"We reach Ventnor from Bonchurch by following the course of the well-wooded road which borders the pond, and, passing some lovely gardens with playing fountain on the one side and Holy Trinity Church on the other, enter the capital of the Undercliff. This is not the best way to get first impressions of Ventnor; it is not the most gratifying to the visitor, and it certainly is not the best for the reputation of the town itself. ‘We would advise the visitor to enter by railway if convenient, or by one of the pleasure steamers which arrive alongside the pier. From the sea Ventnor is a panorama not readily to be equalled. The noble St. Boniface Down, upon the southern slopes of which Ventnor has been built, with its houses clinging to the sides of the hill and irregularly arranged tier upon tier, forms a grand background, while in the immediate foreground the undulated cliff face, the long stretch of the wooded undercliff, and the general appearance of the whole, make Ventnor peculiarly beautiful. First impressions to the visitor from the railway station are of a somewhat different character. The town is seen at his feet, and the sensation of descent among the trees is to many specially interesting.
Ventnor is 12 miles from Ryde by train and not much nearer as the crow would fly. It is a young town, for fifty or sixty years ago there were but few houses in the place, and those chiefly belonged to fishermen and could not pretend to a more ambitious name than huts.
Ventnor has acquired deserved fame as a sanatorium.
Those who have made its climate a special study tell us that the average temperature at Ventnor and the Undercliff is seven degrees cooler hi the summer arid the same number of degrees warmer ii the winter than in any other town or district in Great Britain, and it is also asserted that the hours of bright sunshine at Ventnor exceed the record usually made at Kew.
Sir James Clark, speaking of the Undercliff, said : “It would be difficult to find in any northern county a district of equal extent and variety of surface, and, it may be added, of equal beauty in point of scenery, so completely screened from the cutting north-east winds of spring on the one hand, and from the boisterous southerly gales of autumn and winter on the other.” It is, perhaps, largely owing to the splendid report made by Sir John Clark, who visited Ventnor in 1836,that the town has risen into such popularity. Physicians accepted the eminent doctor’s recommendation, and sent their patients to Ventnor, and in a short time the healthy reasoned, not unnaturally, that if Ventnor air restores from sickness it can keep in health those who need no physician. Gentlemen adopted it as their home, and erected handsome residences, visitors flocked into the place and needed accommodation, and the fishing village grew into a respectable town. Until the railway on the 10th September, 1866, connected it with Ryde the means of approach consisted of coaching, hut when the Isle of Wight Railway placed Ventnor in touch with the Metropolis the place increased in area, importance, and popularity by leaps and bounds.
In 1844 Town Commissioners were appointed, and under their government the town was drained. It is now under the government of a Local Board of 18 members, the 1858 Act having been adopted in 1866. The town is supplied with gas and water. About 1854 a pier was erected, but the rough seas demolished it. Another was constructed in 1871 or 1872; but one stormy day in November, 1881, the sea assailed this structure with such fury that its head was lifted out of its hold in the bed of the beach and turned over, the pier deck breaking asunder. Then the waves caught up the liberated baulks of timber and used them for battering rams for the completion of the destruction, representing a loss of about £10,200. The inhabitants were not wholly disheartened by these misfortunes; new shares were issued, and in 18S5 another and more substantial pier was erected. The Local Board, with the consent of the ratepayers, bought the rights of the Pier Company, and completed the structure at a total cost of £16,000. It provides a landing stage round the head for the convenience of steamboat passengers, there is a handsome screened enclosure, and a promenade at the sea end of the structure, and at easy intervals glazed wind screens. The passenger and excursion steamers from Bournemouth, Southampton, Portsmouth, Ryde, and Shanklin call at this pier during the season.
The Esplanade is small, but a very popular resort. There is good bathing accommodation and plenty of boating, while the warm dry sands in front of the Esplanade are a great attraction to children of all ages—from one to a hundred years.
The Parish Church of St. Catherine’s, within a few yards of the Post Office, was erected in 1837, at the expense of the late Mr John Hambrough, of Steephill Castle. It contains nave and western embattled tower, with pinnacles and steeple (the top of which is considerably out of the perpendicular). The structure cost about £4,655, and can seat 850 worshippers.
Holy Trinity Church is situated at the Bonchurch end of the town. It is built of stone in the Early English style, and comprises chancel, aisles, nave of three bays, north and south transepts extending from the chancel, and the edifice is externally adorned with a very pretty tower and steeple, one of the conspicuous landmarks of the Undercllif. The building was erected by the orders and cost of three ladies, the daughters of the late Bishop Percy.
St. Alban’s Church, an iron building, is situated in Upper Ventnor, and happens to be in the parish of Godshill.
The Wesleyan Chapel, in the High Street, was erected in 1860, and is capable of seating 550 worshippers. There are Sunday and day schools attached.
The Congregational Church is a handsome building in the Gothic style of architecture. It contains sittings for 650 worshippers, and there is a spacious hall attached, used for educational and other purposes.
The Bible Christian Chapel, in Victoria street, was erected in 1878, and is a fine building capable of holding 300 people at a public service.
The Baptist community have a chapel in Pier street ; it was built in 1875 and can accommodate 320 people.
In Albert street the Primitive Methodists have a chapel, which can accommodate 120 persons.
The Brethren meet in their room in Tulse Hill, and there is a Mission Hall in St. Catherine street. Ventnor is also a Salvation Army centre, with officers stationed in the town.
The Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady and St. Wilfrid was erected by subscription in 1875, and to it is attached a Benedictine Priory.
Of public buildings for secular uses, the principal is that known by the name of the Assembly Rooms in Albert street. The building was erected in 1877, and the large hall is capable of seating 800 people. Rayner’s Albert Hall, in association with their popular hotel in Victoria street, is spacious and convenient for public or private meetings and entertainments. It was erected in 1888.
The Literary and Scientific Institution building in the High street was erected in 1847. It consists of a large hall and several smaller rooms, in which are the library and accommodation for newspaper and magazine reading. The free library and reading room in the large hall were established in 1887, mainly through the munificence of the late Mr Charles Seely, of Brooke.
The County and Castle Club has its headquarters in a new wing of the Royal Marine Hotel. It was established in 1873, for the purpose of providing a non-political social club for the inhabitants, and this club holds a race meeting at Ashey, near Ryde, once a year.
Ventnor has two newspapers- -the Isle of Wight Advertiser, belonging to Mr F. Moor; and the Isle of Wight Mercury, belonging to Mr. A. Prentice. Both are in the Conservative interest.
We cannot expect all our friends to scale the sides of St. Boniface, down which the patron saint of that name is said to have slid on horseback, making the vow as he found himself going down that if God spared his neck he would erect a church on the spot in acknowledgment of his deliverance. It is not because the scaling of this lofty hill is an impossibility. The writer has done it times and again, and enjoys it as one of the grandest treats in the Isle of Wight. It is really a short cut to Shanklin. Go to the railway station, pass to the back of the booking office, and on the right will be seen a flight of rough wooden steps. Follow that lead, and be sure you do not begin to roll, or we will not venture to say what the consequences would be.
There are other pretty walks about Ventnor.
Perhaps we might quote a paragraph from the Christian World of the 2nd January, 1890: “On a chalk cliff, sloping some hundreds of feet down into the sea, Ventnor stands, guarded from the rude blast of winter, open to the sun, and affording delicate chests at this time of year a relief they can find in few places—at any rate, on this side of the sunny shores of the Mediterranean. Quick trains bear you swiftly to Portsmouth; a steamer performs the journey across Spithead in half-an-hour, and in less than an hour you are at Ventnor, with its gardens still alive with many-coloured flowers, and its evergreens struggling in and out among the white-faced villas, which will have to go on climbing the hill higher and higher if the population continues to increase at the present rate. In 1842 the population of Ventnor was not more than 350. It now numbers 7,000. From the pier, as you look back up the cliff, the town seems most picturesque. You look from one villa to another, you feel how enviable is the lot of those who can leave London with its smoke and fog and care behind, and pass their days looking out on the English Channel and watching the steamers as they glide along slowly and gracefully from afar.”
Letters delivered at 7 and 11 a.m. and at 6.45 p.m.; on Sundays only in the early morning. Dispatched 8.50, 10.0, and 11.30 a.m., 12.30, 3.40, 4.45, and 8 p.m. Sundays 8 p.m. only.
Wall boxes cleared thus: Madeira road receiving office at 8.30, 10.10, 12.10, 4.15, 6.0, 7.20. Sundays 7.10.
Esplanade, East and West, cleared at 7.15, 10.15, 12.15, 4.20, 6.15, 7.20. Sundays 7.20.
Belgrave road, 8.30, 10.20, 12.10, 4.15, 6.10, 7.20. Sundays 7.15.
St. Catherine street, 8.15, 10.15, 12.15, 4.10, 7.20. Sundays 7.15.
Railway Station, 5.0, 10.15, 11.50, 4 10, 6.0, and 7.0. Sundays 6.0.
Spring Hill, 8.30, 10.15, 11.45, 3.50, 7.0. Sundays 6.50.
Victoria street, 8.35, 10.15, 12.20, 4.20, 6.10, 7.30. Sundays 7.20.
Lowther Receiving Office, 7.30, 10.0, 11.40, 6.50. Sundays 6.35. "
..... and so to St Lawrence.
The Minerva Isle of Wight Pictorial and Guide - circa 1900