Since the last blog, we’ve had quite a few developments with the chapel project and our wider park improvements. I’ve broken this blog up into several parts as so much has happened. Also, if you haven’t seen my latest TV interview, take a look and you’ll be able to see inside the chapel.
I write this with the sun streaming through the office window, looking at so many people enjoying the spring sunshine - whether they are families, couples, dog walkers or people exercising. I’ve been thinking how lucky we are to have this beautiful park and of course, how lucky I am to work here two to three times a week!
Many of you who visit the park and our café pass by the old YMCA building and may not be aware of the history of it.
The offices where the park’s team work were originally the YMCA building, which was built in 1940 to replace an earlier building in the grounds.
It was built and fully equipped by the Timber Trades Federation as a gift to the YMCA at Netley. Over 100 different timbers supplied by countries of the British Empire were used in its construction and decoration.
Downstairs, the building had a large hall (now the Empire function room), billiards room (the current café), a kitchen and a quiet room (now the shop), which was used as a ‘green room’ for events or ‘retiring room’ for visiting artists, lecturers and preachers.
Upstairs (where our offices are), there were staff quarters, including a self-contained suite ‘sufficiently commodious to allow a married couple to live in reasonable privacy’ according to an article in the ‘Wood’ Magazine from November 1940. There were also double and single rooms for the rest of the staff, along with a mess room connected to the kitchen by a service lift.
Many of you may not have noticed the YMCA plaque on the side of the shop wall. You’ll see it as you walk up or down the path to the Tall Pines Car Park.
People and their stories
We’ve been contacted from the other side of the world this month - by Ro and Joan Quayle, from Melbourne, Australia, who are the granddaughter and daughter of Gerald Hollings who served in the 7th Battalion AIF (Australian Imperial Force). They got in touch after reading our blog. This picture of Gerald was taken in 1915 when he joined the AIF, just before he travelled to Egypt and on to Gallipoli.
After his evacuation from Gallipoli he went to the Western Front, when on 22 February, 1917, he was shot through the neck near Flers, during the horrible winter of 1916/17. He was sent to Netley Hospital to be treated and spent several months there before he was shipped back home to Melbourne towards the end of 1917. He later taught himself how to speak again by using his diaphragm as his voice box had been destroyed by the bullet.
He always believed that being left out overnight, after being shot, saved him from bleeding to death as it was so cold it stopped the blood flow. Gerald lived a full life in Australia and died at the age of 87.
We very much look forward to welcoming Ro and Joan when they visit our park this year.
We also received contact from Netley resident who was involved in the demolition of the hospital in the 1960s. Mr Jackson, who worked with Perry Demolition, brought in a chair that is believed to have been the chair that Queen Victoria sat for the hospital’s inauguration ceremony on 19 May, 1856 (161 years ago this month).
The chair has commemorative plaques on it. The Royal Collection Trust have a watercolour of the hospital's inauguration. Take a look, and see what you think.
Next on our list of amazing stories is a wonderful lady called Yvette McKinnel, who travelled from Kent to tell us her story of working at the hospital as a Sister. Yvette spent time with our volunteer oral historians and brought along photographs, her study notes and most importantly her memories of the time she spent at the hospital. Yvette was the only Royal Navy Sister based at the hospital in the 1960s.
At the end of March, we were also visited by students from Ponoka Secondary Campus in Ponoka, Alberta, Canada, carrying out research as part of a World War I school project.
So you can see that it’s been an exciting month on the research side of things.
Building works update – and a coke can!
Work continues to conserve the historic chapel, which is the only remaining part of the old Netley Hospital. If you are visiting, you’ll notice that we have replaced the wooden panelling with fencing so you can look through to see progress.
The chapel has scaffolding all around it, and this month, I had the privilege of going up on to the roof. Amazing views, if not a bit scary!
So far, we have taken out the old green spiral stair case, which is where a new lift will be fitted. Part of the ceiling on the first floor has been removed for a new set of stairs that will enable visitors to have easy access to the base of the tower for the tower tours.
Work has started on removing the damaged etched glass in the chapel, which will be replaced as part of the project. Floor boards have been removed and numbered so that they can be replaced in the right order in the chapel. The foundations of the new extension, which will house toilets and a small kiosk, have also been laid.
We also found three items during the works (see picture at top of page). We think the middle bottle is a Victorian medicine bottle (our volunteers will find out). The glass bottle on the right with the glass ball inside was an old R Whites bottle. Finally we also found a coke can. It’s not so old as it’s from the 1980s, but its price tag is just 16 pence! If you look carefully you can see the older type ring pull.
Come and help us
Our project relies on getting the support of volunteers. We have a real variety of roles and even if you don’t fit what we have currently, we’re sure you will have some skills that we can use now, or when the chapel is open. So, please, consider volunteering with us. Here’s an example of one opportunity we have at the moment.
We are looking for an enthusiastic individual who would be keen to gain some experience in volunteer recruitment. The role includes marketing tasks such as designing posters/leaflets and distributing them to local venues; advertising and posting volunteer opportunities to online volunteering organisations.
To find out more phone 023 9224 4064 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lastly, don’t forget to email me at email@example.com if you have any questions or comments about the project or information on the hospital. See you next month.