Coastal Leisure on Hayling Island for London Lads

Members of the Enfield Boys' Brigade on Camp, July 1898'. Picture reproduced with kind permission of the 3rd Enfield Boys' Brigade

Members of the Enfield Boys’ Brigade on Camp, July 1898′. Picture reproduced with kind permission of the 3rd Enfield Boys’ Brigade

During the late nineteenth century the Boys’ Brigade in London sought to provide its young members with a form of recreation that would offer a break from the ills of urban life. It was thought that a camping expedition would help lift restrictions imposed at home and would remove lads from the pressures of the city.[1] Moreover, such a vacation would afford a positive means for the expression of youthful energies under the close observation of leaders of the movement.

Amongst the earliest London camps were those made to Hayling Island. This coastal resort had become increasingly popular with visitors from the capital by the end of the nineteenth century.[2] For the authorities of the Boys’ Brigade such a location was crucial for the success of a summer camp for boys from urban centres. For an inland company it was written that the seaside was sin qua non and town lads would be robbed of half the joys of camp were they not held near the coast.[3] However, these camps were restricted in scope and available to only a limited number of boys. Nevertheless, the Hayling camps enjoyed by some London boys provide a unique insight into approaches to challenges of the urban space. For the London Boys’ Brigade coastal leisure was promoted and utilised as a method for both physical and moral betterment of adolescent boys.

In the summer of 1892 the largest Boys’ Brigade camp to date was held on Hayling Island. The London Battalion brought 342 of its number for a camp on the coast with the chief concern of Officers to become better acquainted with their boys.[4] At this camp representatives of the movement from Enfield were in attendance and as a result of their experience Companies from this area began a series of expeditions to the island over the course of the following years. The presence of Enfield boys represented what Sandra Dawson has considered to be the young urban tourists deemed respectable by local people, who were under adult supervision, and were favourable to the tone of the coastal resort.[5] Although the presence of some boys from the capital was regarded as detrimental to the island, the visits by the Enfield Boys’ Brigade were of a more respectable nature than groups such as the St. Nicholas Industrial School who were deemed a threat to the respectability of the community.[6]

The extent to which Enfield Boys’ Brigade members were embraced by local people is evident with the arrangement of competitive sports between Brigade boys and local children.[7] Their visits also embraced the desired ethos of promoting Hayling as an ideal location for healthy recuperation, with Norbert Storer Toms sending boys from his 3rd Enfield Company to coastal camps to remove them from the “bad and unhealthy” surroundings of home.[8] Therefore, the boys from Enfield conformed to the standard of tourist deemed desirable by the local community. Moreover, the motives for selecting this coastal resort mirrored the image residents wished to portray of Hayling as a centre for healthy improvement.

An additional advantage Officers found when camping on Hayling Island was the proximity to the Solent. The closeness to Portsmouth Harbour added an additional dimension to the health benefits accrued by providing a site for the educational improvement of city boys.  Through visits to noteworthy vessels in the harbour, Officers were provided an opportunity for the promotion of the Empire and the celebration of military heroes. In one of the pioneering camps on Hayling Island in 1890 an outing was made by boys from the London Battalion to the Harbour where HMS Victory was boarded and explored. In a report sent to The Boys’ Brigade Gazette it was written that:

“It will be readily imagined with what interest the Boys went over it. It was a fine sight to see the awe-struck youngsters crowding round their guide as he pointed out the spot where Nelson fell, or the place in the cock-pit where he died”[9]

A similar experience was afforded to boys from the City and East London Battalion in 1908 where a ‘gunboat outing’ to Portsmouth was held and an Officer reported to headquarters that a “most enjoyable and instructive time” was had in the dockyard.[10]

The camping expeditions by Boys’ Brigade Companies from London were arranged with a view to enhancing the health of boys. The site of Hayling Island was popular during the formative years of this branch of Company work and it is apparent that local residents embraced these respectable and controlled boys during the summer months. Visits to the nearby Portsmouth Harbour provided a means for educational improvement whilst promoting the Empire through the teaching of past naval exploits. However, camping during these decades was not available to the majority of London boys whose experience of the organisation was felt more closely to home at the regular weekly meetings.



[1] John Springhall, Youth, Empire, and Society, (London: Croom Helm, 1977), 98; John Springhall, Brian Fraser, and Michael Hoare, Sure and Stedfast. A History of the Boys’ Brigade 1883-1983, (London: Collins, 1983),65; Pamela Horn, Pleasures and Pastimes in Victorian Britain, (Stroud: Amberley Publishing, 2011 [first edition 1999]), 307.

[2] Sandra Dawson, “The Battle for Beachlands: Hayling Island and the Development of Coastal Leisure in Britain, 1820 – 1960”, The International Journal of Regional and Local Studies, 3, no. 1, (2007), 56 – 80; 60 – 61.

[3] The Boys’ Brigade Camp Hand-Book, (Glasgow: The Boys’ Brigade, 1909), 16.

[4] “Boys’ Brigade Summer Camps”, The Boys’ Brigade Gazette, 2, no. 6, October 1892, 135.

[5] Dawson, “The Battle”, 60.

[6] Dawson, “The Battle”, 60

[7] “Summer Camps”, The Boys’ Brigade Gazette, 7, no. 1, September 1898, 8 – 9.

[8] Dawson has written that at the turn of the twentieth century, Hayling Island was considered a recuperative place on the coast for children suffering from diseases of urban modernity. Dawson, “The Battle”, 60 – 61; “The Boys’ Brigade in Enfield”, Meyers’s Observer and Local and General Advertiser, 10 June 1892, 6.

[9] “London Battalion Camp on Haying Island”, The Boys’ Brigade Gazette, 1, 8, October 1890, 132-133; 133.

[10] “Camp Notes”, The Boys’ Brigade Gazette, 17, 3, November 1908, pp. 39 – 43; p.41.

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