QUESTER 9 - RIDE THE MUSTARD GAS TRAIN AND SAXON HYTHE - 28TH JUNE 2019
On June 28th a group from Quester 9 rode the top deck of the no. 1 bus from Winchester to Southampton’s Bargate. A short stroll in sunshine took them to Town Quay to meet excellent guide Sarah Marsden. Safely aboard Hythe ferry “Jenny Blue”, Sarah pointed out the old White Star Titanic terminal and Berth 50 remains (flying boat terminal). Sailing down Southampton Water, one couldn’t miss the 1881 built 700 yard long Hythe Pier looming ahead. Hythe is Saxon for boat landing – the hythe developed here in pre-Saxon times at the “hard”, a band of gravel uniquely suited to landing local flat bottomed boats because of muddy margins prevalent elsewhere in the area. Local double tides were also a useful attraction of early Hythe. Gravel is still visible at low tide. As shipping increased, the steel pier was eventually built in 1881 next to the hard, long enough to support shipping under all tidal conditions.
Safely moored, we disembarked onto the pier head and up to the narrow gauge electric pier train and thence to the town. This train was built for the mustard gas works at Avonmouth during WW1 and subsequently acquired by the Hythe Ferry Company in 1922. Since there was no public power supply, the company generated their own 250V DC supply, selling surplus electricity to Hythe town. The 2’6” gauge trains are virtually unaltered since then. King George VI rode this train in 1944 when he came to review D-Day preparations. It is said that at this time small river craft touched bow to stern from Hythe all the way to Beaulieu. Hythe pier has suffered several impacts including one from ice floes in the 1880’s along with several ship impacts. The worst was in 2003 when a dredger sliced it in two.
Hythe has a long boat building tradition, still maintained. It was home to Christopher Cockerell (of hovercraft fame). Another famous resident was T. E. Lawrence, he lived here in 1931 helping to develop high speed powerboats. Archaeology at Shore Road has revealed unique Stone Age remains. Hythe remains an attractive small town with Tudor and Georgian buildings. It has been prone to flooding during spring tides until relatively recently, when new culverts were provided to control water ingress and persistent damage to properties.
The visit concluded with lunch at the excellent Hythe Seashells restaurant before returning to Winchester by train, ferry and bus.
Paul and Gerry Bracey