The first Independent or Congregational chapel was erected in Ventnor in 1836 at a cost of £500. It was located on the north side of the High Street in part of what is now the main shoppers’ car park.
Sometime in the 1840s, the building was enlarged with the addition of a school room. A gallery was also added to the chapel to allow more worshippers to attend. By the early 1850s, the town’s population (including its many winter visitors) had grown to the extent that the chapel had become inadequate to accommodate them. In 1853, therefore, the original building was demolished and a new larger church erected on the same site. A resident donated additional land adjacent to the old chapel to make this possible.
By the early 1870s, yet further enlargement of the Church was deemed necessary and a large Lecture Hall (later known as the Central Hall) was built on adjacent land. It was intended first as a Sunday School for the accommodation of some 300 children, but it was also to be used as a centre for the broader social life of the church. The foundation stone for the new building was, interestingly, laid by Mr. Robert Tarleton of Australia. Over the last decades of the nineteenth century, church congregations were almost continually full and they benefited from the ministry of the charismatic Rev. R. Allen Davies.
By the twentieth century, the numbers of worshippers were beginning to decline and the pattern continued in the interwar years. In some years, in fact, the church had no pastor. It was then seriously damaged by German bombing in the 1939-1945 war, as were many buildings around it. The church was eventually repaired and re-opened for worship in 1952. However, all church congregations were declining across post-war Britain and by the 1970s it was decided to unite with the Methodists. The old church was then demolished along with what remained of the much deteriorated Central Hall. The site is now the central car park for the town. Remnants of the church walls, along with a few memorials can still be seen to the north side of the car park.
The picture shows the street front as it appeared in the later nineteenth century.
Michael Freeman, Ventnor & District Local History Society