Road access to Hayling in the 18th and 19th centuries

compiled by Sue Humphrey from a variety of sources

At the beginning of the 18th century Hayling, according to Butler’s Hundred of Bosmere, was a backward little place; “its farmhouses were old and cold; wages averaged eighteen shillings a month (including perks). The hours of work were, in summer 6am – 5pm, at harvest from dawn to dusk, and in winter from morn till night”. There was little or no contact with the mainland.

What was needed was a reasonable network of roads to service the Island but this was not to happen until the health-giving properties of seawater and ozone were “discovered” in the mid 18th century! Almost overnight, small fishing villages all over the country were transformed into “seaside spas”. Brighton was the largest on the south coast. Hayling attracted the attention of promoters in the early 19th century when a small group led by Sir Richard Hotham planned to convert the island into a resort which would rival all others on the south coast. Before any building could begin, the systems of communication on the Island had to be improved, particularly the roads.

The roads of Hayling had gradually evolved from old cart tracks and were subsequently very winding with numerous bends incorporated into them. Some improvements had been made by the early 19th century but there was nothing so sophisticated as tarmacadam! Neither was there any bridge across to the mainland. How then did islanders use road travel to reach the mainland? In the first place they could walk and many did! You could hire a horse – expensive but practical when one needed to travel long distances, as there were stables and blacksmiths in almost every village in those days. Then there were horse-drawn vehicles of many sorts. Travel from Hayling was limited by the fact that the Wadeway was the only link with the mainland and this limited the size of vehicle using it and also time of travel was limited by the state of the tides.

In the year 1823 an Act of Parliament was passed authorising the building of a bridge across Langstone Harbour and fixing the rate of tolls which could be charged for using it. The bridge was built in double quick time and it was opened in 1824. From that time, access to the Island was assured – especially the possibility of using coaches. The tollkeeper of the first Hayling bridge used to say that it was the loss of two horses by drowning when crossing the Wadeway which gave the final impetus to the proposal to build the bridge. When the preamble to the Act was published however, there was not a word about horses nor the expectations entertained by the promoters of profitable developments to follow the building of a bridge. The preamble reads as follows:

“Whereas for the space of 12 hours out of every 24 there is no direct communication between the mainland and Hayling Island in the County of Southampton (except by boat) owing to the Passage commonly known as the Wadeway, which runs in a very uneven, unequal and circuitous manner from Langstone in the Parish of Havant across Langstone Harbour to Hayling Island aforesaid, being overflowed by the Sea; and whereas, from violence of the winds and sea, the passage, called the Wadeway is frequently covered by the tide the whole twenty four hours together and boats are often totally prevented from crossing the said Harbour, by reason whereof any communication between the mainland and Hayling Island becomes impracticable and great Inconvenience, Difficulty and Loss are thereby occasioned and the lives of his Majesty’s subjects are much endangered”

The Act of 1823 also prohibited any conveyance for hire or reward, by land or sea, within 1000 yards of the bridge; thus putting out of business any commercial cross-channel service not merely to Langstone but to Pook Lane and Bedhampton Quays as well. This ban was greatly resented by Hayling inhabitants who now had to pay a toll in place of their former free passage across the Wadeway!

Once in Havant, travellers could catch coaches to Portsmouth, Brighton, Southampton or London. If a traveller could get to the Bear in Havant by 7.30am he might find room in the Independent Coach, which ran once daily to London. One coach service known as the Queen Coach, was the first to include a stop at Hayling. The Queen Coach could be boarded at the Royal Hotel at 9am every morning except Sundays. It proceeded via Havant, Bedhampton, Cosham and terminated at the Fountain Hotel, Portsmouth. From here, one could either spend the day in Portsmouth, returning to Hayling in the late afternoon, or take a coach to London – the final terminal being the White Bear Inn in Piccadilly. The coach fare from Hayling to London was 24 shillings for an outside seat or 14 shillings for the hardier who could travel outside the coach.

Coaches reflected the traditions and occupations of the region through which they ran. On the Portsmouth road you could choose between “Hero” and “True Blue” or between “Nelson” and “Trafalgar”. Other coach names I have been able to find were “Regulator”, “Rocket”, “Telegraph”, “Defiance” and “Brittania”.

Hayling did not develop into a coastal resort even though transport links were improved. It did, however, over the next century, develop as a holiday resort.