Tag Archives: The Royal Victoria Park

Virtual Tour of the Solent ~ The Story so far and where to next?

Solent map googleCalshot

I began this virtual tour to show that a sense of place is important in my writing. I need to describe the areas in my novel enough to help the reader to feel that ‘sense of place,’ but I thought it might be helpful to give a little more background information and description. I have written ten posts around the Solent area so far, but before I leave the shores of mainland England I thought a summary would be helpful:

1 ~ At the beginning of this year I began my virtual tour at Gilkicker Fort on the strategic peninsula guarding the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour. It was there that one of my main characters, Harriet’s daughter Sarah, was stationed  with the husband, at the newly refurbished married quarters, back in 1910. It was a life that Sarah found hard to come to terms with but then came the war which changed everything.

2 ~ Close by was Fort Grange, still enclosed in the Naval Station today, where early pilots were trained for combat and reconnaissance missions in WW1 including Anthony, Sarah’s husband.

3 ~ A short distance along the coast is Lee on Solent, not strictly speaking in Ancasta Guide me Swiftly Home, but it may be in the no, 3 in the series. Lee was important at that time though, since it was one of the earliest Flying Boat Stations on the south coast.

4 ~ Just up the estuary takes you to the sheltered inlet into Hamble, which is an unspoilt haven for sailing boats. Anthony’s family lived there, with its cobbled streets and a small ferry over to Warsash, much the same today as it was at the turn of the last century, I should imagine.

5 ~ Further up Southampton Water is The Royal Victoria Park, once the Royal Victoria Hospital at Netley, with only the tall chapel remaining as a signal to the grandeur of the original building which had corridors a quarter of a mile long. It is still a lovely place to visit, go for a stroll, have a picnic and find out about its interesting history. Jane, one of my characters, well known to those who have read Riduna, was stationed there, close enough to Harriet for them to remain friends although Jane had little time to spare for social calls, especially during the war.

6 ~ Visiting the ghostly remains of Netley Abbey en-route, popular with the Victorians, we reach Weston Shore, important in both of my novels as a place to feel the sea and watch those on their journeys too and from Southampton Docks. It could be a place you might overlook, but if you make the efffort and stop and have a walk along its shores, it’s a haven for wildlife and it’s a wonderful place to watch the world go by. It’s here that the name of my novel seemed so apt. ‘Ancasta’ ~ ‘The Swift One.’ Many folks have stood, as Harriet did, on these shores and prayed for the swift and safe return of their loved ones, but for Harriet it was more than that. It was here she watched the Channel Island Ferries as they journeyed to the place of her birth. It was a direct channel to Guernsey (Sarnia in my novel) and Alderney (Riduna in my novel) which she loved but had left behind so long ago.

7 ~ Woolston. The Newton family grew up in the heart of Woolston, working in the local industry, initially as boat builders but subsequently early flying boats. (Supermarine) Harriet ran a popular guest house mainly for travellers. One of her son’s worked in a bicycle shop too. Each of her family played their part in WW1, Sarah returning home for the duration of the war with her little son Timothy.

8~ Southampton. Across the Floating Bridge is Southampton itself, still a thriving port and the window to the world to many of my characters including Edward, also well known to many of you from Riduna, Harriet’s childhood sweetheart from the island of Riduna. Their lives took very different paths but they continue to cross at times and Edward’s occasional visits still have a positive impact on the lives of the Newton family, especially Timothy and Sarah.

9~ Over the Hotspur to Hythe is where Edward lives, when he’s on land, with his more than housekeeper Marie. She’s a larger than life character and I’m quite fond of her, even though I feel a bit disloyal to Harriet for doing so.

10 ~ Just a few miles up to the peninsula we reach Cashot, at the mouth of Southampton Water, and if you want a place to ‘ship watch’ this is it. One of Harriet’s son’s Jack was stationed here before and at the start of WW1, where he was an engineer at the new RNAS flying boat station back in 1913.  He continued to travel home to his young family in Woolston, that was until he joined up and travelled to join the HMS Ben my Chree, one of the earliest sea plane carriers which went out to Turkey.

So, where does my virtual tour go to next? We reach the point when we now travel beyond the Solent, and we’re heading across the sea to The Channel Islands as from Monday. In fact that’s where the original story  of Riduna began.

Meanwhile I’m continuing my real centenary tour

at Waterstones in St Neots this Saturday on 23rd March from 11am.

I look forward to meeting some more of you then.


Filed under Alderney, Ancasta, Early Flight, Events, Flying Boats and Sea Planes, Riduna, Southampton, Virtual Tour of the Solent and Beyond, Weston Shore, Woolston

Spike Island by Philip Hoare ~ a personal book review

The Royal Victoria Hospital Netley

Thanks to ‘Spike Island’ by Philip Hoare, The Royal Victoria Hospital came alive for me and I could easily imagine some of my characters going there. I will not say in what fashion though.

The Royal Victoria Military Hospital in Netley must have been an astonishing sight to behold on entering Southampton Water from the Solent, with its corridors so long that ‘American GI’s drove Jeeps along them in WW2.’ Philip Hoare writes about the hospital, the largest in the world at that time, in a novel like prose, rather than in text book style. He describes the unexpected and somewhat off-putting main entrance, with its skeletons in endless display; the almost self contained life of the huge community who worked there, far more than just the nurses and patients; the nissan huts stretching as far the the back as the vast quarter of a mile long facade, seen impressively from the front.

I 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.

Like with any research, only a fraction of Spike Island was relevant for Ancasta Guide me Swiftly Home, up to 1920 but, because it was written as a personal journey of discovery, it was fascinating throughout.

I had often seen the lonely building of the chapel, in the centre of the grounds of what is now known as The Royal Victoria Park, but in all my years of visiting family in Woolston as a child I do not ever remember visiting it and certainly had not realise that this chapel, standing in isolation, was once part of a truly magnificent monument to our greatness as a nation.

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, but without Philip Hoare’s insight, it would be impossible to imagine a fraction of what it might have been like to have been there.

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, 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.

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Filed under Book reviews, Research, Southampton