Netley Abbey & Royal Victoria Country Park

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View of the ruins from the main entrance. Photo by me

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.

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Photo by me

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They were doing some sort of conservation around the Church area. Photo by me

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I found myself strangely drawn to this window. Photo by me

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.

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Photo by me

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This building may well have been the infirmary. Photo by me

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Cool fireplace. Photo by me

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Outer view of the East Window of the Church. Photo by me

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The stunning East Window. Photo by me

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.

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Netley Abbey by Moonlight – John Constable. Wikimedia Commons

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.

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This was a beautiful woodland walk. Photo by me

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.

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Netley Military Cemetery. Photo by me

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.

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Sea City Museum & Southampton Art Gallery

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Southampton is well known for its links to the Titanic so of course the city has a museum dedicated to it – but not only to the Titanic, but the Maritime history of the area as well. Now I’ll be honest, I’ve known about the Sea City Museum for ages but I just hadn’t had the time or the inclination to visit. But seeing as how I have this time off and need to keep myself busy, I thought I would pop down there this morning.

When I arrived, it was only about five minutes until opening time. However I found myself utterly shocked at just how many people were waiting outside. I suppose it’s to be expected given as Southampton is practically the home of the Titanic. Getting inside was a bit of a farce even after the doors were open, due to technical issues with the tills. However after a bit I was inside and home free.

£8.50 and a wrist band later, I was inside and wandering the Titanic exhibition.

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The Titanic disaster certainly hit Southampton hard. Many workers from Southampton were on board when it sank and many of them never came home again. Every day on the way home from work I walk past a plaque stating that the building was an office of the ocean liner company, an office that was bombarded with family members when news of the disaster hit.

Following the Titanic museum you are taken into a couple of rooms for an exhibition called “The Gateway to the World” – this exhibition concentrates on the maritime history of Southampton and the surrounding area, from prehistory to present day.

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I have to be 110% honest here, I found the entirety of the Sea City museum completely underwhelming. I had finished my visit within just over 30 minutes and that included reading the information and taking photographs. £8.50 is far too steep a price for this museum and, I would say, unless you have an interest in the Titanic then avoid this place like the plague. The price really isn’t worth it.

Following my completely underwhelming visit to the Sea City museum, I took myself around the corner to the art gallery. This was much more to my taste and although I was only there for a maximum of about fifteen minutes, it was truly a wonderful visit. Below are a selection of my favourite pieces of art from the gallery.

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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.

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[Review] Forsaking All Other – Catherine Meyrick

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Love is no game for women; the price is far too high.

England 1585.

Bess Stoughton, waiting woman to the well-connected Lady Allingbourne, has discovered that her father is arranging for her to marry an elderly neighbour. Normally obedient Bess rebels and wrests from her father a year’s grace to find a husband more to her liking.

Edmund Wyard, a taciturn and scarred veteran of England’s campaign in Ireland, is attempting to ignore the pressure from his family to find a suitable wife as he prepares to join the Earl of Leicester’s army in the Netherlands.

Although Bess and Edmund are drawn to each other, they are aware that they can have nothing more than friendship. Bess knows that Edmund’s wealth and family connections place him beyond her reach. And Edmund, with his well-honed sense of duty, has never considered that he could follow his own wishes. Until now.

With England on the brink of war and fear of Catholic plots extending even into Lady Allingbourne’s household, time is running out for both of them.

If you like historical and romantic fiction, then this book is for you.

I’ll admit now that romance isn’t something I would normally read. However I found myself pleasantly surprised with this book.

Set in 1585 amidst a torrid time in English history, we follow the story of Bess Stoughton and her mission to find a new husband. Normally such a story would bore me – however the main character of the story, Bess, is a strong willed young woman who takes risk. Many would perhaps say that is a cliche in the world of romantic fiction, however I found her characterisation completely endearing. She is a woman who knows what she wants, and won’t let anything get in the way. The object of her affection is a young man who would not normally catch the eye of a young woman – be it for his land and his money. But it soon becomes clear that the two cannot be any more than friends…with his mother controlling his marriage and Bess in need of a husband, they need to look elsewhere.

Not that it stays that way, of course.

The story twists and turns throughout the normality of life at the time. Bess is a waiting lady for Lady Allingbourne and we see the day to day activities that such women got up to at the same. But mixed in with that normality is the danger of life at the time, too. England is in the grip of war – not only against the Spanish, but against the Catholics at home as well. There’s always that fear lurking, on every page, that something awful is going to happen. Are there secret Catholics in Lady Allingbourne’s staff? Will the object of Bess’ affection come home from war?

The story moves quickly – Meyrick’s writing style honestly made this book a joy to read. It’s been a good while since I stayed up late to finish reading a book but this one, I just couldn’t put down. Whilst it is set in an era I know little about – there’s a wonderful section on the historical setting at the end of the book – this book was a joy to read. As I’ve already mentioned it’s not my normal cup of tea however I enjoyed it immensely and would highly recommend it to anyone interested in romantic, historical fiction.

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[Review] Machiavelli by Miles J. Unger

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He is the most infamous and influential political writer of all time. His name has become synonymous with cynical scheming and the selfish pursuit of power. 

Niccolò Machiavelli, Florentine diplomat and civil servant, is the father of political science. His most notorious work, The Prince, is a primer on how to acquire and retain power without regard to scruple or conscience. His other masterpiece, The Discourses, offers a profound analysis of the workings of the civil state and a hardheaded assessment of human nature. 

Machiavelli’s philosophy was shaped by the tumultuous age in which he lived, an age of towering geniuses and brutal tyrants. He was on intimate terms with Leonardo and Michelangelo. His first political mission was to spy on the fire-and-brimstone preacher Savonarola. As a diplomat, he matched wits with the corrupt and carnal Pope Alexander VI and his son, the notorious Cesare Borgia, whose violent career served as a model for The Prince. His insights were gleaned by closely studying men like Julius II, the “Warrior Pope,” and his successor, the vacillating Clement VII, as well as two kings of France and the Holy Roman Emperor. Analyzing their successes and failures, Machiavelli developed his revolutionary approach to power politics. 

Machiavelli was, above all, a student of human nature. In The Prince he wrote a practical guide to the aspiring politician that is based on the world as it is, not as it should be. He has been called cold and calculating, cynical and immoral. In reality, argues biographer Miles Unger, he was a deeply humane writer whose controversial theories were a response to the violence and corruption he saw around him. He was a psychologist with acute insight into human nature centuries before Freud. A brilliant and witty writer, he was not only a political theorist but also a poet and the author of La Mandragola, the finest comedy of the Italian Renaissance. He has been called the first modern man, unafraid to contemplate a world without God. Rising from modest beginnings on the strength of his own talents, he was able to see through the pious hypocrisy of the age in which he lived. 

When I picked up a copy of this biography I was seriously excited. Unger’s biography of Lorenzo de’ Medici was excellent and has to be one of my favourite biographies of all time. So I had high hopes for this book. And unfortunately the book didn’t really meet my expectations.

Now then, that’s not to say the book is bad. Oh no. I would say that the first three quarters of it are outstanding – Unger has used his extensive knowledge of the Italian Renaissance alongside Machiavelli’s own works and other primary sources to tell the exciting story of Machiavelli’s early life. We learn how Machiavelli rose through the ranks of the Florentine government to become Second Chancellor, and how he found himself rubbing shoulders with some of the most famous and influential men (and women!) of the time. I was particularly interested in the time that Machiavelli spent in the court of Cesare Borgia – who Unger seems to mainly call ‘Valentino’, based on Borgia’s nickname – and the respect that Machiavelli had for the man.

In fact I will say that had this biography finished with Machiavelli’s fall from grace and his arrest, that it would be one of the greatest biographies of Machiavelli out there. However I feel as though the last part of the book really let it down.

Whilst I understand that it’s important to analyse Machiavelli’s works – The Prince and the Discourses being the main ones – Unger seemed to go on about these works, delving into them in such great detail, for far too long. It read like something I would have to study back at A-Level or something, picking apart and analysing every little bit of these admittedly fantastic works. And sadly I found myself growing rather bored by it all. Though I will admit that I was interested in how Machiavelli used his down time away from the city to work on these pieces and how he thought his diatribe in The Prince would win him back favour. Sadly for Machiavelli, it was the book that would have him being vilified for hundreds of years.

This book then, is a book of two parts. Would I recommend it? Yes, I would. But I would warn readers to be wary of the time Unger spends discussing Machiavelli’s works towards the end of his life. This book is perfect for anyone interested in both the history of this wonderful man and the sort of work that he did – I will certainly be using it in my own current project. Up until the end of the book I would have given it four stars – however the slight let down at the end has me dropping to three, which is a great shame.

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