Chronicles: The Local Government of Ventnor

The population of Ventnor in 1830 was something like 77, most of them engaged in agriculture and fishing. That same year saw the publication of James Clark’s book The influence of climate in the prevention and cure of chronic diseases in which he identified the warm, dry climate of the Undercliff as particularly suited to invalids suffering from chest complaints. This led to a building boom with rapid population growth to 2,569 by 1851.

The unplanned development led to problems with poor roads, lack of drainage, water supply and sewage disposal.  By 1837 there was sufficient population to require a church, St. Catherine’s, sponsored by John Hambrough of Steephill Castle.  This engraving of St Catherine’s Church is by George Brannon and the caption reads: 20 July 1837. To John Hambrough Esq of Steephill Castle, in the Isle of Wight.  This View of St Catherine’s Church, erected by him at Ventnor, is most respectfully inscribed by His much obliged humble Servant. George Brannon.

By 1843 the poor conditions in the town led to the formation of The Ventnor Improvement Committee which recommended that a rate be raised on property. But that required an Act of Parliament which happened in 1844: An Act for better paving, lighting, cleansing, and otherwise improving part of the Parish of Newchurch, in the Isle of Wight, called Ventnor, and for establishing a market therein. This Act made provision for the appointment of The Commissioners for Improving the Town of Ventnor.

Ventnor was part of the Anglo-Saxon parish of Newchurch until 1866 when an Act of Parliament divided it into three parishes: Ryde, Newchurch and Ventnor. Also in 1866 another Act transferred the powers of the Commissioners to The Local Board for the District and Town of Ventnor. That Act also refers to the Public Health Act of 1848 and established a Board of Health which functioned from 1866 to 1894. The Ventnor Local Board would have dealt with health matters as part of its responsibility. In the 1880s the medical practitioners of Ventnor formed themselves into a Sanitary Medical Association to support and advise the Board of Health. Invalid visitors to Ventnor, in search of health, were important for the local economy and it was this Local Board that adopted, in 1890, the Greek and Roman goddess of health, Hygeia, as the symbol of Ventnor. It is still used by the Ventnor Town Council today.

The 1894 Local Government Act  then established urban and district councils, many of which had been preceded by Town Improvement Commissioners or by Local Boards of Health. This led to the establishment of The Ventnor Urban District Council 1895-1974. Also, in 1894, Lowtherville was annexed by Ventnor from the neighbouring Rural District Council.

In 1933 The Isle of Wight Review Order led to major re-organisation of local authority boundaries. The area of Ventnor Urban District Council expanded to include St. Lawrence and parts of the parishes of Bonchurch, Godshill, Whitwell and Wroxall.

The Local Government Act of 1972 replaced the network of Rural and Urban District Councils with two larger authorities on the Isle of Wight: Medina Borough Council and South Wight Borough Council. These functioned from 1974 to 1995 when the two borough councils were abolished and replaced by the new unitary council for the Isle of Wight which we still have today.  The current Ventnor Town Council also began in 1974.

Richard Downing, Ventnor & District Local History Society. Sources:  The County Record Office contains minutes of all these Ventnor local government bodies from 1844 to 1974 and minutes from their numerous sub-committees concerned with Finance, Lighting, Water, Gas, Cemeteries, Burials, Parks, Licensing, Landslips, Piers and the Esplanade.