The Solent

The Solent

[soh-luhnt]
Solent, The, channel, c.30 mi (50 km) long and 3/4 to 5 mi (1.2-8 km) wide, between the Isle of Wight and Hampshire, S England. It serves as an anchorage for ships entering Southampton Water. Yacht races are held there.
Lee-on-the-Solent, often referred to as Lee-on-Solent, is a small seaside town in Hampshire, England about five miles west of Portsmouth. The town is located on the coast of the Solent and forms part of the borough of Gosport. It is primarily a sleepy residential area, with an upsurge of mostly local visitors in summer, but is well known as home to the Royal Naval Air Station HMS Daedalus (previously known as HMS Ariel), and its booming ice cream trade.

History

The town gained its name from the river Lee, a small stream that flows from Peel Common into the Solent, which was originally used to name three hamlets along its length. Two of the hamlets, Lower Lee and Middle Lee, were to become Lee-on-the-Solent, while a third hamlet (known as Upper Lee) was to become Peel Common.

From the 19th century onward, there were attempts to develop Lee-on-the-Solent as a resort. Early impetus came from Charles Edmund Newton Robinson, who persuaded his father, John Charles Robinson, art curator and collector, to fund the buying of land. Over the period 1884 to 1894 the town was established with the setting out of Marine Parade, a pier, railway connection along with a number of impressive red brick villas. The railway service was discontinued in the 1930s and the pier, unrepaired after breaching in aid of coastal defence in World War II, was demolished in 1958.

In 1935 the Lee Tower complex was built on the seafront next to the old pier and railway station. It was designed by architects Yates, Cook & Derbyshire, and comprised a white v-shaped Art Deco building with a 120-foot tower. The complex housed a cinema, ballroom and restaurant, as well as a viewing platform at the tower's peak. The complex was demolished in 1971 by Gosport Council, with its land is now used for the promenade and remembrance gardens.

Lee-on-the Solent has had a long association with flying. Seaplane trials took place at Lee-on-the-Solent as early as 1915. A base for Seaplane training was established in 1917 on the current Daedalus site.

Modern times

The Royal Naval Air Station HMS Daedalus has been closed for several years but remains in use for leisure gliding and as the base of a HM Coastguard search and rescue helicopter. The site has now been split up with the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA) and South East England Development Agency (SEEDA) largely owning the land. The airfield area is operated by Hampshire Police on behalf of the MCA.

A Planning Application was Approved in February 2008 for the construction of a Multi-Purpose Driving Test Centre with Motorcycle Manoeuvring Area (MPTC) from the Driving Standards Agency, inside a part of the Daedalus site. This part of the site has now been acquired by the DSA and is currently under Construction. It is anticipated that the new Driving Test Centre (MPTC) will be ready by September 29th 2008, in time before EC Directive 2000/56/EC comes into force which will require Motorcycle Tests to be conducted from a MPTC.

In 2003 the community of Lee-on-the-Solent received nationwide attention for probably the first time in its 120-year existence for the wrong reason. The government had proposed to house asylum-seekers at the former HMS Daedalus base which forms a large area of the resort. At once, the Daedalus Action Group was formed under the Chairmanship of John Beavis to oppose the scheme with the support of a large number of local residents. After a U turn in Government policy, the Home Office finally decided in February 2004 to abandon the asylum centre plan and the action group celebrated with a rally on the seafront. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the argument, a strong community spirit was evident throughout. Channel 4 produced a fly-on-the-wall Dispatches documentary "Keep them out" in 2004 dealing with both sides of the argument.

In early May 2006 20 unexploded pipe mines were found under HMS Daedalus during runway repairs. 60 feet (20 metres) long, they were left over from 265, packed with a total of 2,400lb of gelignite, planted in World War II to make the airfield unusable in the event of a Nazi invasion. The subsequent removal, thought to be the largest of its kind in peacetime Britain, led to the evacuation of some 900 homes staggered over a 5 week period.

Whilst Lee has a High Street which contains a number of shops it is in gradual decline. The once bustling shopping centre has slowly become mostly a collection of takeaways, charity shops and estate agents, but a number of independent shops still survive. This has come about since the number of retirement homes has drastically increased and the younger population have been pushed away, and many people choose to shop at out-of-town outlets, taking trade away from the High Street. Lee is gradually losing its popularity as a holiday destination. This was not helped by the closure of the Belle Vue Hotel after its planned expansion was halted by local objections, with its subsequent demolition and the building of apartments for the elderly. Which litter lee's seafront.

Large new developments in the 1980s, 1990s, have swelled the population. More recently 1,050 new units have been built at the Cherque Farm area of the town, and further development will take place over the next few years. Elsewhere along Marine Parade, the once jewel of this seaside town, has lost most of the original villas and hotels to developers. Today several original properties remain boarded up awaiting the fate of the developers demolition gangs.

With commanding views of the Solent and across the Isle of Wight, Lee seafront quite rightly used to be packed with families and people enjoying the beach nearly all year round. From Browndown right the way along as far as Hill Head in the west you would be hard pushed to find a spot to sit and enjoy yourself. Lee no longer has the hotels to attract holiday makers as it once did, today's visitors tend to be day trippers. The seafront train has long since gone from the seafront with its station turned into a collection of beach huts, tucked away behind the car park near the location where the Lee Tower used to stand.

Places of interest

The views out to sea from the cliffs at Marine Parade are forever changing and are always interesting. From a vantage point on the grassy banks, it is possible to see shipping movements of large container ships and cruisers into Southampton and Portsmouth, sailing boats, ferries and of course the backdrop of the Isle of Wight.

The seafront on Marine Parade East is where the Club House is situated for the Lee on the Solent Sailing Club LOSSC This friendly and well supported sailing club has commanding views across the Solent where you can enjoy a drink of your choice whilst watching the sun go down over Cowes on the Isle of Wight. The club offers competitive racing with a good selection of Dinghy classes. There are Lasers, Laser 2000s, RS400s and plenty of dinghies for the youngster including Toppers, Optimists and a fair amount of other popular classes.

The club has racing on Saturday and Sunday afternoons from March to October as well as on Tuesday evenings from April through to November. The club house has a well equipped Galley that serves great bar food as well as more traditional meals throughout the week.

At the signal station, where the racing starts and finishes can be found a smaller galley that can provide light snacks and soft drinks for the people involved in racing or training of adults and youngsters at the weekend. It is a RYA accredited Sailing School and is open to visitors and day sailors alike. Boats can be hired if you would like to get on the water during hot summers.

Lee-on-the-Solent is the home to the Hovercraft Museum which houses the world's largest collection of rare Hovercraft including some of the earliest and largest. It can be found on the main road along the seafront and hosts an open day every summer.

Further towards Gosport is the area known as Browndown. It is a former naval firing range and makes an interesting walk in summer. There are many old relics to explore, and it's not unknown to find large jellyfish washed up on the shore. Browndown army camp was the setting for the television series Bad Lads Army. Browndown army camp is also used as a summer activity camp for young cadets from all over the country.

A short walk from the High Street in Lee is the Lee-on-the-Solent Tennis Club (known colloquially as the LOST Club). It is a popular spot with locals and features a small bar, a gym (with squash facilities),six tennis courts and a sports therapist.

Lee is also home to a few pubs such as The Old Ship, The Bun Penny, The Wyvern and The Inn by the Sea. The town was home to a number of good quality pubs, but some have since closed being demolished to make way for housing and retirement developments, noticeably the Belle Vue Hotel, a popular sea front bar, hotel and restaurant and The Swordfish which was located on the border between Lee-on-the-Solent and Hill Head.

References

Bibliography

  1. The book of Gosport by Lesley Burton and Brian Musselwhite

External links

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