Sophie, Countess of Wessex has officially opened the newly restored Royal Victoria Chapel in Hampshire that forms the last remaining aspect of the British Army’s first purpose-built military hospital.
Her Royal Highness – who was greeted by a woman dressed as Queen Victoria – made the engagement to the chapel in Netley following the completion of a £3.5 million restoration project.
It will help tell the story of the hospital and its role in treating the casualties of the Crimean War, the Boer War, the First World War and the Second World War.
The historic chapel, restored in a project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Hampshire County Council, was built in response to the Crimean War and was known as Britain’s largest military hospital, originally having its own railway station and housing corridors that were more than a quarter of a mile long from one end of the building to the other.
Queen Victoria commissioned the hospital in 1856 and the hospital, in the grounds of Royal Victoria Country Park, was eventually opened for treatment in 1863.
The Queen laid a foundation stone during the originally commissioning ceremony, along with a time capsule containing the hospital plans.
A major fire demolished much of the hospital in 1966 but the original plans were unearthed from the remains before being recovered and conserved for history.
Work on the Grade II listed building lasted three years and is now open to the public, showcasing an exhibition about the history of the hospital.
Sophie took a tour of the chapel during her royal engagement before history was recreated when the Countess signed a scroll and placed it inside a time capsule.
Upon arrival, Sophie was greeted by a woman dressed as Queen Victoria which prompted an exchange between the two. The Countess said:
"I don't know if I should curtsy to you?"
Natasha Reneaux, of Forces Radio BFBS, met up with Councillor Roy Perry, Leader of Hampshire County Council, to talk about the royal visit and the restoration, in an interview that can be heard below.
The time capsule will be buried under the original foundation stone of the hospital, as the same laid by Queen Victoria more than 160 years ago.
The 2.5 tonne foundation stone has been on display at the royal Army Medical Museum in Aldershot and will be laid in the exact same spot from where it was taken.
Councillor Roy Perry, leader of Hampshire County Council, speaking of Queen Victoria, said:
“She came back 20 times so it was obviously a very important place for Queen Victoria and troops who needed treatment from the Boer War the First World War and Second World War were treated here over close-on a 100-year period.”
With direct access from the sea, the hospital was ideally placed for troops returning home from foreign wars.
There were two wings with enough beds for 1,000 patients.
Now, the stained glass in the chapel has been painstakingly replaced and matched with the originals, the ceiling has been freshly painted, and even the original pews in the gallery have been refurbished.
Visitors to the revived building will be able to view the newly-painted ceiling and windows from the balcony which had been closed for many years.