The Battle of the Flowers: Ventnor 5 April 1894

The Ventnor Heritage Museum is a hive of activity this week, with displays going up on our new exhibition boards, and the finishing touches being put to our updated window displays. Please do come down and have a look round when we open at the end of April, and spread the word.  We are hoping that we can continue to join other Ventnor enterprises in making our town an even more attractive place for visitors.

This seems a good moment to look back at Ventnor’s attempts in the past to bring visitors to the town.  The Society was recently offered a nineteenth century photograph album entitled Ventnor en Fete which contains wonderful pictures of the ‘Battle of the Flowers’ held in the town on 5 April 1894 during what was known as ‘Fete Week’.

Horse drawn floats were intricately decorated with flowers, as shown in the picture here. The event got its name because flowers and petals would be torn from the float and thrown to ladies in the crowd in the hope that one would be thrown back (although in the picture below, the gentlemen on this float do not look particularly hopeful).  A stand was erected opposite the Royal Hotel to accommodate 1500 people and the week was apparently a phenomenal success, the town being decorated as it had never been before.  On the evening of the actual ‘Battle of the Flowers’ the Golf Club held a ball at the Town Hall, and on the Saturday there was a tennis tournament and a ‘Cyclists’ Masquerade’ (whatever that might be!)

In 1923 the people of the town were considering reviving the event.  Although they decided against it, the need to find ways to attract visitors was clearly as great nearly a hundred years ago as it is now, and an article in the Mercury that year could almost have been written today – although perhaps in slightly less flowery terms.

The name of our miniature but beautiful town has become a household word.  But we cannot afford to rest on our oars.  The success achieved should be a stimulus for combined action.  There is an urgent necessity for hearty co-operation in Ventnor.  All classes must pull together. In a small community, every unit is a powerful factor.  It should be the object of everyone interested in the welfare of Ventnor to co-operate to make the season a success by creating diversion for visitors and residents.  Climate and natural surroundings are themselves attractive but in these days of active competition we require something more to induce visitors to remain with us.  Few Continental towns have greater charms than our own. ‘We pull together, we pull through’.  These words were written in 1894 and are as true and applicable today.  We commend them again to all who have the interests of Ventnor at heart.

Lesley Telford Ventnor & District Local History Society  Sources: the Society Collection, including material from Fay Brown’s Local History Indexes, and with thanks to Jack Puttick for the photograph from his album Ventnor en Fete. This article was first published in the South Wight Chronicle 14/04/2016.