In the 1950s Ventnor on a Saturday night must have been a hotbed of romance, full of young people enjoying themselves and looking for a likely partner for the evening. Alongside those born and brought up in Ventnor and others who were spending the summer working in hotels and guest houses, there were two additional groups looking for entertainment and perhaps to meet someone special – the Nurses from the Royal National Hospital, and the RAF men from Upper Ventnor.
Conscription was still in place, and at any one time there would be about a hundred RAF National Servicemen, mostly eighteen and nineteen year olds, based at the Early Warning Radar Station up on St Boniface Downs and living in RAF huts at the end of Lowertherville Road, near Rew Lane. Don Adams describes how when they were off duty during the day they might be found on the beach or at Flowersbrook enjoying a round of putting, while in the evening the Prince of Wales, which stood on the corner of Victoria Street and the High Street (opposite what is now the Clock Shop) was often their pub of choice.
But Saturday nights were different, and he says The popular Saturday evening venue was of course The Winter Gardens for ballroom dancing, the perfect place in which to meet girls, both holiday makers and the local variety.
The Winter Gardens was not the only venue – the Town Hall in Albert Street also hosted dances, like the one advertised below; held in 1953 in aid of St Wilfrid’s Church, it promised four hours non-stop fifty-fifty dancing to ‘The Metronomes’ . But it was the Winter Gardens that really pulled in the crowds.
Jill Wearing, whose family at that time were running the Hole in the Wall pub in Market Street also recalls those days when Ventnor was bursting at the seams with dancers: On a Saturday night, coaches from all across the Island, including soldiers from Parkhurst, would stop in Albert Street and the revellers would go straight down to the Hole in the Wall till nearly closing time , I think 10 pm in those days, (some went to the Rose Inn, too!). Favourite drinks at the ‘Hole’ at that time were Merrydown Cider and Redcurrant wine – both fairly potent brews! And then it was on to the Winter Gardens, where in its heyday five hundred plus would dance the night away. Into the mix of the dancers at the Winter Gardens were, of course, also the locals, the R.A.F. men from Upper Ventnor, the Nurses from the RNH and others. The first quickstep after the interval with George Wilkinson and his Band was always ‘East of the Sun and West of the Moon’ – very popular.
East of the sun and west of the moon
We’ll build a dream house of love dear
Close to the sun in the day
Near to the moon at night
We’ll live in a lovely way dear
Sharing our love in the pale moonlight
Lesley Telford, Ventnor & District Local History Society. With thanks to Jill Wearing, and to Don Adams (‘RAF Ventnor’). Photographs from the Society Collection.