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A Brief History of the Kench by Dorothy Pullen
Was the Kench formed when the Solent and its harbours came into being? I found no written evidence to prove this, but because it is comparatively shallow, I presume that it came into existence in 1325 when there was a great inundation of water and Hayling lost its first church. There is little historic evidence of who owned it until William Padwick bought most of Hayling from the Duke of Arundel. The sale included Sinah Common, South Common, and the ferry and mud rights. Presumably the Kench was included. The Golf Club bought it in 1924 and the Hayling Health Society bought part of it in 1972.
On old maps this bay is labelled Kench Cove. It certainly looked cove-like with a very narrow opening, but why Kench? Kench means a deep bin in which animal skins and fish are salted. Was it so named because of its shape, or were hides really salted here? On the Eastern bank was a channel opening into a circular pond, its walls still steep and with a flat, heavy clay floor. Was this the remains of an old salt pan similar to smaller ones found further along the shore, or was this the bin after which the adjoining cove was named? The Kench was known for the quality of its winkles and cockles. It also had an oyster bed until the oysters were killed by the cold winter of 1905.
Smuggling took place in the Kench. On its shore was the remains of a boat that had been cut in half by the Revenue men, a nasty habit they had when they found a boat smuggling! It had been converted into a beach hut. The Revenue men were certainly based in the Kench for they had an old hulk moored there. There are references to the work carried out on the watch vessel in the Kench. This was replaced by a watch tower, but where? It was placed either at the end of Sinah lane or on the high ground of the Golf Course but there are more references to it being placed in the Kench.
What other buildings have been on the Kench? I like to think that Hayling’s first pub, the Norfolk Inn was. It was there before Colonel Arbuthnott built the high wall round his fruit garden; remove these and the shores of the Kench reach up to that old cottage that was the pub. To the northwest of the cottage a house is marked on maps of the 1700s named Parsonage House, but I found no reference to it elsewhere. On the opposite bank were about a dozen fishermen’s huts, felted and tarred, where fishermen waited for the tide and where they kept their gear. The Golf Hut was a corrugated iron building near the road where golfers could relieve or refresh themselves part way around the course. There would have been many more buildings on the Kench if William Padwick’s scheme had come to fruition. He planned a railway embankment from the Kench running north, planning to reclaim the land enclosed. Hayling would then have been twice its present size, but the strong tides of Sinah Lake swept away his shingle bank, and before they could find a solution the money ran out and the scheme was abandoned. The remains of his bank can still be seen and walked along at low tide.
With the completion of Fort Cumberland, Mr. Padwick and Mr. Sandeman felt that Langstone Harbour would be safe from marauders and would make an ideal commercial port. Plans were made for wharves, warehouses and, of course, the railway to take goods inland. All this in the Kench and out to Sinah Sands. It never got started. Mr. Sandeman also had the idea that a steam boat capable of carrying carts and carriages from Hayling to Portsmouth would be money saving and, even more, time saving. He built a pontoon each side of the harbour and a mile and a half of road on the Hayling side. He then bought a boat only to find that carriages could not get on the boat, so the plan was scrapped; but the Kench now had a road along its south shore. He was successful in laying out an eighteen hole golf course on what was Sinah Common and this included most of the western side of the Kench – it became the 13th hole and the 14th tee. In the 1930’s hitting golf balls across the road became too dangerous and the course was re-designed excluding the land in the Kench. By this time the old fishing huts had become beach huts used by families enjoying the pleasures the site offered – a safe playground, safe bathing and boating.
Another developer tried to buy the land for an amusement park – but four wise men, tenants on the site, took out a lease with the Golf Club and thwarted that plan; the very next year, 1934, an amusement park opened at Beachlands and the Hayling Health Society was formed. If you think that the cold winds off the sea and the closeness to the road put an end to the nudist colony you are wrong. It never was nudist. It was, and still is, a place where families can enjoy all the facilities it offers. More huts were built, some of these ‘posh’ places as they were then can be seen in the south-west corner of the site.
With Dunkirk came fear of invasion. The Navy commandeered the site; houseboats were removed to Milton Lake and huts bordering the sea were pulled down. After the war the site passed to Havant Council who planned to use the naval workshops for housing, but then thought better of it. So in 1948 the site passed back to the Society with flattened contours, a concrete road and slipway. Building materials were scarce after the war and it took time to re-instate the buildings, which were now bigger and better; many members returned with ex-naval boats, which were in plentiful supply. The Golf Club cashed in on this source of income and flooded their part of the Kench with houseboats many used for permanent occupation. Next a plan for a marina surfaced. As well as yacht berths there were to be 244 flats, a restaurant and bar, a yacht club and parking space for 250 cars. A lock gate was to go across the entrance of the Kench so that water could be retained. The Hayling Health Society still had many years of their lease on the ground left, so their permission had to be obtained. Notes from the Harbour Board minutes sum up the situation. “The marina project meandered on with reports at most meetings until at least 1973 when it finally withered on the vine.” It did not wither, it was chopped down by the Hayling Health Society who bought their site right under the developers’ noses. To raise the purchase price for the site each member of the Society “bought” their own plot. Houseboat owners were allotted plots to buy on which they could build. Planning permission was given stating that for each new chalet built a houseboat had to go. One good thing arising from the marina project was that the houseboats on the land owned by the Golf Club had been removed, ready for development; but builders’ rubble, hardcore and subsoil was deposited on the eastern bank to raise it ready for building, completely spoiling the natural salt marsh and its flowers.
Another attempt to build a marina was made but was thwarted by Hampshire County Council buying the land which became Hayling’s third nature reserve. The remaining eight houseboats or their replacements will remain, giving a little character to the site. So we leave Kench Cove with its peaceful nature reserve and contented members who are thankful, on their part, that the Kench has not become a rail terminus, a dock, an amusement park or yet a marina!