The darker history of Royal Victoria Country Park

Oct 30 2017

Royal Victoria Country Park

As the days shorten I thought we’d focus on some of the scarier and darker elements of what was once the world’s largest military hospital. As you know, only the chapel remains, so I’ve asked my colleague Ursula, who is one of our team at the park to do some digging around for me and she’s come up with some of these not so well known facts about the former hospital – all a bit creepy!  Thanks to Ursula for carrying out all this research!

Let’s start off with our legendary ghost… the ‘Grey Lady’.  Many local people claim to have seen her!

Grey Lady in the corridor

The ‘Grey Lady’ is said to be the ghost of a Victorian nurse who threw herself from the chapel tower, though there are several different stories about how this came about.  Either she accidentally killed a patient and killed herself out of remorse, or she couldn’t bear to be parted from the patient she had fallen in love with when he returned to the war, or she went mad with grief after her true love was killed in action and decided to join him in death. The ‘Grey Lady’ was said to haunt the hospital corridors and wards, with many people saying that her appearance was a sign that someone was about to die – not an uncommon occurrence in a hospital!

At least one sighting of the ‘Grey Lady’ was confirmed to be a hoax – a trick played on reporters from the Daily Echo by a nurse in the psychiatric hospital shortly before the hospital was demolished in 1966. But what about other sightings? Many people say they have seen the ‘Grey Lady’ in the Park and even in the chapel itself.  Are you one of them?  We’d love to hear your stories!  Contact us through my email at the bottom of the page.

Skulls in the hallway!

Skull Alley

Yes, that's right, what you are looking at are cupboards full of skulls! Now, you might ask what are they doing in a hospital.

Most of you reading this won’t have known that there was a Museum of Military Surgery at the hospital. It held some rather horrible and ghoulish exhibits. The area that the skulls were stored was known as ‘Skull Alley’ (for obvious reasons!)

It was mentioned in The Army & Navy Illustrated magazine, published on  March 19, 1897: “to the students of the Army Medical Museum the facial characteristics of the different peoples are full of interest.”

Museum

As the photograph above shows, the museum had a large collection of plant and animal specimens, as well as weapons and surgical instruments.  If the building was still in place today, it would have been situated in a building in front of where the chapel is now.

The Chemist and Druggist magazine in 1895 describes this as a ‘pretty little museum of natural-history specimens which old students of the hospital have brought home or sent home’. Not everyone remembered it so fondly!  Charles Adams, who as a boy had a paper round at the hospital before the First World War, said, “I used to run through there pretty fast because there was all tigers and so forth… there was a woman preserved in a bottle… I didn’t like it very much.”

Guinea pigs on the wards

D block corridor with padded cells

Some of the treatments administered to patients at Netley during the Second World War, particularly patients in the psychiatric wards in D Block, were experimental– and very likely frowned upon today! This photo shows the stark corridors in D block. Note the heavy reinforced doors.

Deep insulin treatment was a technique in which patients were given an overdose of insulin to send them into a coma, which then had to be reversed with the introduction of a glucose solution by a tube into the stomach or a vein. According to Philip Hoare in his book ‘Spice Island’ the claim was that, when patients came round, “they were calmer and better able to accept psychiatric counselling.”

One of the US psychiatric nurses working at the hospital in 1944 said that sodium pentothal (also known as truth serum) was given to patients suffering from ‘combat fatigue’ and that they were only woken up for brief periods each day to have food. This ‘continuous narcosis’ (deep sleep) therapy took place over a few days before the patients were gradually brought round and interviewed by the psychiatrist.

And then, of course, there was the use of electric shock therapy, continuous baths, hypnosis, tube-feeds, strait jackets and padded cells…

Don’t forget to check in with us later when we’ll give you more park updates.

Paul
Senior Project Manager
paul.delamore@hants.gov.uk