In 2015, the Heritage Lottery Fund granted £3.1m to Hampshire County Council for a project called Royal Victoria: Uncovering the stories of Netley Military Hospital. This aimed to conserve the Grade II* listed chapel, which is all that remains of the former military hospital, improve the landscape around the Chapel and provide additional exterior interpretation for visitors, connecting them with the history of the site.
Outside in the Park the hospital’s foundation stone, laid by Queen Victoria in 1856, has been returned to the park and placed close to its original site in front of the Chapel.
The 1980s extension to the Chapel was removed and extensive conservation work carried out to the outside of the building, with essential repairs being made to brick and stonework, gutters and downpipes. A separate fundraising project, ‘Raise the Roof’ took place in the summer of 2017 which allowed us to purchase and install a new roof of more than 900 slates. The ornate, hand painted glass windows along the side of the Chapel that had been broken and vandalised were reinstated.
A new, sympathetically designed timber pavilion was built to the side of the Chapel, connected to it by a glazed link. This houses the facilities necessary to support the functioning of the Chapel as a heritage visitor attraction and performance venue, including toilets and a refreshment kiosk.
A new landscape setting for the Chapel was created outside, with a wooden walkway following the line of the original hospital corridor and a garden area with low hedges delineating the hospital’s central administration block.
An architect's view
Architect Bethan Knights gives us an insight into the works undertaken in conserving the Chapel.
Four interpretation points have been installed to mark the corners of the main hospital building, engaging visitors with both the scale and history of the hospital. Additional interpretation at the site of the hospital’s pier and station and along the causeway to the cemetery encourage visitors to explore the wider park landscape and the heritage of the site.
Inside the Chapel, the outdated 1980s exhibition was removed and the main Chapel space returned to its original form, revealing the lower parts of the Chapel windows. A new exhibition was installed, telling the important story of the Royal Victoria Hospital and the lives of some of its many staff and patients. The design of the new exhibition means the space can be used flexibly for display, performance and learning.
A new accessible lift, staircase and fire escape means that the public can now access the 1st floor gallery and balcony areas, as well as the 2nd floor of the Chapel, where a large floor map has been installed, showing the hospital and the surrounding area in 1932.
Visitors are also now able to climb to the top of the 150ft tower, enjoying spectacular views, new interpretation to understand the wider hospital site and the opportunity to ring one of the Chapel’s three bells!
Events and activities
Thanks to the support of a large number of volunteers who have trained as visitor hosts and guides, the Chapel is now open to the public five or six days a week, with free admission to the ground and first floor exhibitions.
The Heritage Lottery Fund grant has also enabled us to develop an exciting events programme of living history, music, theatre and storytelling, as well as guided walks, talks, tower tours and object handling activities to bring to life the many stories of the hospital, its staff and patients. A new education programme has also been developed for schools and colleges, with special projects to mark significant local, national and international events.
All these activities have been made possible through the work of volunteers from the local and wider community, who have trained as tour guides, demonstrators, events assistants and researchers, helping to share the history of the hospital with visitors from around the world.