Piggy Lane was once the way on to Horsea Island

Horsea Island
Horsea Island
The junction of London Road, North End, and Gladys Avenue, 1976.

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This aerial picture of Horsea Island provoked a large response – and not because of all those aerials.

I used it earlier this month after Commander Bob White, from HMS Collingwood, got in touch because he was intrigued about the island’s history.

The torpedo testing lake at Horsea Island in January 1970

The torpedo testing lake at Horsea Island in January 1970

Eddy Amey was one of many who said they remembered a causeway linking the island, in the north-eastern corner of Portsmouth Harbour, to Portsea Island. This, of course, was long before the northern reaches of the harbour were reclaimed for the M27/M275 and, eventually Port Solent.

Eddy, of St Michael’s Grove, Fareham, said: ‘There used to be a block paved road laid on the seabed between the island and the mainland. It ran, roughly, from the promenade behind Hilsea Lido to HMS Phoenix [the navy’s old firefighting school] and on to Horsea alongside a pig farm.

‘It was only accessible at low tide and I drove over it a few times in the mid-1950s while working in the Dockyard.’

He said that the yard had a large store on the island in refrigeration machinery was kept.

‘As a child living at Wymering during the Second World War, I often saw numbers of lorries crossing at low tide plus motor launches at high tide passing through the same passage.’

Phil Culliford, of Portsdown Avenue, Drayton, Portsmouth, also remembered the causeway crossing form close to Phoenix and remained until the M275 was under construction.

Mark Newman remembers as a boy in the 1960s watching lorries using that causeway. He said: ‘Part of the road can still be seen at the end of Horsea Lane. It looks like a slipway, but is the start of the roadway. It follows the footpath around Tipner Lake for about 200 yards then turns directly towards Horsea Island.’

Alan Preston grew up playing in the Stamshaw/Hilsea area and said this was part of his ‘play area – although some might also say trespassing’.

He added: ‘There was access via a bridge – for want of a better name – which was a construction of scaffold poles and boards which stretched from the northern end of Alexandra Park playing fields across to Horsea Island.

‘The locals used this so they could fish in deeper water, rather than casting from the shore, we also used the ‘bridge’ to get onto the island to go after rabbits. Our parents were very pleased when we brought these back after snaring them.’

And the causeway? Alan recalls it was known as Piggy Lane.

I also asked if anyone could date the picture. Andrew Brookes, from the School of Civil Engineering & Surveying at the University of Portsmouth, guesses it was taken in the late 1960s or early 70s.

He said: ‘There were once huge English elms at the eastern end, not visible in the picture, so presumably the photo was taken after the advent of Dutch elm disease.

‘At the far, north-eastern end of the island, barely visible, is East Lodge, the last residence on the island, inhabited as late as 1999 by Brian Chivers, now aged 106 and living with his niece in Denmead.

‘Brian was foreman at Camper & Nicholson’s Gosport, and oversaw the construction of Francis Chichester’s Gypsy Moth IV. The house is still there, built with asbestos, it is too costly for the MoD to demolish.’

I assumed the picture was taken at low tide, but Andrew said not. He added: ‘The photo was clearly taken at high tide.

The ‘mudflats’ visible to the north are what were known as The Cribbs, a curious mosaic formed after the spectacular hybridization of English and American cord grasses at the end of the 19th century. The proliferation of the grass trapped masses of tidal sediment, elevating the areas to high water level. The hybrid itself is infertile, and the grass is now dying away rapidly.’