone Mill.Hayling Island was probably first inhabited by man in the New Stone Age (2,500 to 1,800 BC), though there is little evidence of early Britons having made permanent settlements here. The British Museum holds one polished axe-head found on Hayling and two or three arrowheads from the same era have been found dating from the Middle Stone Age (8000 to 2,500 BC). Hayling was then woodland with open areas of gorse and fern, which furnished these early hominids with food and clothing in the form of boar, deer and wolves. Flint and stone implements, a pebble pavement and a fireplace excavated by Mr. E.S. McEuen at Pound Marsh are evidence of life on Hayling sometime between the Early Bronze Age and the Iron Age (1700-75BC). The Earthwork at Tournerbury on the eastern side of the Island, is also considered to fall within this period. It is 250 yards diameter at its greatest and is about half a mile in circumference, covering some seven or eight acres. McEuan claims that Tournerbury is pre-Roman, but others claim that Tournerbury was a Roman fort. The Romans built a cordon of nine coastal and esturial forts, stretching from the Solent to the Wash. These forts were the base for an army and a navy under a Commander who bore the name and rank of “Count of the Saxon Shore”. It is certain that Porchester Castle was one of these, and the site of Tournerbury suggests that it held a very similar position with regard Chichester Harbour as Portchester does to Portsmouth Harbour. However, all these "Saxon Shore" forts have been identified and Tournerbury is not included. It has been suggested, however, that there is no reason why Tournerbury should not have been a secondary fort – designed to fill the gap between Portchester and Pevensey. When the Romans left this stronghold the Saxons claimed it as their principle settlement under their chief Haegel. In the early 19th century pottery of Roman origin was found in Towncil Field, in the northern part of the Island. In 1897 an archaeologiest, Dr. Talfourd Ely became interested in the site and began digging in earnest. He exposed floors, foundations, a courtyard and a central heating system. This site has since been identified as a Romano-British Temple, and a great deal of research is being undertaken into its significance to the area both in the Iron Age and in Roman times.

The Saxons and Vikings were responsible for much of the destruction of any Roman buildings, and left little of any significance, with the exception of the font in St. Mary’s Church and the name of the Island itself, which, according to the Oxford Dictionary of English Place names is “the Island of the Haeglinglas or Haegel’s people”. A thousand years ago, the Island was considerably larger, but the continual erosion by the sea has caused the coastline to recede over the centuries. It is recorded that there was a great tidal inundation in 1325 and legend has it that the bells of the old Church, submerged in this inundation may still be heard to ring on a stormy night.

At the time of the Domesday Book (1086) Hayling Island probably had a population of around 300. Domesday found Hayling under four ownerships. All four entries are headed “In Boseberg Hundred” but only three actually name Hayling. The Domesday Book also mentions a saltpan where salt was made.

  1. The King himself holds in Halingei two hides and a half. Leman held it in parage. Harald took it from him when he seised the kingdom and put it into his farm.
  2. The monks of the bishopric of Winchester hold Helinghei, they always held it.
  3. The Abbey of Jumièges hold Helingey Ulward held it (free of all services and dues except land tax) of Queen Emma.
  4. Believed to have been the five hides given by Earl Roger Montgomery to the Abbey of TROARN later conveyed to John Falcomer of Wade and Limbourne. (These lands were in North Hayling).

South Hayling was by far the largest of the four Domesday divisions. This was one of nine manors purported to have been bestowed upon the monks of St. Swithuns by Queen Emma in thanksgiving after her trial by ordeal in 1045. One half was given to Ullward for life with the proviso that it revert to the monks after defraying funeral expenses. But in a charter dated 1086 William the Conqueror granted the whole of the manor of South Hayling (St. Swithun’s half and Ulward’s half) to the Abbey of Jumièges. This gift caused great dispute between Jumieges and Winchester, which was at its height when the domesday book was being compiled. Certainly, the monks of Jumièges built a priory on the Island and these monks owned the greater part of the Island until the early 15th century.