10 things you didn’t know about Lee-on-the-Solent

PUBLISHED: 00:00 16 March 2020

Lee-on-the-solent Illustration: Lucy Atkinson

Lee-on-the-solent Illustration: Lucy Atkinson

Archant

From lost treasures to unexploded bombs, life has rarely been dull in this coastal village.

A BIT ABOUT LEE-ON-THE-SOLENT

No one is quite sure how Lee-on-the-Solent got its name. It may have come from the 14th century Le Breton Farm which is the oldest building in the village. It continued as a seaside settlement until the Robinson family bought a stack of land and from 1884 to 1894 set out Marine Parade, several villas, a pier and a railway line, nearly all of which have gone. Its position just five miles west of Portsmouth made Lee valuable during World War II.

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THE LOST TOWER

With its cinema, ballroom, restaurant and saloon bar, the 120ft Lee Tower, built in 1935, was something of a landmark. But Niklaus Pevsner, the prickly architectural historian, damned it as a: 'Good piece of second-rate inter-war modernism of the slightly jazzy sort, constructed of concrete when concrete seemed very up to date,' adding it looked like: 'an elongated cigarette lighter'. No doubt he was happy when it was demolished in 1971.

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THE DISAPPEARING PIER

Built in 1885 to the design of Galbraith Church, Lee-on-the-Solent's pier was grandly opened in April 1888. Ferries ran to Clarence Pier in Southsea during the summer. During World War I King Albert of Belgium took a turn about it. In 1932 fire struck the pavilion. It was sectioned by the military during World War II. Afterwards Gosport Council refused to spend the damage compensation money on repairs. It was demolished in 1958.

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A BITE TO EAT AND DRINK

You will never go short of a cup of tea or a great coffee - or a lunch or ice-cream - in Lee-on-the-Solent. The village is teaming with cafés and restaurants to service those who come to walk and meet friends. There are too many great places to mention but try The Penguin at Marine Parade for a full English with sea views, or Laneway Coffee in the High Street for peanut blondies with salted caramel or oaty coconut bars.

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HMS DAEDALUS

HMS Daedalus was the busiest airfield on the south coast during D-Day as the RAF were joined by Canadian Typhoons and Mustangs. The US Navy Squadron VCS-7 used the airfield as the base for their Spitfires. In all, 435 units were deployed from Daedalus during Overlord, the largest achieved by any UK airfield on D-Day. The airbase closed to military work in 1996 but an airstrip there is still used by enthusiastic civilian pilots.

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IN MEMORIUM

It's described as one of the lesser-known memorials in the UK but it's still a shock to encounter the sheer number of dead engraved upon this elegant monument to the 1,925 men of the Fleet Air Arm who have no known resting place. Designed and constructed by the War Graves Commission, the memorial dominates the corner of Marine Parade West and was unveiled on 20 May 1953 by the Duchess of Kent. A service is held here every year.

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HOVERCRAFT

From James Bond's contraption to the mighty Princess Anne - she used to travel back and forth across the Channel from Dover to France - Lee-on-the-Solent's Hovercraft Museum has the world's largest collection of this wonderfully British mode of transport. It was invented by Sir Christopher Cockerell, who lived across Southampton Water at Hythe. Visitors can watch engineers repair exhibits as well as explore hovercraft interiors.

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SPOOKY PHOTO

In 1975 retired RAF officer Sir Victor Goddard published a photo of his squadron who served at Daedalus in World War 1. The image shows an extra, ghostly face, positioned behind another serviceman. It was said to be Freddy Jackson, an air mechanic who had been accidentally killed by an airplane propeller two days earlier. His funeral was to have taken place on the day of the photograph. No evidence has ever emerged of any obvious hoax.

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WHAT'S GOING ON

Despite Lee-on-the-Solent's profound losses, including its railway, the town is bursting with adventurous activities. The sailing club, in Marine Parade East, offers courses for beginners and wannabe racers. At the former Daedalus site the Hampshire Aeroplane Club offers pilot training. Kite surfing, kayaking and paddleboarding are popular. And the tennis club at Manor Way offers squash, a gym and six all-weather courts.

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DANGER UXBS

Despite closing ten years earlier, Daedalus still dominated local life in May 2006 when 20 unexploded Canadian pipe mines were found under the runway during repairs. The 20-metre explosives were stuffed with more than 2,000lbs of gelignite. They were meant to destroy the airfield during a German invasion. Their removal - said to be the largest in peacetime Britain - led to the evacuation of 900 homes over five weeks.

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