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Netley Castle, Hampshire, UK

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Netley Castle, Hampshire, UK.

Netley Castle was originally one of three castles built on the order of King Henry VIII to defend Southampton Water from an imminent French attack. Unlike the other two, Calshot Castle and St Andrews Castle1, Netley Castle was extensively remodelled in the 19th Century to create an attractive, gothic castle visible from Southampton Water, though all but burying the remains of the original castle. Sadly, Netley Castle is not open to the public but is being developed into flats.


When King Henry VIII left the Catholic church in 1538, traditional enemies Francis I, King of France, and the Emperor Charles V of Spain made peace with each other and were encouraged by Pope Paul III to invade England. In response, Henry began a national building programme of castles to defend England from invasion.

The area around the Isle of Wight and the Solent were of special concern to Henry2. Portsmouth held Britain's first drydock and the Royal Navy base, and the Isle of Wight could be used to land a large invading army in preparation for a sustained invasion of the mainland.

Southampton, England's third largest port and a rich prize in itself, was defended only by its mediæval castle and town walls. These were now outdated and an inadequate defence against ships armed with cannon. To protect Southampton from an attacking fleet, three coastal castles armed with cannon were ordered to be constructed. The main castle was Calshot Castle, built on the western shore at the end of Calshot Spit, where Southampton Water meets the Solent. This was supported by smaller artillery castles St Andrew's Castle, built at the mouth of the river Hamble, and Netley Castle. Netley Castle was built just as castles were beginning to turn into forts and was constructed halfway between where the rivers Itchen and Hamble join Southampton Water, on the Eastern Shore opposite the town of Hythe.

In addition to these three, other castles were built at Hurst and Southsea in Hampshire and Yarmouth, East Cowes, Cowes3 and Sandown on the Isle of Wight.

An enemy fleet of 50 French galleys had sailed up Southampton Water and attacked the port of Southampton on the morning of Sunday 4 October, 1338.

Netley Abbey

Between 1239 and the late 1530s, the area of Netley was dominated by Netley Abbey4. In early 1536, under the Dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries Act, all small monasteries were dissolved. Netley Abbey, a small abbey, was closed and its monks briefly relocated to nearby Beaulieu Abbey5.

In 1537, Netley Abbey's land, including some granges in the nearby area at Hound, was granted to Sir William Paulet on condition that he construct a castle on the site, to be garrisoned by one captain, two soldiers, six gunners and a porter. This, Netley Castle, was built between 1540 and 1542.

Netley Castle

In order to save time and money on constructing the castle, the abbey gatehouse, which faced the sea, was adapted into the centre of the castle, with the stones of the abbey used to construct the rest of the castle. The castle was a small single-storey building with three arched gun embrasures in the central rectangular block that had been adapted from the gatehouse, and a crenellated gun parapet on the roof above. Two smaller gun batteries were constructed, one on either side of this central block.

Netley Castle was located close to the shore of Southampton Water, and armed with cannon known as sakers, a three-inch calibre weapon, as well as culverines, a five and half-inch calibre cannon. A description in 1547 describes the castle with the words,

... a stone tower or fortress and two barbicans, for defence of the Realm.

There are conflicting reports on whether the castle had a moat. Many coastal castles built in this period did indeed have moats; it is now believed, however, that there was no need for a dedicated moat for Netley Castle. The abbey had fishing ponds and streams in the area where the castle was built, and these may well have been mistaken for a moat. Cistercian monks often constructed watercourses around their abbeys to supply clean water as well as provide drainage, and had at Netley built an extensive water network.

The Paulets

Sir William Paulet, the man who constructed Netley Castle, was one of the most powerful men from King Henry VIII's reign until his death in 1572. He was born some time between 1474 and 1485. By 1532, he had become Comptroller of the Royal Household6. In 1536, he helped muster men for the king to combat the Pilgrimage of Grace, and was also one of the men to judge Anne Boleyn. He became Treasurer of the Royal Household in 1538, Knight of the Garter in 1540, Governor of Portsmouth in 1543, Earl of Wiltshire and Lord Treasurer in 1550 and Marquis of Winchester in 1551. He was one of the 18 executors of Henry's will and one of the Council of Regents appointed to act in young Edward VI's regency.

Sir William constructed one of the finest houses of its day, Basing House, at Basingstoke. It was there that he entertained Queen Mary and Philip the day after their wedding at Winchester Cathedral. Having such a grand house, he rarely visited Netley Castle, which was little more than an artillery fort guarding the river. Although the Paulet family owned the castle, it was looked after and commanded by a series of captains; the Paulet family, however, had the right to inherit the title of Captain of Netley Castle should they so choose.

In 1572, William's son Sir John Paulet, Lord Lieutenant of Dorset and Governor of the Isle of Wight, became the 2nd Marquis of Winchester as well as inheriting Netley Castle, which he sold to Edward Seymour. Sir John's son, another William Paulet, High Sheriff of Hampshire, Joint Lord Lieutenant of Dorset became the 3rd Marquis of Winchester in 1576. William's son, yet another William, the 4th Marquis, inherited in 1598 and, having financial difficulty, sold more land surrounding Netley Castle to Edward Seymour in 1602. His son, another John and the 5th Marquis, had the use of the inherited title Captain of Netley Castle for one year in 1601-1602 before this too was sold. At this stage, the Paulets' connection with Netley ended. John Paulet would later hold Basing House as a Royalist stronghold in the English Civil War and would face a siege between August 1643 and October 1645, after which Basing House was completely destroyed.

Sir Henry Ughtred – Pirate Captain of Netley Castle

One of the first captains of Netley Castle was Sir Henry Ughtred7, the son-in-law of Sir John Paulet, the 2nd Marquis of Winchester. He became Captain of Netley Castle most likely at some point in the late 1570s before Sir John Paulet died in 1576. Ughtred was the executor of Sir John's estate, but did not get on with his brother-in-law William Paulet, who in 1576 accused him of the maladministration of Sir John's estate in court. William Paulet had Ughtred sent to Fleet Prison for this in 1583 and brought up this dispute in the House of Lords in 1585, where Ughtred was forced to testify and give evidence about his actions during the executorship.

In 1580, Ughtred built a 500-ton ship with a crew of 150 named the Galleon Ughtred. In 1582, this ship was accused of raiding Portuguese ships off the Avalon Peninsula in Newfoundland, as well as attacking twenty Spanish ships off Newfoundland in what is believed to be the first recorded acts of piracy in that area8.

During his time as Captain of Netley Castle, Ughtred invested his money in purchasing land in Ireland confiscated from a wealthy family that had rebelled against the crown. Between 1586 and 1597, Ughtred was accused of purchasing land that had not been confiscated. This created a complicated lawsuit. In 1596, William Paulet convinced the Privy Council to dismiss Sir Henry from his position as Captain of Netley Castle on the grounds that he was neglecting his duty as Captain through absence, as he was spending all his time in Ireland resolving the issue.

Shortly after Henry Ughtred was evicted, the Marquis of Winchester and the Earl of Hertford began a short-lived disagreement. Some of the weapons at Netley Castle were in fact owned by the Earl of Hertford. The Earl had lent Ughtred the weapons as he had nowhere to store them, and now wanted them returned, whereas William Paulet considered them part of Netley Castle's arsenal.

The Seymours

Netley Castle and the neighbouring abbey ruins were sold to Edward Seymour, Baron Beauchamp and Earl of Hertford. Edward Seymour promptly converted some of the attractive abbey remains into a luxurious house, and even entertained Queen Elizabeth there in 1560. This is recorded in the register of St Michael's Church, Southampton:

The Queen's Majesty's Grace came from the Castle at Netley to Southampton the XII day of August.

A stained glass window commemorating Elizabeth's visit was later commissioned by Colonel Crichton, owner of Netley Castle 1881-1922, and still is at the castle.

Despite being in the Queen's favour in 1560, a year later Edward Seymour was to fall from it. In England it had been illegal to marry a member of the royal family without the monarch's consent since the reign of Henry VI, and since 1536 it was treason. Yet in 1561 Edward Seymour secretly married Lady Catherine Grey, sister of Queen Jane9 and great-granddaughter of Henry VII. When Catherine became pregnant, this marriage was discovered and Queen Elizabeth ordered them both to be taken to the Tower of London. There, Catherine gave birth to two children, although Queen Elizabeth declared the marriage of Catherine and Edward void. In 1567, Catherine died in the Tower and Edward was released, until he petitioned Elizabeth to posthumously revalidate his marriage, whereupon Elizabeth again had him arrested and Edward returned to imprisonment in the Tower. Edward would later die in Salisbury in 1626, where he is buried next to his beloved Catherine.

On Edward's death, his grandson William Seymour inherited Netley Castle and became the 1st Marquis and 2nd Earl of Hertford. He had lived a similar life to his grandfather before inheriting the title. In 1610 he too married secretly and was imprisoned in the Tower by James I while his wife, Arabella, was initially sent under house arrest to Lambeth until her attempt to escape disguised as a man failed and she was sent to the Tower, where she died. On her death, he was released. He remarried in 1618 and in 1626 inherited Netley Castle. At this stage the castle, although less than one hundred years old, was considered to be unnecessary and in 1627 it was decommissioned. Despite his experience of being arrested for the crime of marrying, William Seymour remained a fierce Royalist during the English Civil War.

The English Civil War

Netley Castle's last active captain before it was decommissioned was Captain Smith, who defended the castle with the assistance of two soldiers, six gunners and a porter until 1627, just as had been originally intended. After decommissioning, the castle was apparently used as a storehouse, especially for the storage of coal.

When the Civil War erupted in August 1642, Netley Castle was initially in Royalist hands until December 1642, when Captain Richard Swanley of HMS Charles10 captured Calshot Castle and disabled both Netley Castle and St Andrew's Castle. The cannon from Netley and St Andrew's castles were removed and were used to threaten Southampton, unless the city surrendered and pledged its allegiance to Parliament. Netley Castle was used to blockade Southampton and prevent supplies from Hythe and the Isle of Wight from reaching it. The city quickly surrendered to Parliament and stayed in Parliamentary hands throughout the war. When a Royalist army under Lord Hopkins marched in 1643 to recapture Southampton, Colonel Richard Norton was placed in charge of the Parliamentary army defending the port. One of his first acts was to appropriate all supplies stored in Netley Castle, and St Andrew's Castle was demolished to prevent its use by Royalist forces.

Netley Castle was briefly restored to fighting order to defend Southampton from an attack by Prince Charles, yet after the Civil War had ended it too was partly demolished to prevent its use as a military base, although it was not completely destroyed.

The Picturesque Ruin

During the 18th Century, Netley Castle remained a picturesque ruin next to the even more picturesque ruin of Netley Abbey. It became fashionable for visitors to the spa town of Southampton to visit these ruins on excursions down the river. The castle and abbey ruins were considered a single attraction, and descriptions of both were often interlinked. Among the visitors was famous poet Alexander Pope11, who in 1734 wrote:

When we came to the shore, we were both struck by the beauty of it, a rising Hill very steeply hung with Woods, that fell quite into the water, and at the Edge of the Sea a very old min'd Castle. We were very hungry, but the aspects of the Towers, and the high crumbling battlements, overgrown with Ivy, with a square room in the middle out of which three large arches you saw the Main Sea, and all the winding of the coasts on the side next to us, provoked us first to look in, in order to chuse the best place to dine in.

Twenty one years later in September 1755, Horace Walpole12 described his visit to Netley Castle and Abbey with the words:

But how shall I describe Netley to you? I can only, but telling you it is the spot in the world for which Mr Chute13 and I wish. The ruins are vast... 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.

Private Residence

This picturesque ruin was not to last. By the mid-18th Century, Netley Castle had been purchased by Thomas Lee Dummer, MP for Newport Isle of Wight in 1747, 1754 and 1761. On his death in 1765, his son Thomas inherited. He used some of the stonework from Netley Abbey to create a grotto at his main residence, Cranbury House. When Thomas Dummer died in 1781, his widow, Harriet, inherited Netley Castle and Abbey. She married again in 1790 but died a childless widow in 1825. Thomas Dummer's will stipulated that on Harriet's death his friend William Chamberlayne should inherit – but Chamberlayne had already died, so the ruins went to his son, also called William Chamberlayne, in 1825. In 1827, local architect George Draper, who had built the Southampton Swimming Baths14, was commissioned to design and build a gothic tower attached to the castle. This is the main octagonal tower, attached to which is a smaller octagonal spiral staircase tower leading to the roof.

By 1829, a Southampton guide book described the castle with the words:

On the shore, at a small distance from the abbey, stands a fort, or small castle, in a dilapidated state; which appears to have been erected by Henry VIII at the time of his building Cowes and Hurst castles. There is nothing very remarkable in its construction. An elegant modern-antique tower has been lately erected in this fort by Mr Chamberlayne.

In 1829, William died and his cousin Thomas Chamberlayne, Sheriff of Southampton, inherited Netley Castle. He was uninterested in it and leased it first to George Hunt in 1841, for £82 a year. From 1868, the castle was leased by George William Sherriff, who purchased it outright in 1873.

In the 1851 The Strangers Guide And Pleasure Visitor's Companion to Netley Abbey (Third Edition), Phillip Brannon wrote:

The fort being at present the residence of a private gentleman is not, of course, open to the public, but is so happily situated as to be clear to the view, and form a delightful picture from all points. It was originally only a sort of platform for a small battery, with a vaulted magazine.

By 1857 an upper storey was built on the castle, with the crenels, the spaces between the castle's merlons, adapted into forming windows in the new floor, while the castle and grounds were transformed into a desirable residence.

In 1876 George Sherriff leased the castle out to the Honourable Elliot Yorke, third son of the Earl of Hardwicke, and Annie Rothschild, daughter of the famous banker the Baronet Rothschild, for £550 for a five-year rent. In 1881 George Sherriff died, and Netley Castle was put up for sale.

Castle for Sale

In April 1881, Netley Castle was advertised with the words:

Netley Castle, near Southampton – A most charming Residential Estate, possessing all the essentials of a country seat... in all respects suitable for a family of position, situate about 2½ miles from Southampton... The castle stands on the site of an old fort, erected by Henry VIII, the old and massive walls being retained in the present building, which of late years has been substantially restored throughout and added to at considerable cost to meet the present dictates of comfort and refinement...
It contains an octagonal shaped entrance hall, with vestibule adjoining, dining room, library, billiard room, lady's boudoir, a handsome polished-oak winged staircase ascends to the upper floor, on which are two elegant drawing rooms communicating and commanding lovely views from the windows, which open on to a stone-terraced walk, forming part of the old embattlements; six principal bedrooms, two dressing rooms and a bath room, four secondary bedrooms...
The pleasure grounds are exquisitely disposed, with sloping and sequestered lawns adorned with parterres for flowers, terraced and shaded walks, tennis ground, plantations of rare flowering shrubs, ornamental trees of mature growth, a rosary, fountain and fishpond, with spacious winged conservatory... tropical plant houses, ornamental boat house... walled in kitchen gardens and orchard... excellent stabling for eight horses, spacious coach house and harness room... two rich paddocks and arable field.
The property lies very compact, the whole embracing an area of about 27 acres. Being on the mainland it is easily accessible to the metropolis and all parts of the provinces.

Curiously, the valuers that Henry Crichton, the man who bought the castle, employed to describe it had a slightly different report:

Generally the property is attractive and such as might tempt some purchasers to pay a high price, but having regard to the fact that after all the Residence is a very small one... we are of opinion that any price over £15,000 would be a fancy one... The residence hardly affords accommodation for a family of any size as an all-the-year-round abode.

Sir Henry Crichton

Despite the warning that this was a very small property, having only six bedrooms, two drawing rooms, library, boudoir, billiard room, dining room, tennis court, fountains, stable for eight horses etc, Major Crichton bought the castle.

On moving to Netley Castle, Henry Crichton assumed command of the Hampshire Yeomanry between 1884 and 1894. From 1894 to 1909, he was Brigadier General of the Hampshire Infantry Brigade. In 1911 he was knighted and during the Great War he formed and commanded the Portsmouth Volunteer Infantry Brigade, a volunteer militia movement. Crichton was a good friend of Lord Baden-Powell15, who spent his honeymoon at Netley Castle in 1912.

Crichton substantially added to the castle during his life there. Alterations not only included the stained-glass window of Elizabeth I but adding a third storey and a new wing to the castle, heightening the tower and transforming the interior quite considerably. Many of the oak planks used as floorboards were from HMS Lord Warden, the Royal Navy's heaviest ever wooden warship, which was decommissioned in 1889.

Sir Henry Crichton died in May 1922. His second wife, Lady Emma Crichton, lived in the castle until she died in 1936.

Netley Castle Convalescent Home

In 1939 Middlesex County Council purchased the castle, as a convalescent home for men leaving hospitals in London. Convalescent Homes were intended to help wounded no longer in need of hospital treatment recover and regain their fitness. The castle was easily adapted for its new role, with new toilets and bathrooms constructed. Since Henry Crichton had extended the castle, 25 bedrooms for patients were created in the castle, some by dividing existing rooms into two or more.

On the outbreak of the Second World War, Netley Castle was instead used as a convalescent home for the elderly already stationed in other homes in Hampshire. This was to provide space in these other homes for wounded servicemen16.

In early 1945, the castle was opened as Middlesex's convalescent home, with patients coming from all over Middlesex to recover, normally for between two and six week periods. By the end of 1946, it became part of the Southampton Area Health Authority. Initially patients from Middlesex were still accepted in addition to patients undergoing radiotherapy treatment at the Royal South Hants Hospital in Southampton. This was gradually changed so that cancer patients from the Isle of Wight and Channel Islands undergoing treatment in the Wessex Radiotherapy Centre in the Royal South Hants Hospital soon dominated the castle, with patients from the Isle of Wight often making the majority of the patient population. These patients were unable to commute to the hospital on a daily basis, and so staying at Netley Castle was a convenient alternative. A special delivery of the Isle of Wight County Press newspaper was arranged to help them feel at home.

During this time, from 1950 to the late 1990s, the Netley Castle Convalescent Home faced several financial crises. Of the 27 acres of land that surrounded the castle, all but three acres was sold off. Funds were frequently raised to try to keep the convalescent home going, especially by the people of Jersey during the 1980s. In 1986, the Wessex Cancer Trust donated £10,000 and the League of Friends of the Royal South Hants Hospital donated £5,000 to keep the Convalescent Home running until the end of the decade.

By the mid 1990s, it became evident that the castle needed a vast amount of money spent on repairs, especially when subsidence seriously affected the tower. It was felt that the facilities, especially bathroom fixtures and heating, were antiquated. The castle did not have en-suite rooms available or even single bedrooms. As a Grade II* Listed Building and Scheduled Ancient Monument, the castle was not able to be easily adapted. This was when the castle's basic annual running cost was over £420,000 to maintain the standard that it was at, and there was not any money available to spend on the improvements it desperately needed.

After the 1998 Christmas Party, Netley Castle was closed and its last patients left, with accommodation now to be provided in a private health company's facility in the heart of Southampton city centre called Wilton Manor Nursing Centre. This was despite the Wessex Cancer Trust discovering that 90% of patients preferred Netley Castle17. Wilton Manor boasted en-suite rooms with easy access for those with mobility problems.

Netley Castle Now

In 1999, Netley Castle was advertised as for sale for £350,000 but sold in June 2000 for over £800,000. A development company bought it and converted it into flats. They also added a new four-storey wing.

The castle is therefore sadly closed to the public, but is visible from Southampton Water. Neighbouring Netley Abbey and its picturesque ruins, however, are owned by English Heritage and are open to the public. National Cycle Route 2 passes close to both Netley Castle and Abbey.

Other Castles Nearby:

Other Historic Sites in the Southampton Area:

1Also known as Hamble Castle or St Andrew's Point Castle.2This can be shown in the way that Henry VIII himself designed Southsea Castle, near Portsmouth.3Also known as West Cowes.4Also known as the Abbey of Edwardstow or Letley Abbey.5After the armed opposition to the closure of small abbeys known as the Pilgrimage of Grace, Henry VIII decided to close the larger abbeys also. Beaulieu Abbey closed in 1538.6Comptroller is not a spelling error for Controller - this word is the title of a person overseeing finances.7Also known as Sir Henry Oughtred.8By the end of 1582 this ship was sold to the Earl of Leicester and renamed, first to Bear and then to Galleon Leicester. She sailed with Sir Francis Drake in 1585-6 and opposed the Spanish Armada in 1588.9Often referred to as Lady Jane Grey, the nine-day queen.10Her Majesty's Ship Charles was perhaps a strange name for a vessel fighting against royalty and King Charles, but sailors considered it unlucky to rename a ship. In 1649 Parliament, ignoring this baseless superstition, had the Charles renamed Liberty. It promptly sank in 1650.11An 18th-Century English Catholic poet.12Horace Walpole (1717–1797) was the son of Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole. He was an MP, novelist and historian. By a happy accident he invented the word 'serendipity'.13Architect John Chute (1701–1776) was one of Horace Walpole's closest friends after they met in 1739, and one of the 'Committee of Taste' that designed Walpole's home, Strawberry Hill House.14Built in 1826, these no longer exist.15Robert Baden-Powell, Brigade Secretary of the Boys' Brigade in 1903-1907, is famous for deciding to form his own splinter group of the Boys' Brigade, the Boy Scouts. This was done when he took Boy Scouts camping on Brownsea Island with the help of members of the Boys' Brigade in 1907.16During wartime, convalescent homes were intended to be away from the front line to allow a full recovery, but also away from the servicemen's homes. It was believed that wounded sent to their homes took longer to recover and return to the front line.17Curiously, recovering patients enjoyed the peace and quiet of the castle's rural setting and the views of the ships and yachts on Southampton Water, in addition to the wildlife in the surrounding woods, more than the hustle and bustle of being near the pubs, clubs and loud nightlife of Southampton city centre.

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