Ventnor West

This was once the terminus of the last railway to be opened on the Isle of Wight; it was also the island’s first line to close. Located on the western fringes of Ventnor, the station’s site has long since disappeared under housing. However, the main station building has survived into the 21st Century as a private dwelling, forming a lasting memory of this comparatively short-lived line.

On 14th August 1885, the “Shanklin & Chale Railway” was incorporated by an Act to build a line from Newchurch, about 2½-miles west of Sandown, to Chale, the latter about 4-miles west of Ventnor. The proposed railway was single-track and 6-miles in length, with an authorised capital of £60,000 (£6,895,000 at 2021 prices) in £10 shares, and loans of £20,000. The Act required the railway to be completed within five years (ref: Bradshaw’s Railway Manual, Shareholders’ Guide, and Official Directory for 1897). Additional branches were authorised by an Act of 8th August 1887: these were to link Godshill and Newchurch with Newport. At the latter, a connection would be made with the Newport Junction Railway, which had opened between its namesake and Sandown in 1875. The extensions accounted for 21-route miles of line and, as per the 1885 Act, works had to be completed within five years, using a capital of £24,000 and loans of up to £8,000.

A subsequent Act, dated 12th August 1889, saw the name of the “Shanklin & Chale Railway” change to the “Newport, Godshill, and St Lawrence Railway”. This superseded the earlier-mentioned Acts of 1885 and 1887, and the proposed lines authorised under those were abandoned. The 1889 Act authorised a 5-mile line from Merstone — where a connection would be made with the Isle of Wight Central Railway (IWCR) — to St Lawrence Shute. The latter was a country lane in the Parish of St Lawrence, about 1½-miles west of Ventnor. The seemingly customary period of five years was the window within which the line had to be completed.

Yet another Act, dated 28th June 1892, authorised the “Newport, Godshill, and St Lawrence Railway” to extend their proposed line eastwards by a mile, bringing it to the western outskirts of Ventnor, at the boundary of what was then called the “Steep Hill Castle Estate”. This extension allowed a further £18,000 of capital to be raised in the form of shares, and up to £6,000 to be borrowed. Finally, on 2nd July, 1896, Royal Assent was given for a further eastward extension of the line to bring the railway nearer to Ventnor’s centre.

In Bradshaw’s Railway Manual of 1897, it was reported that building of the “Newport, Godshill, and St Lawrence Railway” was underway, with more than half of it completed. Construction of the entire line was contracted to “Messrs. C. J. Westwood & Co.”, under the direction of Resident Engineer Mr Wynter, and Assistant Engineer Mr Knight (ref: Hampshire Gazette, Thursday 22nd July 1897). Prior to formal opening, a special return trip was run for members of the press on the then newly-completed line between Newport and St Lawrence in July 1897; it was remarked that a non-stop return leg from St Lawrence to Newport took 14½-minutes (ref: Hampshire Gazette, Thursday 22nd July 1897). At that time, the line went no further than St Lawrence, but it was reported that an extension to Ventnor would be completed in a short time, to what would probably be called the "low-level" station.

The formal opening ceremony of the “Newport, Godshill, and St Lawrence Railway” took place on Monday, 19th July 1897, with regular public traffic commencing the following day. An agreement had earlier been entered into with the “IWCR”, where that company would operate trains on the line from the outset. The route was operated on the electric block system, and all stations that opened along the line had telephonic communication.

The eastward extension from St Lawrence to Ventnor, as authorised by the Act of 1892, took three years to realise. In the interim, the town was linked with the terminus at St Lawrence by road transport (ref: The Railway Magazine, January, 1908). The line was finally opened through to “Ventnor Town” station for public passenger traffic on Friday, 1st June 1900. This was preceded the day before by the running of a special train organised for the Isle of Wight press. The Ventnor Town extension had been built by contractors “Messrs Firbank”, and the station was described in the local press as follows:

The new piece of permanent way passes through a mile and a quarter of delightful scenery straight to Ventnor town. The noted castle of Steephill with its beautiful grounds are within a stone's throw of the line. The station is substantially built of native stone, and in every way adapted for a large traffic, and there are separate approaches for passengers and goods. There is ample space, the platform being nearly a hundred yards in length. Although only a mile and a quarter in length, the cost of the line has been enormous, owing to the great value of land in the neighbourhood of Ventnor. Mr Conacher [General Manager of IWCR] has arranged for a service of eight trains per day, and the ordinary time between Cowes and Ventnor is three quarters of an hour. The express trains will accomplish the distance in even less time. Cowes to Ventnor henceforth ranks as the main line, and that between Newport and Sandown as a branch line. [The Isle of Wight Observer, 2nd June 1900]

Click the above for a larger version. © David Glasspool

During the construction of Ventnor Town station, thirty socketed bronze celts were found and retrieved; the site of the find was subsequently occupied by the terminus’ wooden goods shed (ref: The Undercliff of the Isle of Wight: Past and Present, 1911). The early layout of the station is illustrated above: two terminal platforms — serving an equal number of tracks — were in evidence, the southern-most of the two platforms being graced by the main building. Both platforms were linked together behind the buffer stops at the eastern end of the site, and the northern surface was devoid of any buildings. Ventnor Town’s first Station Master was Mr William Bayley.

Perhaps an early sign of cost-cutting, it was reported in the Hampshire Independent newspaper on 19th January 1907 that a rail motor car was in service between Newport and Cowes and the former and Ventnor West. A further extension east from Ventnor Town, as authorised by the Act of 1896, was never proceeded with. As of 1st July 1913, the "Newport, Godshill, and St. Lawrence Railway" was absorbed by the IWCR, the latter having managed and worked the railway since its opening. However, the powers which formally made the takeover possible did not receive Royal Assent until 4th of that month by means of the Isle of Wight Central Railway [Godshill Transfer] Act (ref: The Railway News, 28th February 1914).

In April 1923, it was announced that the Southern Railway (SR) — at the request of the Isle of Wight Chamber of Commerce — had agreed to rename Ventnor Town to “Ventnor West” (ref: Portsmouth Evening News, 26th April 1923). Reportedly, the original name had caused considerable “irritation and confusion”, given that the station was west of the town, rather than within it. There had been previous, unsuccessful attempts to get the name changed when the SR’s predecessor, the IWCR, was approached on the subject.

In 1951, it was announced that British Railways (BR) was considering the possibility of withdrawing the island’s railways. BR asked local authorities about the proposal to withdraw all traffic from the Merstone to Ventnor West branch; then, on Monday, 4th August 1952, it was announced that this line would be closed. This would be effective from 15th September of the same year and was part of local railway economies which were estimated to save £16,000 (£489,800 at 2021 prices) per year. The final service was the 7.57 PM from Ventnor West to Merstone on Saturday, 13th September 1952 — there was no Sunday service on the line, hence the closure being quoted as being effective from the 15th. It was reported in the Portsmouth Evening News that engine No. W27 “Merstone” hauled the last train from Ventnor West, this being driven by Mr John Sewell of Wootton and fired by Mr L. Harris of Newport. The departure was said to be the busiest ever witnessed by the line; the platforms at Ventnor West were occupied by passengers (many of whom were railway enthusiasts), well-wishers, a brass band, and a BBC cameraman.

In 1957, an unsuccessful planning application was made to place fifty caravans upon the former Ventnor West station site. The area was eventually swallowed up in housing development during the 1970s, but the former terminus’ main building — which incorporated the Station Master’s house — was converted into a residential property. However, the former main building has been reduced in length by about 60-foot from its eastern end since closure..

Click the above for a larger version. © David Glasspool

12th September 1952

A roughly westward view, with the buffer stops behind the camera, shows the station on the penultimate day of service, the train at the platform having arrived behind “O2” Class 0-4-4 No. W35 “Freshwater”. The platform on the right was little used by passenger trains throughout the station’s life; behind it, in the right background is the timber-built goods shed. The signal box is hidden by the train. The main station building, seen here sporting a splendid canopy, still stands today, but has been shortened considerably from the end nearest the camera. © David Glasspool Collection