Spike Island: The Memory of a Military Hospital

Philip Hoare

It was the biggest hospital ever built. Stretching for a quarter of a mile along the banks of Southampton Water, the Royal Victoria Military Hospital at Netley was an expression of Victorian imperialism in a million red bricks, a sprawling behemoth so vast that when the Americans took it over in World War II, GIs drove their jeeps down its corridors. Born out of the bloody mess of the Crimean War, it would see the first women serving in the military, trained by Florence Nightingale; the first vaccine for typhoid; and the first purpos- built military asylum. Here Wilfred Owen would be brought along with countless other shell-shocked victims of World War I – captured on film, their tremulous ghosts still haunted the asylum a generation later. In Spike Island, Philip Hoare has written a biography of a building. In the process he deals with his own past, and his own relationship to its history.

Reviews of Spike Island: The Memory of a Military Hospital

    • ‘“Spike Island” has kept me company these past few days. It is an astonishing book not only for what it contains but also for its synoptic vision and for its wonderful prose style. If 10% of the population read it, the place we live in would be much improved’. W.G.Sebald
    • ‘Philip Hoare’s deeply personal foray into the past is a tour-de-force’.’ Michael Bracewell, Independent on Sunday
    • ‘The story of the Royal Victoria Hospital is a fascinating one, and Mr Hoare’s book extremely valuable.’ Anthony Daniels, Sunday Telegraph
    • ‘Hoare develops a gothic theme that marries glamour with morbidity and runs throughout the work…His literary tones – ghostly, haunting, reminiscent of du Maurier – find their echo is Netley’s grim history…’ Nicola McAllister, Observer