Over the next two weekends (22/23 and 29/30 July), visitors can sponsor a roof slate by paying a small donation to decorate or write a personal message on the underside of the roof slates for the Victorian-era chapel.
Councillor Andrew Gibson, the County Council’s Executive Member for Culture, Recreation and Countryside, said: “The chapel is a well-loved local landmark – the only remaining part of the world’s largest military hospital at the time, which was a personal project for Queen Victoria.
“Sponsoring a roof slate is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to leave your mark, and be part of the park’s history. We’ve received messages from as far a field as Australia, from the families of former hospital patients, asking for the names of their loved ones to be recorded on the roof slates. It’s nice to think that when these decorated slates are removed or replaced in years to come, that a personal story or message is rediscovered by future generations.”
The ‘sponsor a slate’ appeal is run by the park’s voluntary group, the Friends of Royal Victoria Country Park, to help reach their fundraising target of £30,000 to support the restoration of the chapel.
Visitors can sponsor a slate for £5 per slate, or £20 for five slates, outside of the chapel, from 11am to 4pm during the weekends of 22/23 July and 29/30 July or via the appeal’s Just Giving page.
History and restoration of Royal Victoria Country Park’s Chapel
Built with 30 million red bricks, from 1856 to 1863, the Royal Victoria Military Hospital was once the world’s largest military hospital, which was a personal project for Queen Victoria who laid its foundation stone.
The hospital could care for up to 1,000 troops from across the British Empire during both World Wars, on its 138 wards, linked by quarter-of-a-mile long corridors.
However, after the Second World War, the hospital fell into decline and was demolished after a major fire in 1963 destroyed large parts of the building. The site was later bought by Hampshire County Council and re-opened in 1980 as Royal Victoria Country Park.
The conservation work to the chapel will include the replacement of the original ornate and hand-painted glass windows that have been broken and vandalised. New staircases and an accessible lift will be installed to significantly improve the currently limited public access.
Following these works, a new exhibition will be created in the main body of the chapel to tell the story of the former hospital, from its beginnings in the 1850s, through the Boer War, and both World Wars - to its current status as much-loved local country park, including important medical advancements made at the site, such as the discovery of the vaccine for typhoid.
New displays highlighting the fascinating history of the site will also be located throughout the park, including ones to mark the four corners of the former hospital to show the scale of the once vast building.
The chapel will re-open in summer 2018.For more information about the restoration project visit the country park's blog, or to volunteer at Royal Victoria Country Park visit the Countryside Volunteering webpage.