Solent Sky Museum – Southampton

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

The Latest Trip To London

It’s been a while since the other half and I had one of our historical trips out so last week we took off to London for the day. And what a jam packed day it was. Given the expense of train fares these days we decided to make the most of it and visit as many places as we possibly could.

The Banqueting House on Whitehall is somewhere I have wanted to visit for a very very long time. Many of you will know that I have a massive interest in Stuart history and in particular the reigns of both Charles I and Charles II. When we arrived at the Banqueting House and I saw the window in which Charles I was most likely to have stepped out of at his execution I may have gotten a little choked up. This building, one of the very last remaining parts of Whitehall Palace was where Charles I spent his last moments and it truly was a moving experience for me.

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The Banqueting House itself doesn’t take all that long to look around. But seeing the beautiful Ruben’s ceiling was one of the highlight’s of the trip for me. Painted and installed in 1636, it is an absolute masterpiece and depicts three main scenes – the union of the crowns, the Apotheosis of James I and the peaceful reign of James I. The absolutely sunning piece of art is also the only surviving in-situ piece of work by Ruben’s.

ImageAfter spending a bit of time at the Banqueting House and having a chat with the staff in the gift shop about the necklace of Charles II that I was wearing we took ourselves off to the National Portrait Gallery. There were many reasons that we wanted to visit this place and I have to say that we were not disappointed. The collection of Tudor and Stuart portraits is just utterly mindblowing and I found myself getting rather emotional here too. Seeing the famous portrait of Anne Boleyn was just…there are really no words to describe it, and then seeing the portraits of the Stuart individuals who I have long had an interest in. When we came across the portrait of Prince Rupert of the Rhine, I must have spent at least fifteen minutes standing there looking at it.

ImagePrince Rupert, the stereotypical cavalier, is a man I have a longstanding interest in. He was a genius when it came to military strategy, a brilliant scientist, privateer and one of the first mezzotint artist. In the room next to the civil war portraits were portraits from the reign of Charles II, including portraits of John Wilmot (I had a bit of a squeak seeing him), Barbara Villiers, Louise De Kerouelle and Charles II himself. I sat before the massive portrait of Charles II for a very long time – in this famous portrait, done just before his death in 1685, Charles looks like an old man because of course he was. And yet he is still incredibly regal with his long black periwig. He exudes power and regality, and it truly was amazing to sit in front of such an amazing man.

ImageJohn Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester is a man I am often in awe over. His works of satire are just brilliant and have often had me laughing so hard I’m in tears. I am also a massive fan of his poetry – particularly “A Ramble in Saint James’ Park”

ImageThis portrait of Charles II was painted in C. 1680, just five years before his death and is attributed to Thomas Hawker.

After a quick lunch in a rather quaint little pub just along Whitehall, we took ourselves off to 221B Baker Street. Both my partner and I are MASSIVE fans of the BBC drama and I’ve been a long standing fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novels so actually being at the place these works are set in invoked a massive torrent of what we call “feels”. 221B Baker Street is a tiny museum set out over three floors with artifacts that tie in with Conan Doyles stories as well as some rather creepy wax images of the characters. It was really rather amazing to see the figures of how Moriarty and Irene Adler should have looked like. What I found particularly brilliant about the museum were the little quote placards from the books which provided an excellent explanation to the artifacts and figurines.

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Casually sitting in Sherlock’s chair. You can see his famous Stradivarius violin just behind me

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Bullet marks in the wall behind the couch reading “VR”

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Sherlock’s journal

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The little gift shop next door sold all sorts of awesome Sherlock related things including pipes and deerstalkers. I picked up a hardback copy of the Complete Sherlock Holmes collection for a very reasonable £15. I have to say, the staff in both the museum and shop were absolutely brilliant and friendly, and I loved how they were all dressed in period costume.

Once done here we took ourselves off for a brief look around the British Museum, although given how much walking we’d done we didn’t spent long here. A brief look at the Egyptian gallery and we were ready to take ourselves home.

All in all a fantastic trip. Next port of call – The Tower of London.