6 September 2016
The weather had a decidedly autumnal feel as CJ and I set out on our walk this morning. My weather app said it wouldn’t rain but, as we looked across Chessel Bay from the bottom of the steep steps, the sky said different and I’d left my fancy camera at home just in case. Our aim was Victoria Country Park where I’d read work was going on to restore the chapel. CJ had read an Echo report that the D-Day memorial had been vandalised. The former sounded interesting, the latter disturbing. We wanted to see both for ourselves even if we did get wet.
In Woolston I noticed the new library has opened in Centenary Quay, the huge complex of houses and apartments built on the old Vosper Thorneycroft site. As we passed the door I spotted something glistening beyond the glass. Curious, we went for a closer look and found ourselves face to face with an old friend. Glint, the beautiful mirror mosaic rhino that stood outside the Guildhall back in 2013, was hiding inside. We went in to say hello.
Glint was one of my favourite rhinos so I was glad to see her looking so well. We walked on towards the shore wondering what became of all the others and where the zebras would end up once the trail was over and they were auctioned off.
Soon we’d reached the wide grassy area at the beginning of the shore where the kite skateboards can sometimes be found. There were none today but I’d recently discovered some interesting information about the area from Commando, no less. We’d been talking about his cycle ride and he mentioned going as far as the grassy area on the shore. When I said the area was called Rolling Mills but I didn’t know why, he quite casually said, “that was the factory where they used to roll the brass strip for shell cases. We used to play down there when I was young.”
These days Rolling Mills is a wide expanse of undulating grass with wave benches along the edge of the path. Further research told me the factory was built between 1916 and 1917 by the Ministery of Munitions as a steel rolling mill and was, as Commando said, used to roll the brass for shell cases. It was built directly behind Weston Grove House on land owned by Mr. Tankerville Chamberlayne and must have spoiled their view somewhat. During the Second World War, it was used as a Royal Navy Supply Depot. This closed in December 1985 and the factory was finally was demolished. I think I like it better as it is today.
CJ and I carried on along the shore talking about all the local knowledge people had without realising it wasn’t common knowledge.
“Once Dad mentioned the old Rolling Mills, I did have a vague recollection that there had been a Naval Stores there but I’d never had any idea of its history,” I said.
We walked on, wondering what other things Commando might know about the area. Near the beach shelters the dog roses were fluttering in the strong breeze, reminding me of many other late summer walks along the promenade.
When we reached the car park by Abbey Hill the ice cream van was in its usual place and we stopped to treat ourselves to a 99 with a flake even though it wasn’t really ice cream weather. We took our ice creams to my favourite bench and enjoyed them, along with the views over Southampton Water.
Once the ice creams were finished we set off again along the shore path beside the stream and across the little bridge. Soon we were passing the place where I discovered the first ever boundary stone but something was wrong, I couldn’tsee the stone at all. For a moment I thought I might have been mistaken about its position and we walked back and forth staring at the undergrowth for a while. This seems to be becoming a habit with us at the moment. Then CJ spotted it, right where I’d thought it was but completely covered by nettles and weeds.
“We’d better clear off the weeds so other people can find it,” CJ said, setting to work sweeping away the nettles with his boot and tramping them down.
It seemed a good idea so I joined in. My phone was still in my hand from taking the photo of it all covered over and I accidentally took an action shot of our efforts. It may not be the best picture in the world but it captures our sweeping and tramping very well.
When the stone was once again visible from the path I took a picture of CJ looking quite pleased with himself. It seems a little ironic that these stones were placed on the new boundaries of the city so dignitaries would perform the annual beating of the bounds ceremony yet they are almost all so covered with vegetation as to be invisible. The council and the dignitaries don’t seem to be doing a very good job and I have to wonder if they even know where these stones are. If they do I wish they’d clean off the ones at Cutthorn Mound and Golf Course Road so we have a chance of finding them.
With the bounds well and truly beaten, at least along the shore path, we carried on past West Lodge and the sailing club. The sky looked grey enough to make us scoot along at a fast pace. Getting caught in the rain along the shore is not fun and I wasn’t keen to experience it again today, especially as neither of us had a coat.
Beyond the sailing club we got a pleasant surprise. The sea wall, smashed down by the storms in early 2014, has finally been rebuilt, or at least some of it has. The section by the sailing club is still unrepaired but the new wall has been very well built, so much so it’s hard to see the join. The only clue that the storms ever happened is the large pile of rubble, presumably waiting to be used on the rest of the wall at some me point.
The yellow toadflax that has colonised the wall a little further along, in front of Netley Castle, is flowering now. There was a quick stop to take a photograph and then we marched on towards Netley. Before long we were at the gates of Royal Victoria Country Park. If anything the sky looked even darker but at least here we had shelter from the trees lining the shore and a cafe to sit in if need be.
As we’d not long had an ice cream and I had two little cartons of iced coffee in my bag, we didn’t head for the cafe. Instead we climbed over the low fence I sat on a while back when I was marshalling the Spitfire’s five mile race and headed off across the grass. In the distance the top of the chapel was just visible above the tree line.
As we headed towards the chapel a bench on the far side of the field caught my eye. A bunch of sunflowers were tied to it and I could see a small, pink watering can and something else I couldn’t quite make out. The benches in the park are almost all memorial benches and curiosity made us change direction to get a closer look at this one. The sunflowers that had caught my eye had smaller companions on the seat and a small heart shaped decoration made from circles of wood with sprigs of lavender. There was also at pot of flowers at the opposite end of the bench to the watering can. Perhaps the man the bench was dedicated to was a gardener? Beneath the bench pine cone were strewn along with some painted stones. I especially like the painted stones and told CJ he could make me some when I needed a memorial. He said he was taking notes.
Leaving the bench behind we made our way through the trees onto the field where the Royal Victoria Hospital once stood. Right away we could see something was going on at the chapel, there were hoardings around it and they had writing on them. As we got closer I realised they said Bringing Alive Netley Hospital.
From what I’d already read and the information on the hoardings I gathered a lottery grant has been given to restore the chapel and improve the park. I’d heard the 1980 extension at the building entrance was to be removed but, from our side of the hoardings, We couldn’t really see if this had happened yet. There is also going to be a new pavilion built beside the chapel with a kiosk, toilets and information points around the park about the hospital that was once here.
Slowly we walked around the building hoping for a peek at the works. In the end, the best we could do was look through slim gaps between hoardings. It wasn’t ideal but it did tell me the new entrance was gone.
“Where’s the poppy sculpture?” CJ asked as he too peeped through the gaps. He was right, the lovely metal poppy sculpture I’ve admired since it appeared has disappeared. Hopefully it’s somewhere in safe keeping and will go back once the work is done. It would be a terrible shame if it didn’t.
We both agreed we were looking forward to the work being completed some time next year and that we would have to visit then. As we walked towards the shore CJ said, “I like the idea of climbing the tower.”
Soon the water and the D-Day memorial were in sight. The Echo article had made it sound as if the memorial had been all but destroyed but, as we approached, it looked led just fine and dandy. This was a great relief.
An up close view revealed a few scratches on the broken arch of slate but nothing that I don’t remember seeing last time I was there. For the most part I think these are chips from stones, possibly blown about from the shore below. There are a couple of places where people have scratched their initials and, while this is disappointing, it’s hardly worthy of a whole one page newspaper article, especially as these are not recent marks and could easily be polished out.
“I’m pleased it’s not as bad as I thought,” CJ said, “but I’d still like to get my hands on the idiots that did it.”
“I’m pretty sure they didn’t really realise what they were doing,” I said. “It was probably kids who have no idea what the stone signifies or the history it remembers.”
“I don’t understand why the Echo made so much of it,” CJ said.
“I doubt very much that they even bothered to come down and have a look. A lot of journalists are basically lazy. If someone tells them a story they write it.”
“Maybe they should do their research, like you do Mum.”
“That would entail them walking through the park CJ. That’s probably far too much like hard work.”
By the time we’d finished examining the memorial, the bench on the sea front was empty so we sat for a while, drinking our iced coffees and watching the waves rolling onto the shingle. We still had the long walk home but we’d learned a lot on our journey so far. There are still rhinos to be seen if you know where to look. Sometimes people know more about local history than you realise. The city bounds are not beaten nearly as well as I thought they were. Work has begun on the chapel restoration and the local journalists need to get out and about more before they put pen to paper.
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