Royal Victoria Country Park (RVCP)
Was formerly the site of the Royal Victoria Military Hospital (1863 – 1978) which opened to the public in 1980. Overlooking Southampton Water this popular park, which covers over 200 acres, is one of the most scenic and delightful areas of South Hampshire.
Royal Victoria Military Hospital
The majestic building was built of red brick, faced with Portland stone, with plinths of Welsh granite all along the basement, and consisted of a central block and two long wings, the total length was 468 yards - 1/4 of a mile. All the front windows, over 200, were arcaded and together with the central dome and elaborate towers was a wonderful sight from the Southampton Water.
There were a total of 138 wards and beds for over 1000 patients. At the rear of the main building, and forming a rectangle, there was a range of buildings for stores, bakery, canteen, school, mortuary, married quarters and messes; the officers’ quarters being a separate building away from the hospital.
Part of the central block was destroyed by fire in 1963. It was eventually demolished in 1966/7. The Army moved out of D Block in 1978. Today only its Royal Chapel remains. Its fascinating story can be viewed in the Heritage Centre.
The hospital was handed over to the United States Military (Army & Navy) in January 1944 during the Second World War. It became the 28th US General Hospital from 1944 to 1945. Over 68,000 patients were treated for the remaining year and a half of the war which included patients from D Day and German Prisoners of War (POW).
The American troops must have thought the quarter of a mile corridor to be too long to walk because they used to drive their jeeps along the ground floor (cited in the book Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps (Famous Regts. S) by Juliet Piggott).
Some idea of its monumental size can be appreciated from an anecdote from the Second World War, when it was taken over by the American Navy in April 1944 to house US Naval Base Hospital No. 10 in preparation for D-Day, it is said that jeeps were used to negotiate its long corridors.
After World War II the Americans handed the hospital back to the British Army in July 1945 and it continued to treat British Forces personnel.
Royal Victoria Military Cemetery
The Military Cemetery was completed in 1864 and is within the grounds of the Royal Victoria Country Park, accessed by a man-made causeway. It is situated in a quiet corner well away from the old hospital site and the day to day activities going on in the park. The Cemetery occupies an area of some 17 acres and holds the dead of both World Wars from several countries including Australia, New Zealand and Germany.
Famous visitors at the hospital included; Queen Victoria & Prince Albert, Florence Nightingale (Lady of the lamp) and SIr Almroth Wright was (Professor of Pathology). Broadcast in the Centenary year of the publication of Lewis Carroll's novel was Jonathan Miller's television adaptation of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ (BBC film 1966) which used the RVMH as its location.
Attractions within the RVCP
The Heritage Visitor Centre
The Heritage Visitor Centre is sited in the Royal Chapel which is the only part of the military hospital remaining. A total of nine hundred people could sit in the Chapel, with 450 in the gallery and 450 in the nave. It was aptly described as "Perhaps one of the most beautiful chapels the British Army Possess". This 150' chapel with its green dome, continues to dominate the skyline and impresses all who pass it by on Southampton Water.
This and a special History Trail through the park gives light to the fascinating account of this site.
Royal Victoria Railway
Set within the 200 acre Royal Victoria Country Park. The one mile, ten-and-a-quarter inch gauge passenger miniature railway, passes through this scenic woodland. RVR moved onto the site in 1995. There had been a small railway there before, but virtually nothing was left of it. RVR had bought and built everything that is there today. The first year was spent building, and the first train ran on 24th August 1996. Today you can catch the train at Chapel Road Station or alternatively by the train sheds.
Built in 1940, with samples of trees from around the world, the YMCA was a place for recreation and relaxation. Recuperating service men and hospital staff spent many an hour here playing snooker and reading etc. The building was constructed using 100 different timbers donated from all over the British Empire. Today it houses the Park Office, Empire & Nightingale Function rooms and the Cedars tea room.
Play areas and BBQ
There is the Sensory Garden, children's play and disabled play areas. There are also BBQ sites for hire. It is an ideal place to spend the day visiting or for a family picnic, relaxing and playing games.