A local’s guide to Netley

PUBLISHED: 00:00 11 March 2020

Royal Victoria Chapel is the centrepiece of the Park and all that remains of the old military hospital

Royal Victoria Chapel is the centrepiece of the Park and all that remains of the old military hospital

Emma Caulton

Jane Austen, Queen Victoria, Wilfred Owen... The great and good who have visited Netley is long and impressive; locals reveal the village’s continuing attractions.

Famous visitors to Netley Abbey ruins have included the poet Thomas Grey (Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard) and the artist John Constable, who used his drawings to create the watercolour Netley Abbey by Moonlight. (c) English HeritageFamous visitors to Netley Abbey ruins have included the poet Thomas Grey (Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard) and the artist John Constable, who used his drawings to create the watercolour Netley Abbey by Moonlight. (c) English Heritage

Romantic abbey ruins, historic landmark, waterside parkland… Welcome to Netley, a village with a troubled past and a glorious outlook. Today, Netley provides a retreat from the busy-ness of everyday life.

There are Netley Abbey's atmospheric ruins, which are thought to have inspired Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey and attracted artists including John Constable and JMW Turner. Turner also painted Netley Castle, a waterside Tudor fortress that is now residential apartments.

Royal Victoria Country Park, once the site of a vast military hospital, has become a leisure destination. Yet its past resonates. Wilfred Owen, the World War I poet, stayed at Royal Victoria Hospital when he was suffering from shell-shock in 1917. Others nursed here include scriptwriter Robert Cedric Sherriff. He went on to write Journey's End about a group of soldiers on the Western Front, as well as film scripts for The Dam Busters and Goodbye Mr Chips. At the back of the Park is a quietly poignant plot: Netley Military Cemetery.

Meanwhile families picnic in the park, children skim stones from the narrow stretch of shingle beach, and others simply gaze across Southampton Water where container ships, cruise liners, ferries and yachts plough to and fro.

Phil Halliwell, Royal Victoria Country Park

Phil has managed Royal Victoria Country Park, along with two other Hampshire County Council-run country parks - River Hamble Country Park and Manor Farm - for the past five years.

Almost 18 months ago, HRH The Countess of Wessex opened the Royal Victoria Chapel, centrepiece of the park, after a £3.5m restoration project that included conservation of the original Victorian interiors, installation of new visitor facilities and a lift. HRH signed a scroll which was placed in a time capsule and buried under Royal Victoria Hospital's original foundation stone, laid by Queen Victoria more than 160 years previously in 1856.

Phil's local life

"The best thing about Netley is its strong sense of community, super waterside location, as well as the history and heritage of Royal Victoria Country Park."

A secret: "Netley Abbey is the most complete surviving Cistercian monastery in southern England."

Something special: "The chapel is all that's left of Royal Victoria Hospital. Built in 1863, the hospital was, at the time, the largest brick-built building in the world with 30 million bricks used in its construction. It had its own gasworks, bakery and reservoir serving 1,000 soldiers, from wars across the globe, in 138 wards with corridors over a quarter-of-a-mile long."

Evening out: "Nearby Hamble village has some good pubs and restaurants with live entertainment."

Restaurant: "Purbani for great Bangladeshi and Indian cuisine that's good value. "

Shop: "Netley Garage is an established, first class, servicing garage."

Local walk: "Along the shore to Hamble Point, discovering the bird and plant life living alongside one of our busiest waterways."

Day out: "Royal Victoria Country Park - well-loved by visitors locally, nationally and even internationally. The restored chapel is free to enter with lots about the fascinating local history. For a small fee visitors can climb its 150ft tower for fantastic views across Southampton Water."

Local event: "There's always something happening at the park. Coming up is a Ghost Hunt at the chapel on 14 March."

Brenda Findlay, Netley Abbey Matters

Wanting to put down roots in a more rural environment than Southampton, Brenda moved to Netley and became a volunteer on the Royal Victoria Country Park Bring Netley Hospital Alive project. She felt there was a connection missing between the village and the hospital, so she started researching the village in her own time. In January 2018 she created Netley Abbey Matters - a website about the past times of the village. Brenda's co-researcher, Julie Green, had been researching the Military Cemetery within the grounds of the park for about ten years. The pair joined forces, so they cover the abbey ruins at one end of the village to the far end of the cemetery. Last September, Brenda began adding information on the military hospital - intending to take its history through to 1966 when it was demolished. She and Julie are currently asking people to contact them to share their family or military stories as there are no official registers or records of hospital admissions. Visit netleyabbeymatters.co.uk

Brenda's local life

"I've always wanted to live close to the sea and within a rural community. Netley ticked those boxes. It's quiet, the community is lovely, very friendly and supportive to other residents."

Something quirky: "The Royal Motor Yacht Club, founded in 1905, used HMS Enchantress, purchased by Rear Commodore Mansfield Cumming (a key member of the club's committee), as their floating Clubhouse, moored off Netley Hard until 1915. RCO Mansfield Communing started M16 and became known as C, who in turn became known as M in the James Bond films. Coincidentally, actor Geoffrey Keen, who was the first M in the James Bond films, was a member of staff (Lance-Corporal) at the Royal Victoria Hospital sometime between 1939-1942.

"Names famous to this day, including Thomas Sopwith, Harry G Hawker, FP Armstrong, pioneers and later partners of companies such as Sopwith Aviation, Hawker Aircraft, Hawker-Siddeley and Armstrong-Siddeley, spent their days trialling craft off the coast of Netley, courtesy of the Enchantress and the affluent and influential members of the Royal Motor Yacht Club."

Favourite pub: "The Prince Consort. The owner and his staff are very welcoming and friendly. The menu is varied, the food is well-cooked and the portions are large. Plus, there are quiz nights, tribute evenings and TV sports events. The pub also does bed and breakfast and I have heard good reports."

Café: "The only café in the village is Netley Nibbles on Station Road which relocated here last December. It provides a nice place to meet friends which was missing when Victoria Perk Café closed down last year."

Day out: "Royal Victoria Country Park: there is so much to see and do and lots of events - nature trails, treasure hunts, cemetery walks and the beautifully restored chapel with its tower tours and exhibitions. There's also a Saturday morning Park Run throughout the year."

Hair salon: "I used to go to Kutz, however when the stylist who stopped my hair going grey opened her own salon, Miss Chic on Newtown Road, I followed her there."

Walk: "The best walk has to be on the beach. With the tide out, you can walk from the beach below the Country Park towards Netley Castle and the Sailing Club at the foot of Abbey Hill to Weston Shore. It's a lovely walk although sturdy shoes are needed for the shingle. There's a little café at the end of Weston Shore - for a hot drink to thaw you out before the walk back."

Michelle Veal, MV Aesthetics.

Michelle and her husband set up home in Netley in 2001, and loved the village feel so much they stayed in the area to raise their three daughters. Last year Michelle, a registered nurse and independent non-medical prescriber, established her own Medical Aesthetic Clinic within Pure Holistic Beauty, in Netley, following training with Adrian Richards, a leading figure in the medical aesthetics community. She aims to offer treatments that make people look and feel their best in a safe and caring environment. She is a member of the British Association of Cosmetic Nurses and also works as an advanced nurse practitioner in cardiology at University Hospital Southampton. In conjunction with this role she is working towards a masters in Advanced Clinical Practice.

Michelle's local life:

"The best thing about Netley is the beautiful local walks, great spaces for running and having Royal Victoria Country Park on our doorstep."

Café: "The kids and I love going to Netley Nibbles for waffles and ice cream after school on a Friday."

Local event: "It has to be the annual Jubilee Sailing Trust Autumn Pumpkin Festival. The kids love the Scarecrow Avenue. I love all the shopping opportunities and hubby enjoys the local ciders. We all love the ukulele band that attends every year. Often the weather is against the event, but the great community spirit ensures that everyone still has a wonderful time."

Local attraction: "Royal Victoria Country Park: it has so much to offer for all the family, including play equipment, cafés and the little steam train that chunters round the park."

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