Having been signed off work for two weeks with the dreaded S word, I decided to make a bit of use of the time I have. After all, there’s nothing better than a trip to a museum to get your head back in the game. The Solent Sky Museum is located right by Southampton’s Ocean Village area and, having lived in the area for nigh on 8 years, I hadn’t really heard of it until yesterday. Which, if I’m honest is a bit odd as it’s where the voting booths are set up during elections. But that’s by the by. I toddled off down there this morning – taking all of two minutes to get there – and from the moment I stepped inside, all I can say is ‘wow’.
It doesn’t look like much from the outside. It’s a rather grey, nondescript building and the signage isn’t wonderful. But when you step inside…it’s like you’ve been punched in the face by the most amazing history. Southampton is, after all, the home of the Spitfire.
Entry is £7.50 for adults which, if I’m honest, isn’t that bad given the wealth of information crammed within the museum. Even better though is that as I gave giftaid, I now get free entry for a whole year. Hurrah!
You begin the tour of the museum by walking upstairs where you are greeted with an exhibition on Southampton’s flying boats. Yes, you heard right. Flying boats. Before seeing this exhibition I had no idea that during the 20’s, Southampton was one of the very few commercial airports in England! There were regular commercial flights from Southampton to Cherbourg for just £5.50 return (though that would have been super expensive back in those days!). Later, longer routes were brought in and flights were chartered to the Middle East and beyond. But by 1958 the flying boat service was finished, with land based flight taking precedence.
Interestingly, it’s not all planes within the museum. There are also displays on the police and fire services – exhibitions put on by the Hampshire Police & Fire Heritage Trust. I must admit that these exhibitions were my favourite out of everything within the museum – not least because of the creepy mannequins sat in a cell!
One of the most hard hitting exhibitions of the museum was their exhibition on the Blitz of Southampton. Not only was the Spitfire factory targeted, but much of the city as well. As I was wandering around the room looking at the photographs of the devastation. It was very difficult to comprehend that much of what I saw are places where I walk every day – it’s hard to believe that the city in which I live today suffered so terribly. And yet it did. The bombing affected huge swathes of Southampton, destroying homes and businesses, reducing churches to rubble and taking hundreds of lives.
I finished off my visit with a walk on one of the commercial water planes within the collection. It’s certainly a far cry from the commercial planes you get on today! Following that I had a quick gander at some of the more modern planes, including the Folland Gnat F1 XK740, which was described as a ‘masterpiece of economical design’ The Gnat became well known as a plane used by the fabulous Red Arrows! There’s also a beautiful Spitfire and information telling visitors of the history of the spitfire!
All in all a wonderful little museum and the perfect place to spend an hour or two. The staff are friendly and helpful and the exhibits are just second to none – though the mannequins are a little terrifying! I highly recommend this museum to anyone interested in aviation history, as well as the local history of Southampton and the surrounding area.
10/10. Will visit again.