Norfolk Crescent (The Crescent) overlooks the Solent at Beachlands, today it looks quite out of place on Hayling Island, seeming to belong in a city such as Brighton or Bath. Built in 1825, Norfolk Crescent and the neighbouring Royal Hotel formed part of a vision of Hayling as a “Utopia by the Sea” and were joined by a salt water bath house and library on the sea front. Originally consisting of ten houses, the building was planned to be developed into a grandiose arc offering magnificent views across the Solent to the Isle of Wight, a plan that never came to fruition.
During the building of the Royal Hotel, workers discovered two wooden coffins buried just a couple of feet below the surface. Both coffins and remains crumbled when they were removed from the ground, but an inscription of “P.S. 1707” was still visible on the lid of one. The remains are thought to have been those of drowned mariners that had been buried in this area that was once so popular with smugglers.
It is said that London Hatter, Sir Richard Hotham originally chose Hayling Island as the location of his envisioned “fashionable and well-frequented watering place”, but rejected it on the grounds of accessibility before the Island was connected to the mainland by the road bridge. Sir Richard later went on to bring this vision to life by founding Bognor Regis.
In July of 1867 a grandstand was built in front of the hotel, together with 2 mile course for the purpose of a meeting consisting of some fourteen horse races. This was to be the first of an annual event held under the patronage of Queen Victoria and her mother (giving rise to the name of the Royal Hotel). Disappointing general reaction and local opposition to the event however saw that this plan failed to come to fruition.
Although today the library and bath house no longer remain, Norfolk Crescent and the Royal Hotel still dominate this part of the Seafront. The crescent now serves as flats, whilst the Royal Hotel has undergone a respectful conversion to luxury apartments and has been restored to its former elegance.