Ventnor town railways, lift etc
In 1897 an incline railway was proposed for Ventnor from the Esplanade to the top of St. Boniface Down.
It was to be in three sections, each being a separate railway. Section 1 was to be from St. Augustine’s on the Esplanade ascending to Church Road (170 yards), Section 2 from Church Road to the railway station (420 yards), and Section 3 from the station to the summit of the down (600 yards). The motive power was to be hydraulic and the gauge 5ft. 9in. The council received approval in principal from Mrs. Evans’s Estate, owners of the downs, for the construction of the railway to the top of the down subject to proper compensations being agreed. In February 1898 the Light Railway Commissioners held an inquiry at Ventnor into the proposal referred to as the Ventnor Inclined Light Railway. Details of the scheme included: For one set of rails with a passing point in the first lift under Dr. Coghill’s property. Each car on the first lift would seat 16, on the second and third lifts, 20. The cars would be attached to each other by two wire ropes – one was sufficient, the other was for safety. There would be a safety clutch to stop the cars in the case of mishap. The principle of the lift was that each car would be fitted with a water tank which would be filled to overbalance the weight of the passengers to be taken up. The Commissioners approved the plans on the understanding that working plans would be submitted to the Board of Trade. The Board of Trade published the Order for the Ventnor Inclined Light Railway in February 1899. Even though that plan had been approved, nothing came of it, possibly because funding couldn’t be raised.
Towards the end of 1908 another scheme was proposed. Ventnor District Council held a special meeting to discuss the new proposal for a light railway from the Esplanade to the top of St. Boniface Down – this time a plan for a funicular railway by Mr. Fritz Bernard Behr, a locally living, French engineer. This plan was to have just two sections, one from the Esplanade to the IWR station and the second from the station to the top of the downs. The first section would start in the grounds of the Esplanade Hotel and proceed to Church Street where there would be a station, the line would then go through Mr. Olive’s grounds and there would be another station adjoining the Clarendon Boarding House, then through the plantation north of the Clarendon, and under Newport Road to come out in the Railway Station yard. The second section would be from the station yard, up the southern slope to the summit of the downs. The carriages would be attached to steel cables – as one car went up the other came down. A power house to serve both sections was planned near the railway station, in close proximity to the IW Electric Light and Power works. Mr. Behr suggested that the cost would be roughly £25,000 and proposed that the Ventnor Urban District Council should undertake the work rather than leaving it to private enterprise. In February 1909 the council requested, after a lot of typical local council discussions, Mr. Behr to prepare a scheme with all drawings etc to submit to the Light Railway Commission for a sum of £250. In March 1909, Major T. R. Saunders, a member of the committee considering the proposal resigned because he had a number of concerns over the proposal. A public inquiry by the Light Railway Commissioners took place at Ventnor Town Hall on 2 July 1909 – unfortunately the council had still to agree compensation with several of the property owners over which the railway would run and the Chairman adjourned the inquiry until such concerns had been settled. By February 1910 things ‘were drifting’ – no agreement had been made with the property owners, the lease for the land on the Downs had been drawn up but not signed, and the solicitor for the Evans’ Estate was pressing for it to be signed or it would lapse. At a lively public meeting on 9th March 1910 at Ventnor Town Hall, the issues regarding the financial risk etc associated with the scheme were presented to the members of the public assembled. At the end of the meeting the residents voted to abandon the project. A few weeks later, the Council were once again considering options for easing the movement of residents around the town and the Development Committee were tasked with considering “the means of reaching the different levels of the town.”
In 1912 Mr. Theodore Saunders and Mr. Wetherick submitted a plan for an inclined lift. However the council had at that time mortgaged their rates for a loan for sea defences and it was decided not to proceed with the proposal, although the general feeling was that something still had to be provided to ease the movement of residents around the town.
1924 saw a report that the Southern Railway Company had submitted to Ventnor Council a proposal for a funicular railway from the esplanade to their railway station – nothing further has been found regarding this.