Ventnor Botanic Garden. Ghosts of the Isle of Wight, with Margo Williams.

Ventnor's Botanic Garden is haunted so badly, people who didn't believe in ghosts called in a ghost hunter.
Photo image of Ventnor Botanic garden Isle of Wight.
Ventnor Botanic garden Isle of Wight.

Science versus the Supernatural

Ventnor's Botanic Garden sits in the Isle of Wight's paradise known as the Undercliff. A garden of exquisite bloom and variety on the island's southern sun-drenched sub-tropical coast.

Not the kind of place you expect to be mega haunted. But it is.

This 22-acre garden opened to the public view in 1972 by governor of the island Earl Mountbatten, and some sensitive persons who attended that ceremony had a feeling there were more people present than officially invited or visible. In fact there were and still are more ghosts in the Botanic garden complex than anywhere else on the Isle of Wight.

Why is a garden haunted? It wasn't always a garden. Not so long ago on this site stood a hospital a quarter of a mile long, in which thousands of people died. Every one a tragedy, some a blessing but most of those victims would rather have been anywhere else than there, paradise though it is.

Most Haunted island

Photo image of Ventnor town. Isle of Wight.
Ventnor town. Isle of Wight.

Ventnor and the Undercliff

Ventnor is a busy Victorian town of spectacular view and beach, capital of the Undercliff. For centuries the name was applied to a small cluster of fisherfolk's huts on the beach of Ventnor Cove, and no whisper of it was heard throughout the busy history of the island until it sprang into prosperity around 1830.

When medical science pronounced its findings and with a startling suddenness, the region of the Undercliff became world famous.

The Undercliff is a stepworld extending seven miles from Luccombe to Niton, a tract of wild and spectacular scenery. Varying in breadth from a quarter of a mile to nearly a mile. An irregular succession of terraces, backed by a chalk wall of unequal height, and raised 50, 60 and even 100 feet above the sea level. (15.18 and 30m)

Waterfalls and courses seep and separate this strip of land from the hills . The region is however, highly unstable, land slips regularly carry away acres of ground.

'Here in this most delightful land of bowers,' says Dr Martin, 'the heliotrope, the myrtle, the fuchsia, the petunia and the verbena, bloom in the open air throughout the winter. I have counted nearly 50 species of garden flowers blooming in borders in December.'

Illustration of the Undercliff region, Isle of Wight.
The Undercliff region, Isle of Wight.

Exploring the haunted Isle of Wight

An English Paradise Found

Radcliffe, author of 'Mysteries of Udolpho' was both shocked and awed by what she saw: '...The Undercliff is a tract of shore formed by the fallen cliffs, and closely barricaded by a wall of rock of vast height. We entered upon it about a mile from Niton and found ourselves in such a Druid scene of wildness and ruin as we never saw before.

"The views are astonishing and grand in a high degree; we seemed perched on an extreme point of the world, looking down on hills and cliffs of various height and form, tumbled into confusion as if by an earthquake, and stretching into the sea, which spreads its vast circumference beyond. The look down on the shores is indeed tremendous.'

1829 Sir James Clark changed everything.

Image of actor representing Sir James Clark.
Sir James Clark liked Ventnor

Sir James Clark's Report

Sir James Clark comparing sanitary condition of towns on the south coast.

'The physical structure of this singular district has been carefully investigated and described by the geologist and the beauties of its scenery have been often dwelt upon by the tourist; but its far more important qualities as a winter residence for the delicate invalid seem scarcely to have attracted attention, even from the medical philosopher. Nothing along the south coast will bear a comparison with it.'

Sir James Clark. The Influence of Climate in the Prevention of Curse of Chronic Diseases. 1829.

Ventnor transformed following Clark's report. In the tiny fishing hamlet soon sprang up hotels and boarding-houses and shops and a church. People suffering health issues came here for a winter retreat as well as a summer visit.

The sea wall constructed in 1848, converted a considerable portion of the beach into an esplanade, soon lined by a row of villas.

The Royal National Hospital

Understandably the government wanted to make good use of this resource, and ordered the construction of a hospital to accommodate sufferers of the deadly disease Tuberculosis. Built during the 1860s the Royal National Hospital received patients from all over the country seeking cure, though mostly from London and Middlesex. By the time it closed in 1964 some 38,000 people passed through, one way or another.

Some of whom remain.

The clean air and mild climate helped many patients, but most were not so lucky. Thousands died here in the old Royal Hospital and some chose to stay. And who can blame them?

Photo image of Royal National Hospital, Ventnor
Royal National Hospital, Ventnor

Garden of the Ghosts

Ghost-hunter Donald Parr in his fantastic book Ghosts of the Isle of Wight. Web of Fear, interviewed former staff who worked in the hospital; listened to accounts of what happened when the hospital was demolished. Harrowing tales of ghostly sightings, mysterious figures appearing; and the fascinatingly weird indestructibility of the hospital's former operating theatre.

Ongoing problems continued to plague the new visitor centre after it was built on the site. The lift worked sometimes; for no natural reason cookers in the cafe kitchen fired up and cooled down at inopportune moments. Windows slammed open or shut on calm days, and everyone felt scared in the underground tunnels.

Someone supernatural had skill with electrical circuits. The joke was not how many curators to change a light bulb but how many lightbulbs to change a curator.

Paranormal problems so disruptive and persistent, the garden management contacted me to help.

Already I had found during previous visits a half dozen or so ghosts, mostly nurses and patients but the garden staff wanted me to find the electrical prankster ghost, and so I did,

"Of course," said one of the gardeners to me on arrival. "I do not believe in ghosts, but I will tell you this. We cannot find any ordinary logical reason for what is going on here."

Said another: "I have seen things here I cannot explain. I am a total cynic when it comes to ghosts. I am from a scientific background, but in the years I have worked here I have had experiences I cannot put down to 'of this world'.

In some ways the garden staff and I are as helpless as each other. On fine days I visit and sit waiting with paper and pencil ready and record their words and sometimes the ghosts of this English earthly paradise do come to speak and agree to leave. But others prefer to stay.

Most Haunted island

Photo image of Old Park hotel, Undercliff. Ventnor Isle of Wight.
Old Park hotel, Undercliff. Ventnor Isle of Wight.

Not all Doom and Gloom

Not every life story ended badly in the Undercliff. Cures and even miracles happened. Some claimed its combination of land, sea and air so positive it should be turned into a business.

Billionaire businessman William Spindler came to the Undercliff to convalesce during the 1880s. His condition so abject, his medical staff forbade him any effort on anything. Three years later Spindler was cured. "Amazing!" he roared when his good health restored. "I am going to build a town here."

Local smugglers and other import export entrepreneurs weren't best pleased at that idea of a town the size of Bournemouth slap bang in the middle of those quiet coves; didn't see the business opportunity Spindler envisioned.

Some say William Spindler is the ghostly 'Smoking Man' reported haunting his old palace-in-the-Undercliff home, now the old Park hotel; where his dream foundered,

Thank you for your company on this short tour of Isle of Wight mysteries and haunting. If you would like to know more about Margo Williams' investigations in the Botanic Garden and Old Park hotel and other matters of life and death, read this book. Now available from Amazon.

Book cover link to purchase Ghost Encounters Heaven and Hell from
Now available from
Useful Links

Ventnor Botanic Garden

Royal National Hospital Ventnor