Today, my other half and I decided to take ourselves off to Netley Abbey. We also decided that we would walk there – it didn’t look all that far on a map, after all, and the directions said it was only three miles.
If I ever say I’m walking to Netley again, someone please stop me.
But I digress. Once we’d trekked our way half way across the city and indeed OUT of Southampton and into the borough of Eastleigh, we found ourselves wandering around the absolutely magnificent ruins completely on our own.
Netley Abbey was founded in the thirteenth century and was home to a group of Cistercian monks, who found themselves under Royal patronage. And you can really get a feel for that patronage as you wander around these wonderful ruins – particularly in the massive Church. When you are standing in this huge space, it’s very easy to imagine just how beautiful this building must have been. I could really see it all in my mind’s eye – especially how stunning the east window must have once looked with its stained glass.
Other buildings include what may have once been an infirmary, the cloister and the Abbot’s house.
Despite its Royal patronage, Netley did not survive the first suppression of the monasteries simply because it did not make enough money, and it had too few monks housed within. It was dissolved in 1536 and the site was handed over to William Paulet who began to renovate the Abbey into a country house. It was occupied as a house until the early 1700’s, when the decision was made to demolish the building.
In 1704 the decision was made to demolish the house and sell the building materials. However this plan was scrapped when a worker was sadly killed by a falling piece of stonework. Left abandoned, the partially demolished building was left to the elements and allowed to fall into ruin – a ruin that later attracted some rather famous visitors including the wonderful artist John Constable, who painted the ruins in the moonlight.
I found Netley Abbey to be incredibly beautiful and beyond peaceful and I feel like it’s somewhere that, were I to visit again, I would see something completely different. There is an incredible amount of history layered within these ruins – you can really feel the history as you wander about the place. What makes this place even better is that it’s out of the way and, if I’m honest, rather poorly signposted. So we were alone there for well over an hour.
Following our visit to the Abbey we walked further up the road to the Royal Victoria Country Park and spent a pleasant few hours wandering around this HUGE place. We didn’t see it all as it was just far too big, but we did find the War Cemetery which I found to be incredibly moving.
The site used to be made up of Netley Hospital, a hospital for members of the military. Construction started in 1856 and the hospital, despite facing controversy from Florence Nightingale over its design, was used extensively during the First World War. It was also used extensively during the Second World War, but following this the hospitals use began to dwindle. On this site was also one of the very first military asylums.
Today, only the chapel and the cemetary still remains whilst the rest is open to the public as park land. The cemetery is full to bursting with the military graves of personnel from all over the commonwealth, with the majority of graves dating to the First World War.
These two sites were both incredibly moving in their own right and, despite the aching feet and terrible sunburn, they’re places I’ll certainly be going back to.