How many hundreds of people have arrived at the Central Car Park in Ventnor, parked up, bought their ticket and walked off to the shops and beach without ever noticing the history that hides in the North corner?
I had so often walked through, giving a cursory look toward that corner, but never really stopped to investigate. Until recently, on a bright sunny day, camera in my pocket, it was time to settle my curiosity.
I knew this had originally been the site of the Ventnor Congregational Church and Independent Chapel first built in 1836. However, as the town expanded, the building was enlarged until in 1853 it was demolished and replaced by an even larger building. By 1870 there was a need for other social activities and a lecture hall was added, known as Central Hall and provision was sufficient for a very busy Sunday school.
Badly damaged during the second world war, it reopened 1952 but in 1976 the congregation united with the Methodists; the Hall collapsed when a wall fell down and the church was finally demolished to make way for the car park. The pictures here show the church it as it was in its heyday, and in the 1960s, not long before it was demolished.
What remains in the North Corner are some of the very old grave stones. The first impression is how clear some of the wording still remains with the earliest being Anna Maria Warren in 1844.
In 1852 we find the saddest of records with three children of the Norman family, all having died at very tender ages. Emma aged six years, William aged two years and Maria at nine months, their gravestone only marked with initials. Seeking an answer to why they had died lead me to return to a favourite book called ‘Old Men Remember’. The very first recollections are by Mark William Norman, their father, who recalls how Scarlet Fever, poor living standards, and doubtful medical advice took those babes’ lives.
And in 1905 the pastor of 40 years, Richard Allen Davies, was laid to rest.
Let’s hope that quiet corner is allowed to continue with its sense of peace.
Evelyn Knowles, Ventnor & District Local History Society. ‘Old Men Remember’ is available to buy at the Ventnor Heritage Centre or online from our Publications and Online Shop. This article was first published in the South Wight Chronicle in 2016.