In walking distance heading north west along Southampton Water from Hamble we reach The Royal Victoria Park, an open space of an acre or so of grass sloping down to the river, which you can glimpse through the gaps in the tree-line. It is surrounded by woodland, through which there are many paths and tracks, but the Park it can be reached by road through Netley.
I had often seen the lonely building of the chapel in the centre of the park, but in all my years of staying with family in Woolston as a child I do not ever remember visiting it and certainly had not realise that this chapel, standing in isolation on the expanse of lawn, was once part of a truly magnificent monument to our greatness as a nation.The Royal Victoria Hospital came alive for me on my visit when I was camping in Hamble and from then on I could easily imagine some of my characters either working or being taken there.
was when it was being restored in 2009. I must go back and take some more photos!
This chapel is certainly a landmark as you sail along Southampton Water to the Isle of Wight or beyond, but The Royal Victoria Military Hospital in Netley must have been an astonishing sight to behold, on entering Southampton Water from the Solent, in the days of Queen Victoria. She was the hospital’s patron and I can imagine an extremely proud queen visiting the hospital on her return from holidays in her residence on the Isle of Wight, feeling satisfied as she alighted at the hospital’s own small wooden pier, gratified that a place had been created in her name to serve her Empire well.
It was the largest hospital in the world in its day, with corridors of a quarter of a mile long, so long that ‘American GI’s drove Jeeps along them in WW2.’ Guide books describe the unexpected and somewhat off-putting main entrance to this place of healing, with an elephant skeleton facing you and display cabinets of skulls and skeletons along endless corridors. The hospital itself was almost self contained for the lives of the huge community who worked there. There were nissan huts stretching as far out the back as the vast quarter of a mile long facade, seen impressively from the front. The hospital was served by its own branch line in between, but it also had its own wooden jetty, jutting out into the river, so that injured servicemen from all over the world could arrive as speedily as possible.
Florence Nightingale was said to not have been very impressed with the building because leading off those long corridors, bathed in light with fantastic views across Southampton Water, were row upon row of wards. Since these wards were at the back of the building, they never saw the light of day and were dark and dreary places. These were not so welcoming to the thousands of patients who were treated there, returning wounded in body and soul from the Crimean War, WW1 and later WW2.
Today you can still enjoy visiting the chapel and visitors centre, or go one of the many planned walks in the area, which are steeped in interesting history. Alternatively you can picnic or enjoy ball games on the grass and just enjoy the views in the sunshine. The Prince Consort is near the entrance to the park, where you can enjoy a drink or have a pleasant meal.