On 25 October 1784 an earthquake was felt in
Havant between 3 and 4 a.m. It was reported that it lasted for some two or three
minutes and after a short interval it was repeated for another two or three
minutes. There then followed a gale which lasted for several hours. A similar
experience was repeated on 30 November 1811 at 2.45 a.m. when a violent shock
was felt causing considerable alarm amongst the many awoken from their sleep. It
is not known if either event caused any damage or casualties.
In about 1760 a serious fire took hold in the town and most
of the present day shopping area of West Street and parts of North and East
Streets were destroyed. At this time there was no organised arrangement for fire
fighting and ladders, buckets, poles with hooks and possibly hand-held pumps
were all that was available. It is believed that these were kept at the Market
House. There is a reference to the Sun Insurance Company contributing towards
the cost of a fire engine in 1788, but usually these engines would only be used
if the premises concerned were insured with that company, such insurance being
indicated by the company's fire mark, in plaque-form. Eventually the parish
obtained hand-operated, horse or hand-drawn, fire engines and in 1871 the
Havant Volunteer Fire Brigade was formed.
Before the fire, the paved roads through the town were very
narrow making it difficult for wagons to pass and outside the town the roads
were described as being 'ruinous and deep'. Rebuilding the houses further apart
and the establishment of the Portsmouth to Chichester Turnpike Trust marked the
start of improved conditions. A tollgate was installed near to the present
location of the Bedhampton level crossing and a charge was levied on all
road-users, the profits being used to keep the road in good repair. The Turnpike
Trust was in operation until 1867. Better roads greatly improved stagecoach
travel and in 1823 departures were advertised from Havant to Brighton,
Portsmouth, Southampton and London. The Bear Hotel, East Street and the Dolphin
Hotel, which stood at the present West Street entrance to the Meridian Centre,
were important coaching inns. Road traffic started to decline when the London,
Brighton and South Coast Railway Company opened its route from Brighton to
Portsmouth on 15 March 1847. This improved coast way communications but
travellers to London had to go via Brighton or Eastleigh. The more direct route
from London terminated at Godalming, and as no railway company was interested in
extending the line to Havant, Thomas Brassey, a private contractor, decided to
build it as a speculative venture. The first sod was turned at Buriton on 8
August 1853 and the single-track line was completed in 1858.
The London and South Western Railway Company reluctantly took
the line over to keep out its rivals, but in order to run a through service to
Portsmouth it had to obtain running rights over the L.B.S.C.R. track between
Havant and Portcreek. Thinking that these rights had been obtained, it announced
that it would run a through goods train on 28 December 1858. However, the
L.B.S.C.R. disagreed so they removed a part of the points at the down junction
and put an engine across the up junction. The L.S.W.R. train arrived at 7 a.m.
with a large number of plate-layers on board. These men moved the L.B.S.C.R.
engine into a siding so that their train could go down the up line to the
station and over a crossover back on to the down line to Portsmouth. However the
L.B.S.C.R. platelayers realised what was happening, removed part of the
crossover thus preventing the L.S.W.R. train from moving forward but leaving it
blocking both lines. It remained here for several hours before reversing back to
Godalming. During the course of this confrontation two railway officials from
opposing sides got into an argument and one had his shirt torn. This
subsequently became a court case with the one accusing the other of assault.
This was the only incidence of violence recorded and it bears no relation to
later embellishments of the events of this day, calling it 'The Battle of
Havant' with hundreds of men fighting each other resulting in many injuries!
The L.S.W.R. did, however, start a service from London but
passengers had to alight at a temporary platform which was erected in Denvilles.
They were then taken to Cosham by horse-drawn omnibus, for a fare of 6d., where
they caught another L.S.W.R. train into Portsmouth; this was possible as the
company had running rights over the line between Portcreek and Portsmouth. The
dispute was soon resolved and a through service started on Monday, 24 January
1859, but the line between Godalming and Havant remained single track until
1878. The line to Hayling Island was opened as far as Langstone (the railway
always used the old name without the 'e') on 19 January 1865 but was not
extended to South Hayling until 17 July 1867. In 1871 the line was leased to the
L.B.S.C.R. who, in 1890, introduced their Stroudley Terrier AiX class engines
which hauled trains until the last public service ran on Saturday, 2 November
1963. The very last train was a special which ran the next day. Between 1885 and
1888 a paddle steamer called 'Carrier' took goods wagons from a specially
constructed berth at Langstone to the Isle of Wight.
The original Havant Train Station was rebuilt about 1889 and
the present 'Odeon'-style station was built in 1938 following the
electrification of the lines in 1937. This time the station was moved to the
west, blocking off the top end of North Street and its level crossing. This
necessitated the building of a new bridge and roads to take the north-south
traffic around the town centre.