Royal Victoria Country Park: A stunning park hiding a military secret
Royal Victoria Country Park was once the site of one of the biggest military hospitals ever constructed, with 1,000 beds treating wounded British troops from around the globe.
The Crimean War claimed the lives of 18,000 troops. With no first aid and poor transport, a wounded soldier often had little or no chance of survival. A young nurse called Florence Nightingale campaigned tirelessly for improved cleanliness and hygiene for the wounded. Word of her campaign reached Queen Victoria who leant her support by creating a new generation of hospital. In January 1856, building work began on the new hospital.
The hospital opened in March 1863, with 1,000 beds and corridors of up to a quarter of a mile long. With troops coming from all over the world, tropical disease was rife, which made the Royal Victoria a centre for medical research.
World War I saw the hospital expand rapidly and an additional hutted hospital was built on the site. Over 50,000 troops were treated in the two hospitals during the war.
By World War II, the hospital’s role had changed. A new asylum building was built, and in 1944, US Forces took over the two main hospitals. Following the war, the hutted hospital became the major site for patient treatment and the main building fell into disrepair. There was a large fire in 1963 and the decision was taken to demolish all but the chapel, which still stands.
Hampshire County Council purchased the site and in 1980 opened the gates of Royal Victoria Country Park. The park continues to offer walks, grassy fields and stunning views over Southampton Water.
Opening times are:
8am – 8.30pm April to September
8am – 4.30pm October to March.
The renovated chapel houses a Heritage Centre and tea room. The chapel tower is open for tours throughout the day and gives stunning views over the park and Southampton Water beyond.
For more information visit the Royal Victoria Country Park website, call 023 8045 5157 or visit Royal Victoria Country Park, Netley Abbey, Southampton SO31 5GA.
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