10 facts and things to do in the village of Netley
- Credit: Archant
From romantic ruins to shoreline forts and military history, Netley’s past is intriguing
The romantic ruin
Netley Abbey remains the most complete surviving Cistercian monastery in the south. Almost all the walls of its 13th century church survived the post-Dissolution Tudor alterations made by the Marquess of Winchester, which were sold off in the 18th century, allowing the place to become an ivy-clad ruin. As the Romantic Movement grew, authors and artists, including John Constable, came to paint here. It’s also claimed to have inspired Jane Austen’s ‘Northanger Abbey’.
King and the castle
Ever concerned about invasion by France, or the Holy Roman Empire, Henry VIII built a fortification bang on the waterfront at Netley. Ten men and two guns defended the coastline. Eventually the building was converted to a residence with no less a personality than the painter, JMW Turner, pitching up to sketch it in the late 18th century. It became a nursing home, then a hospital, before being converted into flats, although the structure remains Grade II listed.
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In his first Sherlock Holmes novel Sir Arthur Conan Doyle said that Dr Watson was trained as a military doctor at Netley. The place was so well-known, he presumably didn’t feel the need to explain further. World War I poet, Wilfred Owen, stayed there when suffering with shell-shock in 1917. Lloyd George made his way to visit, as did the teenage Noel Coward who is reported to have put on a performance of the farce, Charley’s Aunt. And scriptwriter, Robert Cedric Sherriff, known for The Dam Busters, Goodbye Mr Chips and the Four Feathers, was nursed here too.
Food and drink
Lovers of curry and quality pub grub will find themselves well catered for in Netley. For top tandoori, Purbani Netley serves classical Bangladeshi and Indian cuisine in modern surroundings. Along the way you’ll find The Prince Consort, which has recently undergone a tasteful re-design, and The Dancing Goose does classic modern pub grub; check out their Roasted Halloumi starters, Sizzling Fajitas and Jack Daniels’ glazed ribs.
A military cemetery
Nothing brings home the global nature of war more than the military cemetery at Netley. There are 750 graves at the site including those of 69 Germans. The remains of people from countries including Belgium, Armenia, Italy, Poland, India, Australia and Russia are also interred at the site.
A Royal visit
The Royal Victoria Hospital attracted its fair share of important visitors, including the one it was named after. Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone and then returned on at least 14 occasions to visit the wounded. She presented the hospital with a quilt she had made herself for the patients. She also presented her Victoria Cross to Piper George Findlater and Private Samuel Vickery while they recuperated at the hospital.
Palace of pain
All that’s left of Britain’s biggest building now is the lonely chapel in the Royal Victoria Country Park. But that chapel was part of a hospital so huge, it had its own gasworks, reservoir, prison and bakery. The Royal Victoria Hospital was built in 1856 to care for victims of the Crimean War and saw service throughout the First World War, becoming known as the UK’s ‘largest palace of pain’. It had a ballroom for officers; a salt pool with water pumped from the Solent, and was able to deal with three trainloads of injured troops a day. The hospital was demolished in 1966 and the grounds turned into the park we see today.
For a village whose story seems almost entirely defined by structures - the flint, stone and brick buildings which brought work, prosperity and some illustrious visitors to its area, it seems ironic that it’s now best-known to outsiders as a place to enjoy a natural attraction - the Royal Victoria Country Park. Netley is scantily mentioned in the Domesday Book. No celebrities live there. But why should villagers care about that when the place they call home has such a beautiful aspect – gazing out across Southampton Water towards Hythe and the New Forest? Thanks to its historic edifices and their frankly astonishing heritage, Netley knows that, as a place, it is actually quite extraordinary.
What to do
The Royal Victoria Country Park is made for walking with its criss-crossed routes. And then there’s the shoreline, perfect for little ones as it’s almost entirely made from washed-up seashells and is a great place to spot ships making their way up Southampton Water. If you’re a member of the emergency services – or their families – put these dates in your diary – July 12-14 2019. That’s when the tenth Netley Music Festival takes place at Victoria House, home of Hampshire Police training HQ. It’s open to all serving or retired emergency services staff, as well as probation, MOD, coastguard and lifeboat workers and their loved ones.
The Temperance Movement swept the country in the latter stages of the 19th century and speakers roamed the land, persuading people to renounce the evils of alcohol and to wear a blue ribbon to show they had taken ‘The Pledge’.
In Netley Abbey in October 1882, the Hampshire Advertiser recorded an ‘Alarming incident at a Blue Ribbon meeting’.
“While Mr Booth was delivering a temperance lecture, the platform gave way and about 60 persons, including Miss Weston and Mr Booth were precipitated to the ground.”
Despite a serious injury to the unfortunate Miss Weston’s hand, no one else was hurt.
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