Chronicles: A Hundred and Twenty Years of Entertainment

A hundred and twenty years of entertainment, a hundred and twenty years of curtain calls, of film shows, of dances, of tearooms, of roller skating and other amusements that brought thrills and delight to the residents of Ventnor.

The opening of the Grand Pavilion along Ventnor seafront in May 1896 was the beginning of a history of all sorts of theatre in its broadest sense. Although its name changed throughout the years – becoming ‘Gaiety’, ‘Summer Theatre’, ‘Casino’, ‘Hippodrome’ and finally ‘Gaiety Amusements’, its purpose was always to entertain.

It was the first building in Ventnor to show silent films, several of which featured the Island itself. In 1910 ‘Vectis’ Electric Pictures presented ‘The Cinephone’ which was the latest novelty in Singing Pictures, and included a singing competition for men. Touring Concert Parties with famous stage names were a great attraction. Smoking Concerts were live performances accompanied by music before an audience of men only. These were popular during the Victorian era.  Such social occasions were instrumental in introducing new musical forms to the public. At these functions men would smoke and talk politics while listening to live music.

In 1901 The Vaudeville Theatre in London produced a very successful play called ‘Sweet and Twenty’. In 1904 their Chief Company brought this exceptional play to Ventnor where it was performed by their professional cast for two nights plus a matinee in the Grand Pavilion.

As it changed names so it changed style, keeping abreast of what was most popular.  The different seasons brought dances, three course dinners and roller skating with 150 skaters taking part in the opening session. During World War Two the building was used for assembling aircraft parts and its glory days were clearly over. Eventually try-your-skill machines and dodgem cars took over, but it continued to give pleasure to visitors in recent years as an amusement arcade, something no seaside beachfront should be without.

However, now we see it being taken down, piece by piece, leaving only written memories behind. It needs to be recorded and remembered for all the love and laughter it brought to this little town.

Evelyn Knowles, Ventnor & District Local History Society, with acknowledgements and gratitude to Fay Brown, Peter Norris (Footlights and the Silver Screen’ and Wikipedia; photographs from our Collection.  This article first appeared in the South Wight Chronicle in 2016,