Below is a list of famous residents who have lived in, or visited, Ventnor.
Sir Winston Churchill 1874 – 1965
Statesman/Writer at the age of four stayed at ‘Flint Cottage’ Wheelers Bay Road (the home of his nurse’s sister) from where he saw the wreck of the ‘Eurydice’, which sank with the loss of 376 lives – On another occasion the young Churchill stayed at Verona 26 Mitchell Avenue.
Charles Dickens 1812 – 1870
Novelist stayed at Winterbourne, Bonchurch in the summer of 1849 where he wrote six chapters of David Copperfield, climbed daily to the top of St Boniface Down, played rounders every afternoon and entertained many of his wide circle of literary friends including Thackeray, Carlyle and Tennyson. At the beginning of his sojourn Dickens was full of praise for the district, likening it to the Genoese shores of the Mediterranean, but by the end of his stay was complaining that the climate was producing Great prostration of strength.
Sir Edward Elgar 1857 – 1934
Organist / Composer brought us the Pomp and Circumstance marches and the Variations. Regarded as one of the leading English Composers, Elgar came to Ventnor in 1889 on his honeymoon staying at No 3 Alexandra Gardens. His wife Alice’s family had been horrified by her marriage to an unknown Roman Catholic shop assistant with musical aspirations and had promptly disinherited her.
Mahatma Gandhi 1869 – 1948
Hindu Nationalist Leader on holiday from his London law studies in 1890 Gandhi is believed to have lodged at Shelton’s Vegetarian Hotel, Osborne House, 25 Madeira Road, describing in his autobiography a walk on the Downs with his land-ladies ever chattering sprightly twenty-five year old daughter, who flew like a bird up the hill, and darted like an arrow down the hill, leaving him shamefacedly struggling to get down.
Earl Jellicoe 1859 – 1935
Admiral of the Fleet having started his married life living in a five bed roomed flat above Harrods, Earl Jellicoe of Jutland fame spent much of his official retirement from 1925 at St. Lawrence Hall, an inheritance of his wife Florence.
Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay 1800 – 1859
Historian/Essayist/Abolitionist (member of the Clapham Sect) spent some months in 1850 at Madeira Hall Trinity Road where he wrote part of his History of England: I shall cheerfully bear the reproach of having descended below the dignity of history.
Karl Marx 1818 – 1883
Political Philosopher & Founder of Modern Socialist spent the winters of 1882/1883 convalescing at No 1 St Boniface Gardens: One can stroll here for hours enjoying both sea and mountain air at the same time, he said. Marx died within weeks of his final visit to Ventnor.
Alfred Noyes 1880 – 1958
Poet & Novelist lived at Lislecombe in the Undercliff from 1929 until his death in 1958. Buried at Farringdon (kneeling at the shrine of Tennyson).
Poet lived at ‘Under Rock’ Bonchurch in the 1860s with his brother Sir Lawrence Peel, former Chief Justice of Calcutta. Wrote The Fair Island and other poems.
Haile Selassie 1891 -1975
Emperor of Ethiopia (Abyssinia) : Holidayed in Ventnor in 1938 staying at the Beach Hotel on the Esplanade. He spent most of his time walking but took time out to take tea with Henry de Vere Stacpoole in Bonchurch also visiting Wootton and Osborne. The Museum holds a photograph of the Emperor clambering out of a boat on to Ventnor beach
Henry De Vere Stacpoole 1863 -1951
Doctor/Novelist who wrote more than fifty books including The Blue Lagoon, lived at Cliff Dene, Bonchurch from 1930 and gifted Bonchurch Pond in memory of his first wife Margaret.
John Sterling 1806 – 1844
Author/Poet founded The Literary Club (later The Sterling Club) whose members included Carlyle and Tennyson. In 1843 in the advanced stages of consumption Sterling purchased and settled at Hillside, and for the short time remaining to him became a familiar if gaunt figure in the town, buried at Bonchurch Old Church and a sad loss at the early age of thirty-eight.
Algernon Swinburne 1837 – 1909
Poet spent his childhood at East Dene, Bonchurch (baptised in the Old Church). His family grave is in the new Bonchurch Church Under the shadow of her vast head, the deep division of prodigious breasts, the solemn slope of mighty limbs asleep.
Ivan Turgenev 1818 – 1883
Russian Novelist stayed at ‘Rock Cottage’ in Belgrave Road. (a different house with the same name occupies the site today) where he is reputed to have commenced his great novel Fathers and Children. Evicted by his landlady for excessive smoking, for the rest of his 1860 stay Turgenev moved into Belinda House which stood at the western end of the Esplanade.
Canon Edmund Venables 1819 – 1895
Antiquary/Divine/Author/Authority on Church Architecture as Bonchurch Curate 1853 -1855 Venables compiled A Guide to the Undercliff (1867). He lived at Hawthorndene in Bonchurch Shute (now Bonchurch Manor Hotel) from 1853 until 1864 when he left to take up duties at Lincoln Cathedral where in his own words he became The Guardian Angel. Canon Venables wife Caroline died the day after him – They were buried together in the cloisters of the Cathedral
Dr Thomas Arnold 1795 – 1842
English Educator and Historian/Headmaster of Rugby School/ Professor of History at Oxford/Strong influence on the development of Public Schools much travelled, Arnold declared Ventnor was the most beautiful place on the sea coast this side of Genoa.
John Morgan Richards 1841 – 1918
American patent medicine entrepreneur who brought us Carters little Liver Pills and is credited with the dubious distinction of introducing cigarette smoking to Britain in 1877 with Richmond Gem Cigarettes. From his first visit in 1872 Richards was captivated by Ventnor writing in later life We never felt elsewhere the charm and delight that captured our fancy and revealed to us our ideals of Country and Seaside life that instantly claimed our delighted souls and held them captive to this very day. From his London home in Lancaster Gate Richards would encamp each year usually with an extensive entourage to spend long stretches of summer months at various locations in Ventnor living permanently from 1908 at Steephill Castle which he had purchased in 1903. Laura Richards, his eccentric wife, became one of Ventnor’s more colourful residents. Considering herself a direct emissary of God she would dispatch curt telegrams to world leaders directing them in their affairs of state, often adding fanciful postscripts such as Aren’t the daffodils lovely for this time of year, or Have faith in Onions. Laura died in August 1914, a fateful month for the Richards.
Pearl Craigie 1867 – 1906
Novelist/Dramatist and eldest daughter of John Morgan Richards Pearl Craigie wrote under the pseudonym John Oliver Hobbes. She moved in the literary and musical circles of the day, and was very much part of London’s fashionable society where she hankered after marriage with that most superior personage Lord Curzon. Pearl was much travelled and though London remained her home throughout her life she would frequently accompany or visit her parents during their summer sojourns to Ventnor where for sporadic relief from her overbearing mother she leased St Lawrence Lodge (now Craigie Lodge). On Sunday the 12th of August 1906, after attending mass at St Wilfred’s Church, Pearl Craigie returned to her London home where she died in her sleep aged just thirty-nine.
Elizabeth Missing Sewell 1815 – 1906
Educationalist/Novelist/Founder of the original -‘St Boniface’s School lived from 1844 at Sea View Bonchurch (later Ashcliff’) from where with her sister Ellen she ran a small School for Girls. In 1866 Elizabeth founded St Boniface Diocesan School (Now St Boniface Court) in Ventnor. An accomplished letter writer she wrote many devotional works and schoolbooks and most famously Amy Herbert and Ursula. Small in stature with well marked features and fine brown eyes Elizabeth’s influence over young people was attributed to her dry humour. A prayer desk in Bonchurch Church was erected in her memory by pupils and friends. The Church also contains a commemorative tablet. Elizabeth’s solicitor father Thomas Sewell has the remarkable and possibly unique distinction of having five of his children listed in the Dictionary of National Biography. The Sewell family home survives today in Newport High Street next to the Post Office.
John Leech 1817 – 1864
Humorous Artist / Caricaturis. Leech was one of the chief pictorial pillars of Punch for whom he worked from its onset in 1841 producing over 3000 drawings. A lifelong friend of Thackeray (buried next to each other at Kensal Green), Leech was described as a man of singularly handsome presence, being over six feet tall and extremely well built with a considerable distinction of manner and much personal charm, though famed for being particularly sensitive to noise, especially street music. Leech lived for a time at Hill Cottage (now Hillside Cottage) in Bonchurch Shute and while there illustrated a special shower bath contraption erected on the beach by Charles Dickens, the illustration appearing in the 8th September 1849 edition.
Rev William Adams 1814 – 1848
Author/Divine author of the Sacred Allegories of which Old Man’s Home (a favourite story of Wordsworth) provides us with a vivid description of the Undercliff in the first half of the 19th century – Catching what ultimately proved to be a fatal chill swimming in 1842, Adams resigned his living at Merton College Oxford and settled at Winterbourne, Bonchurch for his remaining years, laying the foundation stone for Bonchurch Church and becoming known locally as The good gentleman. Buried in Bonchurch Old Church
Alice Meynell 1847 – 1922
Poet / Essayist / Journalist (Younger sister of Elizabeth Meynell the painter of battle-scenes), friend of Tennyson, Coventry Patmore and Aubrey de Vere, Alice was a prodigious contributor to the journals of the day including The Pen, Merry England, Pall Mall Gazette etc but her main passion was poetry. Her exact use of words and subtle senses gave her, it was said, A rareness of prose and verse that placed her on a ranking with Emily Bronte, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Christina Rossetti.
George Bernard Shaw 1856 – 1950
Playwright/Novelist/Critic/Polemicist/Author of Pygmalion and numerous other well known plays and works/Nobel prize winner. The demise here in 1876 at Balmoral House (bottom of Bath Road) from tuberculosis, of Shaw’s elder sister Agnes at the tender age of 21, prompted the Great Man’s first ever trip from the shores of his native Ireland when he travelled via London to Ventnor to attend his sisters grave. Agnes like many others had come to Ventnor in search of good health. Writing in 1869 a Father Bowles complained to his Bishop thus Ventnor is a most trying mission for a single priest. The Catholics who come here are all invalids; if they get well they go away again and if they don’t they die. Agnes’s resting place may be seen in the Newport Road Cemetery at Upper Ventnor – Her epitaph reads To be with Christ which is far better.
Edwin Henry Lemare 1865 – 1934
Organist and Composer. Born in Ventnor Lemare was a chorister and organ pupil at Holy Trinity Church where his father was organist. After winning a scholarship to the Royal Academy the young Lemare moved to London when he was thirteen. Following tours of Australia and Canada Lemare settled in America where he became particularly associated with the Austin Organ Company gaining appointments as municipal organist in San Francisco, Portland (Maine), and Chattanooga. Reputed at one time to be the greatest and highest paid organist in the world the thrice married Lemare was to eventually lose all his money in the American Stock Market crash of 1929. An adaptation of his composition Andantino in D (1892) is known today as Moonlight and Roses.
Rev James White 1803 – 1862
Writer the famous fat man in Punch, lived first at Uppermount then Woodlynch and later Coombe Wood (now Peacock Vane Hotel) in Bonchurch.
Victor Fleming 1901 – 1991
Orchestral Conductor / Violinist & Broadcaster. Victor Fleming and his wife Molly came to Ventnor in 1948 making their home at Honeythorne on the Esplanade where they lived until their retirement in 1984 later moving to Knights Court in the High Street. In 1967 Victor Fleming succeeded Vic Oliver as conductor of the British Concert Orchestra giving concerts the length and breadth of the Country, often with Semprini. He also conducted the Midland Symphony Orchestra and helped form the Welsh National Opera Company. In 1958 he received the Freedom of the City of London while Molly ran Honeythorne as The Hotel with the Personal Touch, Victor served as a member of the Town Council (Mayor 1979/80), Governor of Ventnor Middle School and Sandown High and Vice-chairman of the V & D Local History Society. The Museum holds a section of the musical notes iron railing that for many years adorned the front of Honeythorne.
Alexander Herzen 1812 – 1870
Radical Publicist/Writer/Creator of Kolokol (The Bell). Herzen’s strong westernizing views saw him exiled from his native Russia living in London for twelve years where his home became a Mecca for Russian visitors including Tolstoy and Turgenev. In his memoirs Byloye i dumy (Reflections on Times Past) recounting a meeting in 1855 with Lajos Kossuth the Hungarian revolutionary, Herzen wrote . . . . . Chance brought us together at one of the most exquisite spots not only in England but in Europe. . . . . I spent a month at Ventnor . . . “.
Sir John Martin-Havey 1863 – 1944
Actor and Theatre Manager a disciple and devotee of Henry Irving, Martin-Harvey emulated the maestro eventually taking over management of the Lyceum theatre in London, where in 1899 he staged The Only Way, an adaptation of Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, taking the role of Sydney Carton. The play enjoyed phenomenal success running to 5,000 performances over forty years establishing Martin-Harvey and his wife Nina de Silva as leading melodramatic performers of their day. Over the years their wide repertoire embracing Shakespearean and classical Greek theatre staged not only in London, but in the provinces, America and Canada, earned them a reputation second to none. At the turn of the century, the Martin-Harveys rented and later purchased The Cottage on Bonchurch Shore which they used as a summer residence. In 1920 Lady Harvey was instrumental in the establishment of the Seaside Home for Nurses in the adjacent Seaside Cottage.