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£3.5 Million Restoration Of First Army Hospital's Chapel Completed

The Royal Victoria Hospital at Netley, near Southampton, used to be the largest military hospital in the UK.

The last surviving building of the British Army's first purpose-built military hospital has reopened after a major restoration.

Netley Chapel, near Southampton, is all that remains of the vast Royal Victoria Hospital, which used to be the biggest building in England when it opened in 1863. 

Now thanks to a grant of £3.5m from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Hampshire County Council, the chapel has been restored.

The Royal Victoria Hospital was once a vast army hospital, stretching for hundreds of yards, in all directions. 

It was in created in response to the Crimean War, and went on to treat casualties from the First and Second World Wars.

Queen Victoria commissioned the building in 1856. With direct access from the sea, the hospital was ideally placed for troops returning home from foreign wars. 

Army’s first purpose built hospital
The hospital was as big as a town and was served by its own railway station (Picture: Hampshire County Council).

There were two wings with enough beds for 1,000 patients. 

Most of the buildings were demolished in 1966 after a major fire.

Now visitors to Netley Chapel will be able to visit a free exhibition which tells the story of the hospital.

Lauren Rhodes, Heritage Manager, Royal Victoria Chapel, said: "It was so important for us as a project team that we retained the historic fabric of the building, whilst also telling the story of the history of the site.

"We have so many visitors who come to the park who don't know that there once was the biggest military hospital in the UK on this site."

Hampshire County Councillor Sean Woodward’s grandfather was a patient here in 1924.

He believes that it is vital that the history of this site is preserved. Mr Woodward said:

"It operated over such a long period. You had the 1860s when Queen Victoria took such a great interest and then opened it, all the way through... 

"So there was a very long history, a very long pedigree."

Netley Chapel Royal Victoria Hospital restoration
The chapel now houses a permanent exhibition charting the history of the hospital and those who were treated here.

The stained glass 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. 

The chapel is now open to the public and stands ready to tell all those who visit about Britain’s first purpose-built military hospital.