The photograph here shows the four-horse coach ‘The Rocket’ outside Ventnor Station in 1866 – a larger version of this photo can be seen on the window of the Heritage Centre at the Grove Road side. It is hard to see the detail here, but two of the ladies apparently waiting for the coach are wearing crinolines, and one wonders how they managed to fit themselves into it!
The ‘Rocket’ is described in the advertisement here from 1875. It met the train from Ryde and ran between Ventnor and Freshwater every day except Sunday, the journey taking three and a quarter hours and offering visitors “unrivalled advantages for viewing the magnificent scenery of the Undercliff, and the picturesque villages on the Southern Coast of the Island.”
The steep hills of Ventnor made life very difficult for coachmen, and we have a cast iron ‘Brake Shoe’ (or ‘slipper’) on display in the Museum, something that would have been a very familiar sight in the nineteenth century. It’s about a foot long, solid cast iron, and very heavy, and was essential when taking coaches up and down steep hills. The brake shoe can be seen clearly hanging down under the coach in the photograph here of the Magnet outside the Griffin in Godshill.
The vivid description that follows explains how it was used – it was collectd by the Oral History Group in Ambleside in the lake district, a hilly town full of tourists, not unlike Ventnor.
‘It was a piece of metal shaped like a slipper and you pushed it under the wheel at the back of the coach, and then it held that one wheel and the horses could manage, otherwise it would overrun the horses. The coach sort of skidded down, that wheel [with the slipper on it] never turned. . . all the lads, if they wanted to earn a penny or two they would go to the bottoms or the tops of hills and put the slippers on and then people got out and walked, perhaps the very old stayed on, but the majority of them got out and walked up and down.’
Removing the slipper wasn’t an easy job: ‘You had a very special thing, nearly like a boat hook, [to take the slipper off] because you knew the blooming thing was red hot [from] dragging. They used to back the coach off [the slipper] and then you had to pick it up with this thing and then you had to hang it up under the coach, because it had a chain attached and a special hook for it. The lads had to be frightfully careful because if it touched you it would burn you.’
Lesley Telford, Ventnor & District Local History Society. Sources: Society Collection. Photo of the Magnet outside the Griffin from the Lucy Trueman Collection. Description of using the slipper from Ambleside Oral History Group. This article first appeared in the South Wight Chronicle in November 2015.