Chronicles: Bowling in Ventnor 1 – 1886 to1926

Ventnor Bowling Club is the oldest lawn bowling club on the Isle of Wight. Its first home was at Highport, a small grass area on the Eastern cliffs towards the end of Kings Bay Road. There are few clues today as to exactly where the green might have been, but the photograph on the left below shows club members at Highport, posing for the camera with hats and face whiskers very much in fashion!

By 1913 it was decided to move on and a joint committee of the Ventnor Bowling Club and the Ventnor Sailing Club launched an appeal for a new bowling green to be provided in Ventnor. At a special meeting of the Ventnor Urban District Council, held in the Town Hall in Albert Street, it was agreed to establish a public bowling green, in the grounds of the ‘La Falaise Hotel’ off Bath Road. This area is now the public car park known as ‘La Falaise’, just above the Spyglass Inn on the Esplanade.

The new green was officially opened on May 13th 1914 by Mr J H Cater JP, with dozens of local dignitaries in attendance. The second photograph below shows that it was a fine. warm day with many ladies demurely seated around the new green with open parasols shielding themselves from the sun. Ankle-length skirts, large hats and gloves were the fashion of the day. The men all wore hats, mostly ‘boaters’ and were always dressed formally in suits or jackets, even when playing bowls.

The green can be seen in the third photograph below, with the beach and pier in the background, and the hotel in the foreground.  It had four full-size rinks and soon became very popular. We don’t know if any members of the Sailing Club took up bowls, (or, indeed if any bowlers took up sailing!) but the bowling membership increased significantly, especially after the end of WW1, and carried on increasing, with the result that the club began to look for somewhere larger – the second time in thirteen years.

In 1926, following the issue of shares, a Limited Company was formed with a capital of £1000 and negotiations were started to acquire a new and larger site in Ventnor.

The site chosen was the now-disused croquet lawn in Mitchell Avenue belonging to the large house opposite – ‘Huish Terrace’ – so named after its founder and benefactor, Captain Mark Huish. Captain Huish, a lifelong railway man and supporter of “The London City Mission”, had earlier retired with his wife, Margaret, to live in Bonchurch. They bought ‘Combe Wood’ (formerly ‘Uppermount’) in 1861 – it was later known as ‘Peacock Vane’.   In 1866, Captain Huish commissioned the building of a holiday home in Mitchell Avenue for use by the London City Mission’s Clergy and their families. Unfortunately, Captain Huish never saw his dream fulfilled as he died before the building was completed, but his widow handed the entire building over to the Mission and its original purpose was fulfilled.

The bowling club now had their latest and biggest green, still in use today – ninety-two years later.  Next week: Part 2 – 1927-2020.

Colin Beavis, Ventnor & District Local History Society.  This article was first published in the South Wight Chronicle in July 2020.

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