The salt industry on Hayling Island

by Maura Chapman (Local History Group 1)

Until the late 19th century, the making of salt featured prominently on the Island. An 1830's guidebook to Hayling mentions that the salt industry had been carried on for centuries. The Domesday Survey records that the production of salt was one of the three main sources of income for the Islanders, the others being fishing and farming; it refers to Hayling as possessing a valuable saltern worth 6s 8d. Richard Scott's "Topographical and Historical Account of Hayling Island" (1826) refers to salt making being the principle branch of trade on the Island. He states "there is a very fine salt works in the north and another in the south parish, and there are three others on the island".

A map dated 1834 shows two salterns at the north of the Island, at the head of Sweare Deep, named Great salterns and Little salterns, two in the south of the Island known as Jenman's salterns and Mengham salterns, now the home of Mengeham Rhythe Sailing Club, and where an old salt house, which was used for boiling brine, still exists. There is also one at Eastoke known as Eastoke saltern, close to the home of Hayling Island Sailing Club.

Mention is made of a Saltern (probably in the north) early in the reign of William I. John Reger in his book on "The History of Chichester Harbour" states that there is evidence all around the harbour in the form of briquetage. These are patches of reddish burnt earth along the shoreline showing that prehistoric man made concentrations of brine during the summer and then boiled it in heavy earthenware pots in the autumn. Nita Nicholson in her "Pocket Companion to Hayling Island" refers to two important ancient roads that met and crossed in Havant. One was a prehistoric coast road, which ran from Sussex, over Portsdown Hill and on to the west. The other was an old salt road - certainly used by the Romans and possibly improved and maintained by them. This began on Hayling where there were three excellent salterns, and ran north through Havant and into the South Downs, via Rowlands Castle, Finchdean and Charlton. It would appear therefore that salt was a staple article of manufacture on the Island long before the conquest.

Salt was used for curing hides and healing wounds as well as for preserving food and the salt made on the Island was highly regarded for its excellent quality and was generally preferred to any other. Reger refers to St. Augustine speaking in very strong terms of the salt made around its shores saying that "it is superior to every other made in the British Isles."

Common salt is a compound of the metal sodium and the poisonous gas chlorine. It is found in its crystal form in large inland deposits in many places throughout the world and in a soluble form in seawater. At first it is a pale green colour, but by boiling, it is made pure white. The making of salt depended a good deal on the weather, the best time being in the four months of summer. Ron Brown in his "Story of Hayling Island" describes the method for processing the salt. `Firstly the salt seawater was let into the brine-pans, which were square shallow places formed in a field adjoining the sea. In fine weather the salt became brine in approximately seven days, it was then pumped into reservoirs or pits each holding enough to make some 25 tons of salt. A wind pump fitted with sails achieved the pumping operation. The brine was then transferred as required into pans that were heated in a boiler house, the boiling operation lasting for twelve hours, during which it was skimmed twice. When the salt was formed it was shovelled out hot and wet into wooden troughs that had holes in the bottom, through these ran a dross that was referred to as "bitters". The crystallization of Epsom Salts was formed from these "bitters". After the salt had drained in the troughs for about ten hours it was removed to a storehouse to be made ready for distribution.' It was estimated that around 150 tons of salt were produced on Hayling during the season.

In his 1836 "Guidebook to Hayling" Clarke treated the making of salt on the Island as a tourist attraction, advising visitors that the best time to inspect the boiling house was at one o'clock in the afternoon, this being the time when the boiling process was nearly completed.

The Cole family were linked synonymously with the manufacture of salt in Hayling and Ebenezer Cole was one of the last, if not the last, salt-maker on the Island. He started working for his father as a young lad, earning two shillings a week working on a ten acre site; he carried on the industry latterly in a small way well into the 20th century. An article published in the " Hampshire Telegraph" in 1933, when Ebenezer Cole was 88, refers to him being at the end of a lifetime's work in the family business of salt production on the Island. It tells the story of his trips into Portsmouth with his horse and cart carrying 100cwt bags of salt. To break the monotony of these journeys, he made an occasional boat trip taking salt to Bosham and Emsworth. Rather than return with an empty cart, or boat, he would bring goods back to the Hayling folk for a small fee and the service developed into a flourishing carrying business. Ebenezer Cole was probably one of the earliest residents of Salterns Quay cottage, where he raised a family of 13. Sadly he died in 1934 at the ripe old age of 90! The Cole family were one of Hayling Island's best-known families and it was a Charles Henry Cole who was in charge of the Hayling Island Lifeboat when it went out of commission in 1924.