Report on ‘Ventnor Saved My Life’

On Friday July 28th, Society member Richard Downing gave a very informative talk entitled”Ventnor Saved My Life”.
Richard began his talk by saying there were three doctors who were mainly responsible for Ventnor becoming renowned for its healthy climate. Dr James Clark ,1788–1870 had travelled as a ship’s doctor to Switzerland, the Mediterranean and France and discovered that those climates helped diseases of the chest. He became Physician to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. When he visited Ventnor and the Undercliff he realised that the warmer, less  moist air was the ideal place to help people with consumption and other disease of the chest. Many people visited and hotels, boarding houses and convalescent homes were built. Bathing machines were placed on the beach in the summer to enable people to enter the sea to partake in the beneficial sea bathing.In the winter there were hot and cold sea water baths at what is now “The Spyglass ” as well at other establishments on the seafront. Hence the road leading up from the Esplanade was named “Bath Road”.

Sir Arthur Hill Hassall , 1817-1894 founded the Royal National Hospital (now the Botanic Gardens and where there is Museum dedicated to the hospital).It was founded in 1864 with money raised in many ways and was built on the cottage system as the money became available. TB, or consumption, was thought to be inherited but in 1882 the bacteria was isolated and found to be airborne.The emphasis on the way to treat the disease was fresh air, good food and rest. Patients came from all parts of the country and the hospital closed in 1964 because TB had almost been eradicated by the pasteurisation of milk and the advancement of medication.

Dr. J.M.Williamson’ 1849-1901 was another great advocate of Ventnor’s health giving climate and treated Karl Marx and Winston Churchill when they stayed here.
In 1879 the wife of the Vicar of Ventnor raised money to open a small sanatorium for people who could not otherwise afford to come to Ventnor. This was in Grove Road and became known as St. Catherine’s Home and was run by the Anglican nuns from East Grinstead. In the 50’s and 60’s there were 160 children there mostly boys with asthma and other related  problems. In 1977 it became a school for children with Speech and Language problems and remains so today. It is run by a Governing Board, the Sisters handing over in the 1980’s.

Richard closed his talk by introducing Chas Baker who had been at St, Catherine’s Home for 17months in 1959/60 and had met Richard on one of his guided walks and in the course of conversation said “Ventnor saved my life”. This must have been echoed by many grateful people over the years.Margaret Davidson

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