Ventnor Heritage Centre

"To make the past present, to bring the distant near . . . to call up our ancestors before us with all their peculiarities of language, manners, and garb, to show us over their houses, to seat us at their tables, to rummage their old-fashioned ward-robes, to explain the uses of their ponderous furniture . . . " Thomas Babington Macaulay describing what the study of history can do (written in 1828)

Current displays and exhibitions |

Current displays and exhibitions

Permanent displays in the Heritage Centre include Ventnor’s development as a Victorian resort, the story of some of the shipwrecks off our coast including the loss of HMS Eurydice in 1878, an exhibition on Steephill Castle, and working models of Ventnor’s two railways  – Ventnor Station (closed in 1966) and Ventnor West (closed in 1952).

Take a mini tour of the permanent displays

Other current exhibitions include:

Landscape Paintings of the Isle of Wight
A further selection of images from Robin McInnes’s book on Isle of Wight Landscape Art. You can buy copies of Robin’s beautifully illustrated book, priced £28, at the counter.

Ventnor Mill
There was a mill on the cliff above the present Cascade for hundreds of years. It featured in many paintings, a symbol of rustic charm but also of the dramatic cliff scenery of the area. There is a fine model of the mill adjacent to the display.

Ventnor station turntable

‘Once upon a time there were trains’
Ventnor once had two railway stations. And for something like 100 years, trains were the primary means by which visitors arrived in the town. The main line came in via a long tunnel under St. Boniface Down. It linked the resort with Ryde and the towns along the east side of the Island. The second line came from Newport and Merstone, terminating at a station behind Steephill Castle.

Over the Victorian age, parts of Ventnor took on shades of London’s West End, perhaps best exemplified by the Royal Marine Hotel which became a haunt of the rich and the famous. It boasted a hydraulic elevator and a palm court. You can read all about Ventnor in this period in Michael Freeman’s fascinating book: Victorians in search of winter health, available at the counter, priced £9.95.

Prehistory of the Undercliff
The Undercliff has a long history of human settlement. Flint tools have been found from the Stone Age, pottery and axes from the Bronze Age and there is also evidence of Roman and Saxon occupancy.

Clarendon Boarding House
Looking southwest from the top of Grove Road in Ventnor, the Clarendon was the area’s premier boarding house. It had a strikingly cosmopolitan clientèle, including visitors from all over Europe, from America and from Australasia.

Victorian Shopping Paradise
Ventnor’s principal streets in the nineteenth century offered the best shopping on the Island. They vied with London’s West End for the quality of goods offered to customers, a reflection of the relative wealth of its visitor population.

A History of Ventnor Breweries
This is the story of brewing in Ventnor, beginning in 1840, at the very start of the resort’s growth. There is a booklet to accompany the display, price £3.00, and a specially written Ventnor Pub Walk

The story of Olivia Parkes, commonly also known as ‘Britannia’
She lived for many years in a wooden hut on stilts on the foreshore at Myrtle Bay, just west of Ventnor. It had no running water and no sanitation. She became an endless source of fascination for visitors until forcibly re-housed in 1958.

Godshill c 1900

Ventnor People
In its Victorian heyday, Ventnor and the surrounding villages had many famous residents and visitors, often from the worlds of literature, art and music. These included Myles Birket Foster, Elizabeth Sewell, Charles Dickens, Pearl Craigie, E.W. Cooke, Thomas Miles Richardson, J.M.W. Turner, Karl Marx and Ivan Turgenev.

‘It used to be like this’ – the memoir of George R Haynes
This remarkable man, born at Castlehaven, Niton Undercliff, in 1906, has left us an extraordinary account of another life-world. Here you will find little in the way of consumerism, just a tale of everyday living, combining hard work and drudgery on the one hand and the joy of simple pastimes and pleasures on the other. There is a  publication to accompany the exhibition, available from the counter, priced £4.00.

A Godshill Life
Joy Draper lived in Godshill all  her life, and here she recalls details of family life in the village during WW1 and her years in service in the Old Vicarage. This is a companion piece to ‘It Used to be like this’, George R Haynes’s account of  life in Niton Undercliff  – Joy was born in 1907, the year after George Haynes.


Exhibitions, stories, images . . .

Wheelers Bay

Wheelers Bay was originally called Hudsons Bay and its local name was Tatey Bay. The name changed when Charles and Thomas Wheeler came to the bay in 1842. There was much competition between the Wheelers and the Spencers of Ventnor vying with each other to secure business. In 1868 the Wheelers helped to demolish Devonshire Terrace before it was relocated further back from the cliff edge and in 1885 a John Wheeler lived at High Port. The Wheelers helped to supply Niton when the village was cut off by snow in 1881 and Wheeler Bros ferried pilots to and from vessels in the Channel. Wheelers Bay Road was earlier named Gas House Hill, dating from the time when the Gas Works were built on the site, and coal and other merchandise were unloaded there. Records show fresh herrings selling 13 for one shilling in the early 1900s. Local children were discouraged from bathing at Ventnor, and sent round to Wheelers Bay to use the beach there; modern sea defence work has filled in the beach area.