Having previously been known as just Lee and much further back Lebritan, Lee-on-the-Solent gained its current title in the nineteenth century. This name with a focus on the seaside aspect of the town was part of an attempt to rebrand the town as a seaside resort by local man Sir John Robinson who hoped the sleepy settlement could become a rival to other more established resorts such as Bournemouth.
Since the 1880s the landscape of Lee has changed dramatically with piers, towers and railways being significant landmarks at various points in the last 150 years. An essential feature of any Victorian seaside resort worth its salt was a pier and in 1885 work began on a structure that stretched out into the Solent, perfect for gazing over to the Isle of Wight and for the preferred pastime of the age – promenading and in 1894 a railway station was added to the town, a branch line off the Fareham to Gosport line. This station was not very busy though with fishing the only industry that might have utilised the line and by 1935 the station had been closed to both passengers and goods transportation with the majority of track leading up to nearby Elson being removed. Today the former station building remains in place but has a very different use now housing the Olympia Amusement Arcade!
In 1935 an ambitious and impressive structure was constructed in the form of Lee Tower, an impressive feat of inter-war architecture, that aimed to put Lee on the map once again. With its cinema, ballroom, and Palm Court Café and restaurant, Lee Tower was the entertainment hub of the area during the mid-20th century. Unrivalled views across the Solent were offered to visitors who took the luxury passenger lift to the tower’s 120ft apex. These views became invaluable during the war when the complex was requisitioned by the military and used to plan some of D-Day’s Operation Overlord. During this period the tower was painted camouflage to prevent the distinctive landmark being used as a navigational tool by German Luftwaffe. Art deco and imposing, the tower remained a focal point of the village for many years. The dreams of Lee becoming a rival to other resorts such as Bournemouth and Brighton came to a sudden halt in 1971 however, when the entire complex was demolished following a period of decline in which the cinema was closed and had a short-lived run as a ten-pin bowling venue.
During GHODs this September, we have an event called ‘Lee Historic Waterfront Walk’, this will be happening on Saturday 10th, Sunday 11th and Saturday 17th from 10am-12pm. This walk is lead by a knowledgeable local resident and will go into more detail about many historic waterfront features and events that have taken place in Lee over the last 130 years or so. These will include, HMS Daedalus planes, Cowes Week, Browndown Ranges and many more…
THE 2022 PROGRAMME IS OUT NOW AND BOOKING OPENS ON 20TH AUGUST 2022 AT 9.30AM.
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