Concurrent with the Isle of Wight’s separation from mainland Britain around 7000 B.C. a series of landslips stretching from Luccombe in the east to Blackgang in the west created the area of natural beauty known today as the Undercliff, some seven miles long bordered on one side by the sea and on the other up to half a mile inland by cliffs and downs rising above Ventnor to a height of almost 800 feet; the highest point on the Island.
The area of Undercliff on which Ventnor stands was originally part of the Anglo-Saxon manor of Holeway in the parish of Newchurch – held in 1263 by Roger de Hineton of Holeway. By the early 18th century Holeway had given way to Ventnor recorded in 1617 as Vintnor (possibly with wine connotations) the Lord of the Manor being John Popham.
Noted for its catches of crab & lobster Ventnor was described in 1813 as The most picturesque spot along the coast; the smallest of small villages, consisting of a group of low thatched fisherman huts along the shore, and an old corn & grist mill perched on a crag high above the beach on which the stream that turned it dashed in a picturesque cascade towards the sea . . . . . a little wayside inn with one or two lodging houses.
In the 1830s all was to change when, thanks to a commendatory report submitted by Sir James Clark an eminent physician of the day on the beneficial qualities of the climate, Ventnor became the fashionable place to be and entered a period of feverish speculative development with most of what had hitherto been farmland (200 acre Littleton farm and 130 acre Ventnor farm) being sold piecemeal for building. By 1840 almost all remotely suitable land had been sold off with over 100 new landowners owning over 250 separate plots. Land values had risen from £100 an acre to £800 an acre. The population of under 100 persons in 1810 had risen to 900 and by 1851 would rise to 3,000 (to almost 6,000 by the end of the century).
In 1848 a promenade was constructed and in the early 1860s a short lived harbour followed by a pier, and with the railway reaching the town in 1866 Ventnor enjoyed great popularity, Victorians and later Edwardians flocking to the town in their thousands to admire its scenic beauty and bask in its equitable climate.
The 1920s and 30s saw Ventnor continuing to attract holiday visitors from far and wide with popular Summer Shows held on the Pier and from 1937 at the newly opened Winter Gardens. Boat and charabanc trips enabled the visitor to experience the delights of the surrounding coastline and villages, while the steam trains of the day ferried the visitors to and fro from Ventnor’s two stations: a memorable holiday venue.
Following the Second World War the visitors returned but by the mid 1960s with the advent of cheap foreign travel, Ventnor like many British resorts went into decline. The steamer service was lost as were a number of fine local buildings including Steephill Castle, but it was the closure in 1966 of the Town’s Railway Station that most seriously affected Ventnor’s prosperity
With its Victorian infrastructure nestling beneath the impressive eight hundred foot St Boniface Down midst the enchanting Undercliffe with its miles of coastal and country walks, the new millennium sees the uniquely situated and fondly regarded Ventnor enjoying a renaissance attracting visitors old and new from across the country and abroad.