Then & Now
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 The tall building in the old photo with its typical wrought iron canopies has since been replaced by a modern block of flats.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!