Then & Now

Evergreen - - Contents - Henry Spencer

The pic­ture above comes from The English Hoard, a col­lec­tion of Vic­to­rian and Ed­war­dian photos taken from a se­ries of glass slides by Jeff Krotz ( Mata­dor Pub­lish­ing, 184pp, hard­back, £ 36). Vent­nor is as much a Vic­to­rian sea­side cre­ation as any­where else in Bri­tain. Sit­u­ated south of St. Boni­face Down which, at 791 feet, is the high­est point on the is­land, it has all the hall­marks of what 19th- cen­tury hol­i­day­mak­ers both re­quired and ex­pected. Con­trary to what many peo­ple think, it was far from a prud­ish era and males gen­er­ally swam in the buff — but only among their own gen­der, in rivers, in the sea or in spe­cially built ur­ban bathing lakes. For ladies,

how­ever, it was a com­pletely dif­fer­ent mat­ter, as the large num­ber of bathing ma­chines lined up on the beach tes­ti­fies. Their large wheels meant they could eas­ily be moved down into the wa­ter from where ladies could change and bathe away from pry­ing eyes.

The steep­ness of the re­sort is clearly ev­i­dent and the higher reaches are known as Up­per Vent­nor or Lowtherville, while the water­side area is gen­er­ally re­ferred to sim­ply as Vent­nor. Most of the orig­i­nal build­ings re­main in­tact, although con­sid­er­ably al­tered in many cases. The tall build­ing in the old photo with its typ­i­cal wrought iron canopies has since been re­placed by a mod­ern block of flats.

Ow­ing to its shel­tered and south- fac­ing lo­ca­tion, the re­sort has its own mi­cro­cli­mate which means it has fewer frosts than the rest of the is­land, and pos­si­bly more sun­shine as there is noth­ing to ob­struct the sun’s rays. A fur­ther ben­e­fit is it al­lows many species of sub­trop­i­cal plants which can be found flour­ish­ing at the Botanic Gar­den. The Cas­cade Gar­dens, com­plete with a wa­ter­fall, were opened in 1903.

The big­gest dif­fer­ence be­tween the two photos is the chang­ing modes of trans­port. The town once had two rail­way sta­tions but both were swept away un­der re­or­gan­i­sa­tion, although whether this sub­se­quently af­fected the num­ber of vis­i­tors is spec­u­la­tion. Why? Take a look at the num­ber of parked cars!

Vent­nor to­day is a far cry from when Vic­to­rian ladies dipped their dainty lit­tle toes in the briny from the pri­vacy of a bathing hut. Times change!

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