History of Royal Victoria Country Park Chapel

History of Royal Victoria Country Park Chapel

The Royal Victoria Chapel was once part of the Royal Victoria Military Hospital

Timeline of Royal Victoria Country Park Chapel

1854 - The Crimean War begins

The history of the Royal Victoria Military Hospital at Netley begins in 1854 during the Crimean War (1854 to 1856), where thousands of British, French and Turkish soldiers were wounded and killed fighting against the Russians.

1855 - Site approved for hospital

In March 1855, Sir John Burgayne, the Inspector General of Fortifications, was instructed to identify a suitable site for the building of a new military hospital close to the sea. The site at Netley was approved by the War Department and 109 acres of land was purchased from the owner, Mr Thomas Chamberlayne, for £15,000 in January 1856.

1856 - Royal foundation laid

On 19 May 1856, Queen Victoria signed her approval of the plans for the Royal Victoria hospital and laid the foundation stone - a 2 tonne block of Welsh granite. Under the stone was placed a box containing a Victoria Cross, Crimea medal and a set of coins.

Netley Hospital image from The Builder August 23rd 1856

1863 - Hospital opens for patients

The Royal Victoria Hospital opened to patients in March 1863 and in May 1863, Queen Victoria visited the site; her first public engagement since the death of Prince Albert in 1861.

1864 - Medical Officer Monument

In 1864, a monument was built at Netley to the memory of the medical officers of the British Army who died in the Crimean War. It was situated near to where the cricket pavilion is today, but was demolished in 1973 as it was in a dangerous state and in danger of falling down.

1870 - D Block opened

In 1866, the War Office proposed to provide 'a Public Hospital for Insane Military Officers and Soldiers' at Netley, with accommodation in a separate building for 60 patients. Known first as the 'Asylum' and later as 'D Block', this psychiatric hospital opened in July 1870 when patients were moved there from Fort Pitt at Chatham in Kent.

Netley Asylum postcard

1879 - A royal visit

Queen Victoria visited the hospital in August 1879 to present Private Frederick Hitch with the Victoria Cross for his actions at the Defence of Rorke's Drift during the Zulu wars in South Africa. A small force of British and colonial troops successfully defended the garrison against an attack by several thousand Zulu warriors.

1881 - Army Nursing Service at Netley

The Army Nursing Service was established in 1881. Nursing Sisters trained at Netley were sent to work in military hospitals in the UK and in Malta and Gibraltar. They also nursed patients in the Boer War, Egyptian Campaign and Sudan War, working in tented field hospitals and on hospital ships and ambulance trains.

1898 - Victoria Cross awarded to injured soldiers

Queen Victoria visited the hospital on 14 May 1898 to present Victoria Crosses to Private Samuel Vickery and Private George Findlater. They were both being treated at Netley after being wounded in the attack on Dargai Heights in what was then the north-west frontier of India (modern day Pakistan) on 20 October 1897.

Private George Findlater

1899 - The Second Boer War (1899 to 1902)

The Second Boer War (1899 to 1902) saw a huge influx of patients to the hospital, filling it to capacity for the first time. The Royal Army Medical Corps, which was formed in 1898, played a key role in the treatment of the wounded, both abroad and in military hospitals at home, including Netley.

1900 - Railway line extended to the hospital

The railway line between Netley and Southampton Docks, which opened in 1866, was extended in 1900, giving the hospital its own railway station behind the Chapel. You can still see some of the original rails in the Chapel car park today.

Royal Victoria Hospital train station

1902 - The Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS) established

On 27th March 1902, the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS) was established to replace the Army Nursing Service (ANS) and Indian Nursing Service (INS). It was named in honour of Queen Alexandra, wife of King Edward VII.

1904 – Queen Alexandra visits

On August 4th 1904, Queen Alexandra, accompanied by the Prince of Wales, Princess Victoria, the Marquis de Soveral and Rear Admiral Sir A. Berkeley Milne, visited the Royal Victoria Hospital to inspect the new quarters for the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service.

Visit from Queen Alexandra

1914 - British Red Cross extends hospital tent camp

During the 1st World War, the most serious casualties were brought back to England for treatment, with what were known as 'Blighty wounds'. The huge numbers of casualties being brought back from the Front led to the British Red Cross setting up additional temporary hospitals at the back of the site. Tents were also used to accommodate some of the convalescing soldiers.

1915 - Japan Red Cross Society

At the request of the Japanese government, the Japan Red Cross Society sent three groups of doctors and nurses to Europe; one to each of Japan's allies, Britain, France and Russia. Two doctors and twenty two nurses arrived at Netley in January 1915 and worked in the hospital for a year.

1916 - The Battle of the Somme

The Battle of the Somme, fought in northern France, was one of the bloodiest of WW1. Lasting 141 days, from 1 July to 18 November 1916, it saw appalling numbers of casualties. By the end of the battle, the British Army had suffered 420,000 casualties including nearly 60,000 on the first day alone. The most serious casualties of the battle were evacuated by hospital ship and ambulance train to hospitals in the UK, including Netley, for treatment.

1917 - King George V, Queen Mary and Princess Mary visited Netley

On 30 July 1917, King George V, Queen Mary and Princess Mary visited Netley to tour the hospitals and meet some of the patients of the 1st World War who were being treated there. This included meeting Corporal McLean of the London Scottish Regiment, a patient in the Red Cross Hospital, who had been a servant to both King George V and his father, King Edward VII.

1922 - Chelsea Pensioners Holidays

Every year, a party of Chelsea Pensioners (former members of the British Army from the Royal Hospital at Chelsea) came to the Royal Victoria Hospital at Netley for a three-week holiday. They were taken on day trips and treated to a variety of entertainments, as well as being able to ‘roam at will through the village.’

1939 - 2nd World War patient influx

Patient numbers at Netley, which had decreased during the inter-war years, rapidly increased again from the start of the 2nd World War in 1939. The hospital was also a key muster point for Army medical staff when they were called up for service overseas.

1940 - YMCA recreation centres built

The YMCA established recreation centres in military camps, bases and hospitals during both World Wars to provide refreshments, entertainment and reading and writing materials for servicemen and women. In 1940, the Timber Trades Federation built a new hut for the YMCA at Netley to replace an earlier building on the site. This hut is now the Park Office and also houses the gift shop and Cedar Rooms restaurant and café.

1944 - American Army take over management

On 15 January 1944, control of the Royal Victoria Hospital was transferred to the American Army as part of an allied forces Lend-Lease agreement. The intention was to give the United States forces a medical base on the south coast of England ahead of the D-Day landings which took place in June. The hospital site became home to both the Army and Navy medical services and stayed under American control until 19 July 1945.

1950 - The psychiatric hospital expands

After the 2nd World War, the Royal Victoria Hospital received far fewer patients. The hospital was never filled to capacity again; many wards were closed and parts of the building fell into disuse. The psychiatric hospital, however, increased both in importance and in size, expanding into the E Block buildings left by the Americans.

1958 – The main hospital closes

The main building of the Royal Victoria Hospital closed its doors to patients in 1958, with the building standing empty for several years. The high costs of maintaining the building, along with all its impracticalities as a hospital, meant that it was considered more cost-effective for the Army to move its medical services elsewhere. Only D Block remained open, becoming the main Navy Psychiatric Hospital and training centre for Registered Mental Nurses from all three services.

1966 – Hospital demolished

Demolition of the hospital started on 16 September 1966 and on 7 December 1966, a special ceremony was held to lift the foundation stone and open the copper box placed beneath it by Queen Victoria.

1978 – D Block closes

The last part of the hospital to remain in operation was the psychiatric hospital in D Block, which finally closed in August 1978.