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Netley, Hampshire

Historical Description

Netley or Netley Abbey, a tithing in Hound parish, Hants, on the NE side of Southampton Water, 1 mile from Netley station on the L. & S.W.R., and 3½ miles SE of Southampton. It has a post, money order, and telegraph office under Southampton. It contains ruins of an ancient abbey, a transmuted old castle, and a great military hospital; and is a favourite resort of transient visitors and pleasure parties. The name Netley is possibly a corruption of Natan Leaga, the Saxon designation of a great wooded tract, probably more or less identical with the New Forest; but has been generally regarded as a transmutation of Letley, and as derived from the Latin Latus Locus or dc, lasto loco, signifying " the happy spot." The scenery was naturally very fine; it became much enhanced by the artificial features, particularly those of the abbey; and it now presents its old attractions in altered forms, and has acquired new ones. The abbey ruins have been denuded of much overshadowing wood, and have been otherwise changed; the old castle, which was one of those built by Henry VIII. for the protection of the southern coast, has been converted into a private residence; and the military hospital, with vast extent of masonry and with striking embellishments, has been erected; but the scenic features, in most other respects, continue to be what they were when Horace Walpole wrote in 1755. "How," says he, "shall I describe Netley to you— I can only by telling you it is the spot in the world which I and Mr Chute wish. The ruins are vast, and retain fragments of beautiful fretted roof pendent in the air, with all variety of Gothic patterns of windows wrapped round and round with ivy. Many trees are sprouted up among the walls, and only want to be increased with cypresses. A hill rises above the abbey, encircled with wood. The fort, in which we would build a tower for habitation, remains with two small platforms. This little castle is buried from the abbey in a wood, in the very centre, on the edge of the hill. On each side breaks in the view of the Southampton Sea, deep blue, glistening with silver and vessels; on one side terminated by Southampton, on the other by Calshot Castle; and the Isle of Wight rising above the opposite hills. In short, they are not the ruins of Netley but of Paradise. Oh! the purple abbots! what a spot had they chosen to slumber in! The scene is so beautifully tranquil, yet so lively, they seem only to have retired into the world."

The abbey was founded in the time of Henry III., either by the king himself or by Peter de Enpibus, Bishop of Winchester; was dedicated to the Virgin and to Edward the Confessor; was colonized by Cistercian monks from Beanlieu Abbey; was never so much enriched as to have more than £100 of estimated annual revenue; was given at the dissolution to Sir W. Paulett, first Marquis of Winchester; passed to the son of Protector Somerset, Earl of Hertford, who here entertained Queen Elizabeth in 1560; went in 1700 to Sir Bartlett Lucy, in whose time the church continued entire, and who sold the materials of it to a builder of Southampton; was reduced to a state of ruin partly by that builder, partly by subsequent depredators; belongs now to the Chamberlayne family; and underwent considerable restoration, with addition of a new small chapel of ease, in 1860-61. The ruins are extensive, present a good specimen of the architecture of their age, and are now very well kept; but they are far from rich in architectural details, and they owe not a little of their attraction to the mere beauty of their situation. The great gate is on the S, and opens into the fountain or cloister court. That court is a square of 114½ feet each way, and once had cloisters along the S, the W, and the N sides. Some domestic buildings, with marks of modern alterations, are on the S side and part of the W side; the parlour, the refectory, the buttery and the kitchen begin on the S part of the E side, and extend southward about 55 feet beyond the line of the S side; the passage to the inner court pierces the E side immediately N of the parlour; the chapter-house and two sacristies are on the E side, to the N of that passage; the nave of the church extends along all the N side; the rest of the church extends eastward to mid-distance of the inner court; a idised terrace, supposed to have surrounded all the inner court, extends along the N side of that court; and a ruined building, supposed to have been the abbot's lodgings, stands detached off the NE corner of the inner court. The refectory was beneath the dormitory, measures 45 feet by 24, is divided into two alleys by four pillars, and has windows of two lancet lights and foliated head-circles. The kitchen measures 48 feet by 18; retains its groining, but has lost the ribs; and contains a remarkable fireplace of the 13th century. The chapter-house measures 36 feet by 36, and is divided by four pillars into nave and aisles. The church is cruciform, measures 211½ feet from W to E and 56½ feet along the transepts, and had an E chapel in each of the transepts, the N one now a mere fallen mass. The nave is of eight bays, the choir of five, and both have aisles. The clerestory is deeply recessed, and consists of triplets included by a common arch in each bay, but there was no triforium. The E window forms two trifoliated lights, with foliated head-circle. A tower is traditionally said to have risen from the centre, to have been crowned with lofty pinnacles, and to have served as a landmark to mariners coming up Southampton Water.

An inscription was found during the restoration, proving the abbey to have been really built during the time of Henry III.; and the tombstone of one of the monks, of date 1431, also was found. Many verses have been written on "Netley's ruins," by Keats, Sotheby, Bowles, and others, and the following sonnet by Bowles may be taken as a specimen:-" Fall'n pile I I ask not what has been thy fate,- But when the weak winds, wafted from the main, Through each lone arch, like spirits that complain, Come hollow to my ear, I meditate On this world's passing pageant, and the lot Of those who once might proudly in their prime Have stood, with giant port; till, bow'd by time Or injury, their ancient boast forgot, They might have sunk, like thee; though thus forlorn, They lift their head, with venerable hairs Besprent, majestic yet, and as in scorn Of mortal vanities and short-lived cares: Even so dost thou, lifting thy forehead grey, Smile at the tempest an4 Time's sweeping sway."

The royal military hospital, for sick and wounded soldiers, sprang out of a lack of accommodation for such during the Crimean War, and was founded in 1857. It occupies 10 acres of ground, stands in a plot of about 193 acres, is situated at a very short distance from the abbey ruins, on a high and gently sloping bank, about 350 yards from high-water mark, and immediately under a prolongation of the wooded hill which rises behind the abbey; is in the Decorated Italian style, of purple bricks and Portland stone; extends upwards of a quarter of a mile in length from N to S; comprises a massive and highly-decorated centre, two main wings, and detached rear buildings; is estimated to have cost for ground, construction, and furnishing, about £500,000, and contains accommodation for 1000 patients, besides officers, attendants, and servants. The centre is adorned with a noble portico of double columns of Portland stone, rises four storeys, with a width of 216 feet, is crowned with a dome-shaped campanile, rising to the height of 150 feet; and is chiefly appropriated to the officers, and to surgical and medical departments, but includes bath-rooms, a large swimming-bath, and a library. The two main wings rise three storeys, measure each about 600 feet in length and 70 feet in height, have each a light ornamental belfry tower at the extremity; look, as seen from the outside, to be almost all windows; and are appropriated to the great mass of the convalescents. The kitchen, with the cooking-offices. stands in the rear of the main building; communicates with it by a passage of covered windows, and is surmounted by two dining-rooms, each 60 feet by 32, for such inmates as are well enough to assemble at meal hours. The chapel is situated similarly to the kitchen; measures 100 feet in length, 63 feet in width, and 50 feet in height, and has simple yet handsome and appropriate decorations. Other buildings also are in the rear, and quite detached; some of them for orderly, store, guard, ablution, and post-mortem rooms; others forming the wards, each two storeys high, 40 feet long and 24 feet wide, for convalescent officers, and for convalescents from cutaneous, febrile, or ophthalmic disorders. The surrounding grounds are disposed in terraces and in gardens. A monument to the officers who fell in the Crimean War was erected on the river front of the grounds in 1865; is a beautiful structure in the style of the beginning of the 13th century; consists chiefly of Portland stone, with columns in polished Derbyshire marble; comprises a four-stepped base about 5 feet high, divisional pillars at the angles of the base, an octagonal arcade resting on coupled columns of polished marble, eight tablets inscribed with the names of officers, a smaller surmounting octagonal arcade also resting on columns of polished marble, four niches with emblematic sculptures relative to the purposes of the hospital, and a terminal column crowned with a finial large cross, and rises altogether to the height of 56 feet.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5

Land and Property

The Return of Owners of Land in 1873 for Hampshire (County Southampton) is available to browse.


Online maps of Netley are available from a number of sites:

Newspapers and Periodicals

The British Newspaper Archive have fully searchable digitised copies of the following Hampshire newspapers online:

Visitations Heraldic

The Visitations of Hampshire, 1530, 1575, & 1622-34 is available to view on the Heraldry page.

RegionSouth East
Postal districtSO31
Post TownSouthampton