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 . . .

Publication: The French Attack on Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight 1545

In the summer of 1545, King Henry VIII, already at war with France, heard that the French might soon attack him in England. Portsmouth was a target, along with the Isle of Wight. This booklet on the battle, researched and written by C.T. Witherby (author of The French Attack on Bonchurch 1545) was never published in his lifetime. Vi Vokes, who has now prepared it for publication, introduces it: Since the raising of the Mary Rose a great deal has been written and published about her. This booklet, however, is about just one of the attacks on the Isle of Wight. Hopefully, for visitors to the Island it will provide something of interest between the Romans and buckets and spades; and for those who live here the thoughts of what happened in their backyards. Available to buy online through Ventnor Heritage Centre Website Publications Sales page.