A history of Hayling Island holiday camps

by Karen Walker

Since the mid 1800’s the health giving properties of seawater and ozone were being recognised and by the 19th Century there came the age of the seaside resort. Hayling was regarded as a healthy and pleasant place to live and visit for the day. Entrepreneurs were not slow to realise the prosperity that could be enjoyed by coastal resorts that attracted visitors.

The Royal Hotel, built in 1825, a commodious building with excellent facilities was built to cater for holiday makers. This was an hotel for the sporting gentlemen and genteel ladies, with facilities such as a large billiard room, lounges and stunning sea views. The Royal was close to the Library with its classic pillars, picture gallery and chess room. Also, nearby was the Bath House for a hot, tepid or cold bath. There were bathing machines on the waters edge, for the privacy of bathers who were hardy and preferred the invigorating delights of sea bathing and around 1909 there were many tents and a few huts on the beach for adults to shed their heavy clothes before sunbathing, even so men still kept their trilby hats on!

By 1887 the Hayling Railway Company were bringing even more visitors to Hayling and her sandy beaches therefore excursions to the beach were brought within the reach of many. Day excursions were becoming even more popular; however, there were still few places for the working classes to stay.

Over the next couple of decades people were beginning to buy inexpensive plots of farming land, particularly at the Eastern end of the Island to build holiday homes or to site old railway carriages for holiday use. Southwood Road was principally developed for holiday homes. By 1935 there were new estates being built, Sandy Beach Estate and Sea Front Estate being two of these, the agents advertising them as holiday homes by the sea. The complexion of Hayling was rapidly changing and had become a desirable holiday location, not purely for day-trippers.

This was very soon recognised and addressed by the establishment of the first holiday camp at Northney in 1931 by Captain Harry Warner who took retirement from the Royal Artillery in 1925 and began a successful involvement in a seaside restaurant business. This led to his diversity into the holiday camp business and the provision of holiday accommodation for the working classes. Northney camp remained virtually unchanged with the exception of a period during World War 2 when it was co-opted as a Naval Barracks and called HMS Northney In 1951 Northney camp was still very popular. ‘Holiday Camps’ magazine’s description was glowing:

"Its spirit of friendliness, its setting in the beautiful countryside by the waters of Chichester harbour, and the bracing Hayling Island climate have given Northney a popularity that has grown over the years."

This camp remained a very successful camp until the 1980’s when it closed to leave the way open for a development of housing at the Northern end of the Island.

In the 1930’s a new generation of holidaymakers began to discover the delights of Hayling, helped by the fact that a faster service provided from Waterloo and Brighton via Havant was electrified. The working classes were having more holidays and more camps were being built to accommodate them, the object was to provide a complete ‘package holiday’. Everything was provided, self contained, ‘artistically constructed suntrap chalets’, food, entertainment and leisure facilities for the whole family, without the need to even leave the camp. A ‘Home Away From Home’, family fun, sun, sea and sand. This proved to be a recipe for an incredibly successful type of holiday.

In the early 1930's the Civil Service established a holiday camp on Hayling but it was not a success. Capt. Warner purchased it and renamed it Southleigh, which was sited in St Mary’s Road. This continued as a flourishing holiday camp for some 50 years until in the 1980’s it closed and was demolished to make way for a housing development.

During the 1930's there were several more camps built, an independent one, Silver Sands at Eastoke being one, which ran for many years. In 1936 a consortium of Portsmouth businessmen built Coronation camp, but like the Civil Service camp it was an immediate flop and was sold to Warner. Coronation camp, completed in coronation year, hence the name, was and is, in Fishery Lane. It had a capacity then of approx. 800. The lake was originally open to the sea and tidal, until a causeway was built in 1986 and the site renamed Lakeside Coastal Centre. The pitch and putt golf course at the back of the site was built on land reclaimed from old oyster beds.

The Sunshine Camp, situated by Pound Corner, was originally a farmhouse, Hudson’s, with some land and modest surroundings. Building started in 1938 but was not finished by the outbreak of World War 2. It was offered as a prisoner-of-war camp but was rejected because the accommodation was not considered up to standard ! Eventually it was used by the Royal Marines. Sunshine opened its doors to the public in the early 1940’s, owned by Freshfields, a local management team who were later bought out by Pontins, one of the biggest names in Leisure and Tourism. However, it was later bought out by Warners and known as Mill Rythe Holiday Village. It was here that the BBC shot scenes for the extremely popular sit-com Hi Di Hi, the movie ‘Confessions From a Holiday Camp’ was filmed entirely at Mill Rythe and, more up to date in 2004, scenes from Eastenders were shot there.

With The Second World War, holidays were put on hold but the camps were used to good effect to house military personnel, Marines, Navy and Army etc. However, after the war everyone came out of the gloom and descended upon the coast once more, determined to enjoy themselves. Holiday camps fell in with this spirit, with the Hayling camps attracting many thousands each summer. Obviously this increased the population of Hayling considerably and must have offered a lot of employment for the ‘locals’. These camps were hugely successful and thousands of people holidayed here over the next few decades.

Another camp was built in the early fifties and that was Sinah Warren, which of course is very well known right up until today. Sinah Warren started life as a "health farm", run by Monks, in the late 15th Century. The origin of the name ‘Sinah’ has raised much debate, one proposed theory states Sinah was the name of a herb used to cure a wide range of ailments, the other that Sinah was once a breed of long-tailed rabbit, hence Sinah Warren. Which is correct, you can choose! Following extensive religious and cultural changes in the 16th Century, Sinah was sold to the Duke of Norfolk and remained in the family for generations until it was sold to Andrew Arbuthnot in the 1930’s. Arbuthnot, a millionaire businessman, was an outstanding character who married Miss Lambert, from the Lambert & Butler tobacco family. He built a large residence, Sinah Warren, and established one of the first ‘factory farms’ in the country, to help deal with food shortages during the war. Here he had a battery hen farm, with vast sheds housing poultry in battery cages, which covered the area of Lime Grove and part of Sinah Lane. Needless to say the residents around Sinah used to complain of the smell when the wind blew their way over the great manure heaps which built up there. However, his hen houses always passed the health inspections; it was said he had plenty of finance to keep the inspectors quiet, so perhaps that is the reason why! On his travels abroad he brought back various species of trees and plants, his aim, supposedly was to plant every known tree in the world, hence the extensive and varied tree cover in this area. During the Second World War the Royal Navy took over the house and Arbuthnot left for London and apparently never lived at Sinah Warren again. After the war it lay vacant until in 1952 it was sold for £8,000 to a Portsmouth builder who began to turn it into a holiday camp. He sold it to Warners before it was finished, however. Warner’s went on to finish building Sinah Warren as a Holiday Camp and it opened in the summer of 1958.

Capt. Warner’s sons, Bill, Alen and John became directors of the Warner camps which remained a family concern until 1982 when they were taken over by Grand Metropolitan hotels who continued to run them in the same way. These camps, located at prime waterside sites on Hayling Island, covering the north, south, east and west, made Hayling one of the first huge UK Holiday Camp destinations. The concept of holiday camps was a runaway success and the formula of the holiday they provided was enormously popular. During their hey day on Hayling these camps provided not only affordable holidays for thousands of people from throughout the UK but provided ample employment for Hayling Island residents and put the Island on the map as a major tourist attraction.

87 years on, Hayling Island still has three holiday camps up and running. They have moved with the times, altered and reinvented themselves to provide a holiday camp experience to suit the needs of the 21st Century. Two of these camps or should we now say, hotels or holiday resorts, still carry the Warner brand even though owned by a large Leisure company called Bourne Leisure. They are Sinah Warren and Warner Lakeside Coastal Resort. The third camp, now owned by an independent company is Mill Rythe Holidays. All three of these Holiday resorts are in prime locations and continue to draw guests to this lovely Island. Butlins was always the biggest and most well known holiday company, it was Billy Butlin who, when opening his first camp had the slogan ‘A week’s holiday for a week’s pay’ and this was a great success. The company continues to offer these holidays today but it is interesting that Warners, the brand most associated with Hayling, still has 13 Holiday Resorts under this brand, which are for adults only and constitute Historic or Character Hotels. These thrive and are throughout the UK and continue to occupy a niche in this unique holiday industry in the 21st century.


  • Butlins/Warner Memories
  • The Story of Hayling - by Ron Brown
  • H.I. Camp archives
  • Havant Borough Council

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