When travelling down Southampton Water from Southampton, there are many historical sites that will catch the eye on both the east and western shores. One of the most prominent buildings on the eastern shore is the grey castellated structure of Netley Castle, a fort originally constructed by Henry VIII in 1542 as part of his Solent defences. The Castle – garrisoned until 1627 – is often mistaken for Netley Abbey, which is slightly inland and cannot be viewed from the water. Henry VIII had dissolved the abbey in 1536, stone from the abbey being used in the building of the Castle. The abbey became a romantic ruin, well-loved by followers of the Picturesque Movement, including Jane Austen, who often visited.
Further south along the shoreline you can see the great dome of the chapel of the former Royal Victoria Hospital – all that now remains of the first purpose-built hospital, for treating wounded soldiers from the Crimean War. Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone of the hospital in 1856, burying a Crimean Medal and prototype Victoria Cross beneath. It is said that a major error in construction of the hospital occurred, and that the wards along the ¼ mile long corridors were made to face the sunless north. The wards were still in use during World War II, with reports of Americans driving jeeps along the hospital corridors. Vandals set fire to the hospital in 1963, after which the main building was demolished. The site was re-opened as a country park in May 1980, and offers wonderful views across Southampton Water to the New Forest.