Chronicles: Ventnor Railway – 150th Anniversary

Monday 10th September, 1866 – a red letter day for Ventnor as the Railway opens from Shanklin.

It was eight o’clock in the morning on 10th September 1866 when the first train arrived at Ventnor station from Ryde. It was just over two years since the line had opened as far as Shanklin and it had been hoped at the time that the line through to Ventnor would have been completed by the spring of 1865. However, the difficulties of constructing the three-quarter-mile tunnel under St. Boniface Down, as well as the gradient over Apse Bank, had prolonged the task.

When the inaugural train emerged from the tunnel, it was seen to be gaily decked with flags and evergreens by the large group of cheering inhabitants and visitors. They thronged not only the platform but also the surrounding high ground. Detonators had been placed on the tracks near the tunnel entrance to offer a firing salute as the train appeared amidst a cloud of billowing steam.

The journey from Ryde had taken just 23 minutes and this marked the start of regular daily services with twelve trains each way scheduled for that month.

For Ventnor’s townspeople, the railway’s arrival brought a great sigh of relief. For that same year, they had witnessed the final chapter of the disastrous scheme for a Refuge Harbour at the eastern end of the Esplanade. The spring of 1866 had seen its two breakwaters in ruins after successive winter storms and, later in the year, heavy timber baulks used for its construction would be seen being carted through the High Street. During its short life, the harbour had seen coals being landed from coastal colliers, a welcome development for a growing resort town like Ventnor. Now, happily, the railway would be bringing in coals and other heavy commodities. Soon the quarry site in which Ventnor station was located would be host to the local merchants, several making use of caves around the quarry as stores.

Michael Freeman, Ventnor and District Local History Society. The account of the opening day appeared in the Times newspaper for September 11th 1866. The picture below is from one of the late Fay Brown’s albums, now in the Society’s possession; the date is around ten years after opening and shows (set within the semi-circular white fencing) the small traverser that was once used to allow engines to run round their trains. This was later replaced by a run-round loop.