The seafront and beach at Lee-on-the-Solent
Lee-on-the-Solent shown within Hampshire
|OS grid reference|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|EU Parliament||South East England|
Lee-on-the-Solent, often referred to as Lee-on-Solent, is a small seaside town in Hampshire, England about five miles (8 km) 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 (renamed as HMS Ariel from 1959 to 1965).
The village gained its name in the 19th century, during attempts to develop the area into a seaside resort. The area had been referenced long before this, referred to as Lee and numerous variations, including Lebritan. Early impetus for the town's development 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 (37 m) 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 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.
The Royal Naval Air Station HMS Daedalus closed in 1996 but Daedalus Airfield itself remains active as a civil airfield. Over 100 aircraft, helicopters, gliders, microlight and motorgliders are operated at what is now the principal HM Coastguard search and rescue helicopter base on the south coast. The airfield has two land-owners, with the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA) and South East England Development Agency (SEEDA) owning the land. The airfield is operated by Britten-Norman on behalf of the MCA. More information about the airfield is available on the website of Lee Flying Association.
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.
In 2003, the community of Lee-on-the-Solent received nationwide attention for probably the first time in its 120-year existence. The government had proposed to house asylum-seekers at the former 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 decided in February 2004 to abandon the asylum centre plan and the action group celebrated with a rally on the seafront. 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 Canadian 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 2,400 lb of gelignite, planted in World War II to make the airfield unusable in the event of an enemy 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 five-week period.
The town still retains a lively shopping centre, with a varied selection of independent shops and restaurants. Lee is gradually losing its popularity as a traditional holiday destination, but is a popular destination for jet-skiers and kite surfers.
Large new developments in the 1980s and 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 seafront of this seaside town, has lost most of the original villas and hotels to developers.
A new bypass has recently been completed to link up the B3385 and the B3333 and forms a bypass to Lee-on-the-Solent.
With commanding views of the Solent and across the Isle of Wight, Lee seafront 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, it would be difficult to find an isolated spot to sit and enjoy oneself. Lee no longer has the hotels to attract holiday makers as it once did; today's visitors tend to be day trippers coming from the surrounding area and further afield to enjoy sailing, fishing, jet-skiing and kite surfing.
The train has long since gone from the seafront, clearing the coastal cliffs for walking, leisure and parking. The cliffs are interrupted by the former railway station buildings, the war memorial and the seafront bus stop/parking area opposite the end of Pier Street. This is 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.
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. It is a popular spot with locals and features a small bar, a gym, six squash courts (two glass-backed), 6 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.
The long-standing Bluebird Cafe remains a popular seafront attraction and is home to the 'large mixed 99' ice-cream and 'mega breakfast'.
Lee-on-the-Solent, like many towns & cities along the south coast, has a milder climate than the rest of the UK, though it is slightly cooler than the nearby city of Portsmouth. The record high temperature is 31.7 °C (89 °F) in August 2003 & record low is −9.2 °C (15 °F) in January 1987 
Lee-on-the-Solent has a Met Office weather station situated at the MRSC base.
|Climate data for Solent MRSC 1980-2010|
|Average high °C (°F)||8.2
|Average low °C (°F)||3.4
|Precipitation mm (inches)||68.8
|Avg. rainy days||11.6||9.6||8.3||8.3||7.1||6.9||7.0||7.3||8.7||10.5||11.2||12.2||108.7|
|Source: UK Met Office |
- Saxton's Hampshire 1575
- Notes about old maps of the county of Hampshire, Jean and Martin Norgate, 1996-2006
- Local information, The Book Shop, Lee-on-the-Solent
- Portsmouth, Alan H. Balfour, Peter Hollins, Geoffrey Broadbent, Studio Vista, 1970
- Historical tour, Discover Gosport
- Dispatches - Keep Them Out Channel 4 TV
- "Bomb clearance moves into final stage". Hampshire Chronicle. 20 October 2006. Retrieved 30 September 2010.
- Gosport Local Plan, Chapter 5 - Housing
- UK Clima Solent MRSC
- The Book of Gosport by Lesley Burton and Brian Musselwhite
- The Story of Lee-on-the-Solent by Ron Brown
- World Gazeteer entry
- Lee-on-the-Solent, old photos, Gosport.info
- Hovercraft museum website
- Lee Flying Association (LFA)
- Lee-on-the-Solent Residents' Association (LoSRA)
- Lee-on-the-Solent Community Website, for profit website
- What's on around Lee-on-the-Solent, events, weather, tide, photos, for sale