Monday, May 14, 2012

Over the other side of Southampton Water

I woke yesterday to find out that there was but one day left of National Mills Weekend. That in itself isn't all that interesting, but it did give me a starting place for a bit of a local history day. Since I've moved down here, I haven't been past Southampton to the eastern or southern edge. The closest mill, Bursledon Windmill, took me past Southampton on the M27. Unfortunately, it's not operating at the moment as they are in the process of finding & funding a replacement for the large oak windshaft (the shaft at the centre of the sails that transfers the rotation to the main mill shaft). Windmills look a little odd without sails - the sail and the whole top of the structure have to come off. Maybe I'll still be around to check it out in 2014 - its bicentenary.

Naturally, inside the working mechanism was very similar to that which I saw at the closer-to-home Eling Tide Mill a few months ago. The miller, who was a lot younger than expected, was very happy to give me a personal tour - even if I didn't understand everything he said as he spoke rather quickly. I'll not bore you with details of the milling process, as it really was like the Eling Tide Mill.

For some time I've been curious what the tower is that I see across Southampton Water when I drive/ride down the road to work. From such distance, I couldn't tell if it was a church, a monument of something else. Someone told me that it was Netley Abbey, so with a quick check of the map I set off for Netley & then followed the signs to the abbey. When I found the abbey, it definitely wasn't what I'd been seeing from the Waterside. Nonetheless, there were some great old ruins with plenty of big walls still standing, a nice lawn & a good atmosphere with plenty of families around & kids running through the ruins. Dating from the 13th century, the monastery didn't survive the dissolution & was instead turned into a large country house, before being partially demolished & then allowed to fall into popular ruins in the 1800s - visited by the poet Thomas Gray, Austen & painted by Constable.

Heading south adjacent to the coastline, I eventually found my quarry in Royal Victoria Park. There were throngs of people around due to a Boat Jumble (whatever that is), so I left my investigations for a while & strolled along the beach south for most of an hour. It was quite breezy - that & the water explains the popular sailing club - but still more than pleasant walking in the sun with short sleeves. With such a busy port at the top of Southampton Water there is always plenty of maritime activity to watch - Isle of Wight slow & fast ferries, cruise liners, container ships, tankers & pleasure-craft. I also got a different view of the Fawley Refinery (which is really close to work & home). At the River Hamble I could walk no further, so turned around rather than taking a swim.

The limitations of the camera on my phone become apparent zooming in on distant scenery - part of Fawley Refinery

That small collection of chimneys over yonder is where I work.

Back at the parking lot, the crowds had thinned a bit & I popped into what turned out to be a chapel. I had been trying to work out why this building was standing alone in the middle of a nice big park. The informative displays inside, well worth the pound entry fee (unfortunately I'd run out of cash to join the departing tour up the tower), cleared all that up for me. In the 1850s this site was chosen to build a military hospital & the chapel stood in the centre. The hospital when completed was the longest building in the world at the time (435m/quarter-mile). It was built after the shocking conditions for the wounded in the Crimea became well known. But as these rather damning words from the prime-minister of the time suggest, it wasn't very well designed. "It seems to me that at Netley all consideration of what would best tend to the comfort and recovery of the patients has been sacrificed to the vanity of the architect, whose sole object has been to make a building which should cut a dash when looked at from Southampton River. Pray stop all work."

Alas, it was too late & this behemoth that was 138 wards & 1000 beds was opened. It was used more & more with the wounded coming back from the Boer Wars, WWI & WWII. The place was so large that it had its own reservoir, power station, railway station, gas works & pier. But all the corridors were on the sea-facing front and ventilation & conditions weren't great. Out the back the Red Cross also established a large temporary medical facility. When the Americans took it over near the end of WWII, they were shocked at the state of the Victorian plumbing & other facilities (and also apparently took to driving jeeps up the corridors, they were so large). Such a dated facility didn't last much longer & most of the hospital was demolished in 1966 after a large fire - there was an awful lot of rubble & I still drive over some of it whenever I go in to town, as it was used for the Totton flyover.

The chapel in the centre

The chapel standing alone today (or yesterday rather)

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