Chronicles: Morant’s Cafe Terrace

Ventnor residents will immediately recognise the location of the picture in the gallery below. For those that do not, it is the rock overhang at the eastern end of Belgrave Road.

The photograph dates from the early 1920s, so it is almost one hundred years ago. Perhaps someone will take a photo from a near identical camera position and see if it is possible to judge how much of the rock mass has receded through weathering. Unfortunately, the buildings in the photo will be no guide in such an exercise as they have all gone, either demolished just before the war, or lost to wartime bombing in the 1940s.

The building on the far right housed Morant’s Café Terrace and was a favourite meeting place among residents and summer visitors. The second picture below shows the tea terrace to the rear of the building, a real sun-trap with uninterrupted views over the bay.

The Isle of Wight Mercury, when it became known in July 1922 that plans had been passed for the tea terrace to be extended, remarked that Morant’s catering was first-class. A particular attraction of the venue were the small orchestras that often played there, one comprising William Alsop (violin), Miss Alsop (pianist) and Master Alsop (cellist). In the summer of 1922, the group was described as having an extensive repertoire. The following year, 1923, Mr. A.E Brewer’s London Orchestra seems to have been providing the musical entertainment.

On the road frontage, the premises comprised several shops from one of which Morant’s ran a florist and fruiterer business. The catering enterprise occupied part of the half basement to the rear where there was a large sun lounge (visible in the lower picture), used as a tea, luncheon and orchestra room. The business was sold in the early summer of 1926 to the Unic Pure Ice Cream Company, another firm of caterers.

Today, part of the site of the tea garden survives in the private lawned area to the immediate west of the Kingsview apartment block. Otherwise, all the structures visible here were hit or blasted by bombs, the buildings on the left collapsing down into Esplanade Road below.

Michael Freeman, Ventnor & District Local History Society. Photographs from our collection. This article was first published in the South Wight Chronicle in July 2020.