the real linhay island
One of the questions I often get asked is whether Linhay Island, the main setting for The Yellow Cottage Mysteries, is real? The answer is, while Linhay itself is fictitious, it is loosely based on a real place - Hayling Island.
As the name suggests Hayling is an island, situated off the south coast of England in the borough of Havant in Hampshire, near Portsmouth. With the maternal side of my family based in Hampshire I spent many a happy childhood holiday on the island. In 2014 I visited for the first time in years and fell in love with it all over again, so much so that the seed for The Yellow Cottage mystery series was sown.
While only small Hayling Island is full of interesting history, perfect fodder for an author! In The Curse of Arundel Hall, both the brick fields and the oyster beds are mentioned. For the better part of a century, right up until 1989, bricks were hand made on the island by members of the local Pycroft family, and it would have been a common sight to see thousands of bricks lined up in the sun to bake. Oysters were farmed on the island from as early as 1819 and it continued up until the 1970's. They were classed as a delicacy and were exported throughout the country as 'Emsworth Oysters.' In 1996 the beds were restored by the council, creating an important seabird breeding site. Although large sections of the bund walls have since fallen into the harbour, much of the shape and scale of the beds can still be seen today.
Also in The Curse of Arundel Hall, Harriet mentions to Ella the discovery of two coffins while digging the foundations for the hotel in which they are sitting. This is in fact a true story. The coffins were indeed found a couple of feet below the surface by workers building The Royal Hotel in 1825, and the inscription on the lid of one said P. S. 1707.
Oyster Beds 2001
The Crescent & Royal Hotel
Image courtesy of art.com
the yellow cottage
Some readers have mentioned that considering what Ella finds at the end of An Accidental Murder, there seems to be a disparity in terms of size and the name ‘cottage.’ While this may be true in today’s terms, in the era in which the books are set and certainly when The Yellow Cottage was built, the term cottage would be used to describe a much larger house. The provenance of the cottage is explained in much more detail in book 2 – The Curse of Arundel Hall, but a good example of the terminology is The Dower House cottage in Downton Abbey.
The Yellow Cottage is actually a product of my imagination; however it is based on an amalgamation of properties which are real, the main one being The Manor House on Hayling Island (right.) The current property was built in 1777 by The Duke of Norfolk very close to the site of its predecessor. The site itself dates back to at least the Norman period, and is thought to either be the location of Hayling's lost priory, or the site of the grange which belonged to the priory. There is a Norman Dovecote in the grounds which adds credence to the thought the priory farm was once located on this spot, as the keeping of doves was a manorial privilege.
The Manor House - Hayling Island
Manor lane 1930.
TRAVELLING TO LONDON
I had to use a bit of artistic licence when it came to Ella and friends travelling back and forth to London. The train journey from Linhay to the capital takes about an hour, whereas in reality it's actually twice as long. You would also need to board the train at Havant, as sadly there is no longer a train running from the island. As with everything else about Hayling, the history of the railway, although limited is very interesting.
In 1865, the Havant to Langstone branch line was opened transporting goods to two specially built wharves at Langstone. Goods were held here ready for transport to Queen Victoria's favourite holiday retreat on the Isle of Wight. By 1867, the branch line had been extended across the railway bridge to a wooden halt at North Hayling and along the foreshore to the new station at West Town. Due to the frailty of the original timber railway bridge, light weight Terrier tank engines (known affectionately as 'The Hayling Billies' by locals) were used to push and pull coaches up and down the five mile single lane track. Even with these light weight engines the bridge could only safely support the engine plus four coaches at any one time. During the busy holiday season the large number of passengers were catered for by running the trains in convoy up and down the single line, facing backwards on their return journey due to the lack of turntable.
Just off the main road onto the Island is a small turning leading to North Hayling Station (also known as North Hayling Halt.) This was once a small wooden station serving the single track Havant to Hayling branch line. As well as providing local stop to the people of North Hayling, the station was also used to load Oysters farmed in the beds to the North. The diminutive Station, together with the rest of the line, was closed in 1963 when it fell under the axe of Dr Beeching. Although little evidence remains of the sites railway history, the site of the old station at North Hayling does still provide access to the Coastal Path, Oyster beds and the RSPB nature reserve. It was the knowledge of the nature reserve, which led me to mention the RSPB in The Curse of Arundel Hall, although in order to fit in with the narrative I did change the date of its inception. The site was also the location of one of Hayling’s anti-aircraft batteries during the Second World War, serving to protect the Island during frequent air raids. Equipped with heavy 5.5 inch guns, the remains of the emplacements are still visible if you travel down the coastal trail from this point.
In 1865, an additional route between Hayling and the main land was created in the form of a railway bridge. Built as an essential part of the Hayling to Langstone branch line, this 1000ft long triumph of Victorian engineering opened in the centre to create a 30 foot gap to allow for the movement of shipping between Chichester and Langstone harbours. The remains of the timber legs of the railway bridge, later encased in concrete for reinforcement can still be seen today and serves as a reminder of the old railway.
Opened in 1867 the station at West Town was the southern terminus of the Havant to Hayling branch line. The small station, consisting of a single platform, goods shed and signal box had no turn table. This meant that trains coming down the Hayling line facing forwards had to complete the return journey backwards. The station served South Hayling nearly one hundred years before being seeing off its last train on 3rd November 1963. For many years after the closure of the station, one of the “Hayling Billy” Terrier Tank engines could be seen in the car park of its namesake, The Hayling Billy pub. Removed in the 1970's, this engine was returned to service on the Isle of Wight as part of the Isle of Wight Steam Railway. Since 1997 the station has served as the home for HIADS (Hayling Island Amateur Dramatics Society). Thanks to grants the old goods shed of the station has been converted into 144 seat theatre which is the location of various productions throughout the year.