Our town is well known for eccentric and memorable individuals, and this is the first of an occasional series of articles celebrating past Ventnor characters. The aim is to use them as a starting point for parallel displays in the Heritage Centre, with the idea that Ventnor residents might be prompted to write in with information and memories that can be used to augment what we have on file. We begin with the parrot that often took pride of place in Billy Flint’s sweet shop and newsagent on the High Street (where the Premier minimart now stands, at the bottom of Spring Hill).
Billy Flint was a cockney who first became acquainted with the Island while a serviceman during the early years of the Second World War. He subsequently married an Islander and set up business in the café and hotel trade and then, later, in retailing. His first shop was number 57 High Street, opposite the Central Hotel, on the side of the road that was subsequently demolished for road widening and where the main shoppers’ car park is now found. He then moved from here to the premises now occupied by Premier.
The Flints were inveterate animal lovers and their home was always a sanctuary for waifs and strays. Quite how they acquired this magnificent parrot (apparently a macaw) is unknown. However, it became a familiar sight to customers, for the bird was regularly to be seen inside the shop perched above the chocolate bars. In this picture it is eating something from a spoon, though we do not know what. Colin Beavis, who bought the business when the Flints retired in January 1976, recalls how the parrot would leave droppings on the sweet counter (and this was in the days when some sweets were still sold loose). At night, the bird would be removed to a wooden shack out the back and Colin recalls spending hours cleaning it out after the Flints departed.
Macaws, of course, are brightly coloured tropical birds, but the original of this photograph is black and white and, talking with older residents who remember the parrot, there seems no clear memory of the colouring of this bird’s plumage. Nor does anyone seem to be able to recall whether it talked. Such birds, as many will know, are clever mimics. So perhaps there is a Chronicle reader who has a very clear recollection of this Ventnor character? Please do let us know.
Michael Freeman, Ventnor & District Local History Society. This article was first published in the South Wight Chronicle in May 2016.
[We have now been contacted by a reader who tells us that she thinks the bird in the photograph does not seem to be a Macaw, as it has no head crest, and looks more like an African Grey, which can live to 100 years old. Michael Freeman explains that this echoes the considerable difference of opinion about the parrot, both before and after publication of the article, by people who had first-hand knowledge of the bird, and that perhaps it is best to leave this as an open question!]