Covid-19: We regret that due to the current situation Ventnor Heritage Museum is closed to the public at the moment. Click here for more information.
Each year we mount new exhibitions, some of which are now available digitally on our Ventnor & District Local History Society YouTube – these include Exhibition – a mini tour, which is a brief tour of our permanent displays, and 75th Anniversary of the end of the Second World War.
Permanent displays in the Museum 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).
Before they were famous – the story of the performers who tried out their acts at Ventnor’s Winter Gardens before becoming stars of popular music and of light entertainment. Comedian Dick Emery stole the show in the 1950 summer season, while in the summer of 1965, it was the rock band ‘The Who’, along with the strangely-named ‘Davy Jones and the Lower Third’. The Who went on to become a legend of the rock music scene, while Davy Jones turned into David Bowie.
New accessions from the Wearing Collection – Jill Wearing has made regular gifts of photos and documents to the Society. Among the latest are some fine images from Ventnor’s early development, some of which are displayed here, including the Ventnor Local Board’s water cart spraying the streets to lay the dust in summer.
75th Anniversary of the end of the Second World War – an examination of the way the war intruded upon local lives over almost six years. The Undercliff suffered serious aerial bombardment at different stages of the war, while few ordinary people: men, women and children, escaped being touched by the exigencies of wartime. Food and clothing and many other things were rationed, some schools were evacuated, men were called up to fight, while many others found themselves drafted in to work on the Home Front. There is a video of the display on the main page.
Past exhibitions have included:
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.
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.
‘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.
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.