The Royal Victoria Hospital at Netley – Netley Hospital Chapel

Once upon a time, the longest building in the world stood here. 

A quarter of a mile from end to end, three stories high, with 138 wards, construction began on the Royal Victoria Hospital at Netley, overlooking Southampton Water (below), in 1856, following the political fallout once news of the appalling conditions experienced by wounded soldiers in the Crimea became widespread.

Building work was completed by 1863 when the hospital officially opened its doors to patients, and ten years later a pier was built to allow hospital ships to dock directly at the hospital,…

…although, unfortunately, the project was doomed from the start as the water was simply not deep enough to allow modern ships to berth safely,…

…and so in 1900, during the Second Boer War, Netley gained its own railway line, allowing casualties arriving by ship at Southampton Docks to be transferred directly by train to the hospital.

Today, vestiges of the railway can still be found (above & below),…

…the ground here perhaps still showing signs of the old station – the benefit of a period of dry weather.

The railway was essential for the speedy transportation of the wounded, and some 50,000 wounded or sick men would be treated at Netley during the Great War.  Indeed, Red Cross huts were erected on the land behind the hospital bringing the number of beds available to around 2,500.

The Second World War would see even more men treated here, and should you wish to know more – much more – about the hospital and its history, I direct you in the direction of this excellent website which explains all, but, suffice to say, by the 1950s, the whole place had become far too expensive to run, and the hospital closed its doors in 1958.

By the mid-60s the buildings had fallen into a state of disrepair, and in 1966, following further damage in 1963, when fire had swept through part of the hospital, the whole place was demolished.

Except for the chapel, that is, once the very centre of the original buildings, and – somewhat at the last minute – left standing as a memorial to the hospital, its patients, and its staff.

Luckily for us, not only does the chapel still exist,…

…but inside,…

…a small museum includes some interesting artifacts from the hospital’s heyday,…

…and the architecture’s quite neat, too.

Model of the hospital.  During the Second World War, incidentally, the pier had a great big hole blown in it, just in case the Germans got any ideas about invading.

Netley staff photo, dated 16th January 1917.

Leaving the chapel behind,…

…and following the tarmacked track on the right,…

…takes us past a nice little 1928 plan of the hospital,…

…next to which is what at first sight might appear to be a piece of modern art,…

…but which actually shows some interesting shots of the hospital over the years,…

…including the building ablaze and in the process of demolition,…

…and a taste of what, for us, is yet to come,…

…as we leave the site of the old hospital behind,…

…and follow the track into the woods to find the military cemetery.  Next post.

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14 Responses to The Royal Victoria Hospital at Netley – Netley Hospital Chapel

  1. Alan Bond says:

    Blimey did our paths cross I visited Royal Victoria Country Park on 9th. Only had time to visit the Chapel. Seems much improved since I was last there some years ago. The restoration to original decor has been well done. Nicely laid out without too much electronic wizardry. Unfortunately no time to visit cemetery as was walking back into Southampton City Centre following English Coastal Path, so looking forward to your report. Enjoy rest of the summer. ALAN

    PS CWCG eventually agreed to look at the case I submitted to get the grave 2nd Lieutenant Attwater recognised at London Cemetery.

    • Magicfingers says:

      First of all, good news on Lieutenant Attwater. Second of all, I was at Netley a little earlier in the year than you – June, I think. Hope you enjoy the forthcoming cemetery posts – oh yes, there’s more than one!!

  2. sendergreen says:

    Did the hospital serve all the Allied Armies of the First and Second World War ?

    • Magicfingers says:

      Indeed it did. I think in 1944 (pre-D-Day) the U.S. Army took over the place. And there are forty two Canadian burials in the cemetery – all Great War.

  3. Nick Kilner says:

    Fascinating post! Great photos too. What a place it must have been. I’m really glad to see the chapel survived, if little else.

  4. Margaret Draycott says:

    Brilliant and fascinating post, what an incredible place, had never heard of it, the men that must have passed through there. And yes delighted to see that the chapel has been preserved.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Thanks ever so M. Some of the old films of shellshock casualties you may have seen were filmed at Netley, incidentally.

  5. Jon T says:

    As others have said, what an astonishing building ! In many ways the Victorian period must have been an amazing time to live through (both the good and the bad).

    Look forward to the next instalments

  6. Julie Green says:

    Hello, I have just been directed to your blogs about Netley Hospital. Well done on the research you have done and thank you for sharing my website. I am looking forward to reading more!!

    May I just correct you on the date that the hospital “officially” opened. It was 1863 even though parts of it were being used before this date for soldiers and staff.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Hello Julie. Right, most important of all, you may correct me on anything whatsoever Netley-wise at any time. Thank you, and I have re-written the above text somewhat. Your website has been a boon whilst I have been writing all this stuff, I must say, and it’s a delight to see such passion. There will be six separate posts in total about the cemetery, and the men within; currently three have been published. I wanted to find out the cause of death of as many of the men whose headstones I photographed as possible, and have added quite a lot from sources other than your good self, which might be of interest to you. Otherwise, I hope you approve!!

      • Julie Green says:

        I totally approve, I am so glad that you have filled in some of the gaps that I do not know or understand. When I started this “little” project back in 2011 I had no idea how big it was to become and how it would take over my life! My main interest was to record the older headstones before they disappeared which I have done, but then there were the CWG names which had to be researched for the 2014-2018 Centenary and the Hospital building itself. Every day there are more items coming online – I can’t keep up with it all! I am totally out of my depth when it comes to the Army Regiments so reading your research here is going to help so much. These soldiers must be Remembered. Thank you.

        • Magicfingers says:

          Thanks Julie. You really have done a great job with your website, no doubt about it, and if I can add a few bits & bobs with my tour of the cemetery, then that all adds to the general knowledge, which can’t be bad. I started this ‘little project’ – the website – in 2011 too, and it too has become vast. I don’t know how many CWGC (mainly) cemetery tours there now are on this site, but certainly several hundred in total. Keeps me off the streets!! Incidentally, I did write a piece last year about war neurasthenia (sounds exciting, eh?) which also includes some Netley stuff and a Netley artifact that you may have seen before, but of which I happen to be the owner:

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