[From Brown's Directory, 1881/2]

[Historical Chapter]

[Coming of the Railways]

For many years the want of railways had been severely felt in the Island. Internal communication was kept at its lowest point ; a single stage coach each way usually supplied all the requirements of the passenger traffic between the various towns, and heavy goods, such as agricultural produce, fish, and minerals, were carried from place to place in ordinary carts. Under these primitive conditions the trade of the country languished, and for years a railway between Douglas and Peel, between which towns the natural conformation of the country rendered the construction of a railway both easy and cheap, had been an object of great desire. Time after time, from 1846 downwards, a railway between these towns had been designed ; and on several occasions, attempts had been made to originate companies to carry out the work ; but the invincible reluctance of the native Manx to risk their money, had kept them from supporting these schemes by taking shares, and one after another they successively came to an unprofitable end. In 1864, a fresh attempt was made, under more favourable auspices, to carry out this idea ; but, after looking promising for a time, it began to languish for want of local support, and finally, in 1868, completely collapsed. But the necessity for a railway to connect the principal towns was beginning to make itself more generally felt, and soon after a number of influential gentlemen, chiefly connected with Douglas, associated together to form a new railway company. In January, 1870, a preliminary meeting was held in Douglas, at which it was announced that several large landowners along the proposed routes had promised to join the company. In April, 1871, the prospectus of the new company was issued, from which it appeared that it was proposed to connect all the four towns of the Island by a narrow guage line, at an estimated cost of £200,000. In consequence of the want of local support, it was determined, in August, to abandon the original idea of connecting all the towns with a line of railway, and to go on with the least costly and most productive portions of the scheme—the line between Douglas and Peel, and that between Douglas and Port Erin, commencing with the Douglas and Peel line. In consequence of this decision, a special general meeting of the share-holders was held in Douglas on the 16th January, 1872, at which it was resolved to amend their prospectus by abandoning the northern section of the proposed line, and to reduce their nominal capital from £200,000 to £120,000. On the 30th January, the Railway Bill was passed by the Council, and read a first time in the House of Keys ; and on the 9th February it was read a second time, and passed ; and en the 10th May it was formally promulgated at St. John’s. The whole of the shares were now taken up, and the enterprise fairly floated. On Tuesday, the 11th June, the first sod of the Douglas and Peel line was cut. On the 22nd June, the Duke of Sutherland, chairman of the company, and Mr. Pender, MP., who had also largely invested in the enterprise, came over to inspect the works, leaving the Island again on the 24th. On the 19th August, it was resolved to increase the capital of the company to £160,000. On the 1st May, 1873, the line between Douglas and Peel was so far completed that a train containing a party of visitors, including several of the directors of the London and North-Western and Lancashire and Yorkshire Railways, passed along it between the two towns. On the 12th June, a general meeting of the company was held in Douglas, J. T. Clucas, Esq., in the chair, at which the directors’ report was received, and arrangements were made for the opening of the line. According to this report, the cost of this portion of the line had been £68,193. On the 28th June, Col Rich, Government Inspector of Railways, formally inspected the line, and on the 1st July, 1873, it was opened to the public with considerable ceremony, and amidst great excitement. The Duke of Sutherland; Mr. Pender, and other distinguished visitors took part in the proceedings ; and in the evening a great banquet was given by the company to a large number of invited guests in the Drill Shed, Douglas, at which the Duke of Sutherland presided.

Under such conditions were railways introduced into the Isle of Man. Of course it was not to be expected that such an innovation on the existing institutions of the country could take place quietly, and unmarked by the incidents which ordinarily characterise improvements.

It affected too many interests to hope for that. During its early days, accordingly, attempts were made on several occasions to injure the trains, and statements of accidents, either altogether false or very grossly exaggerated, were industriously circulated, to the great alarm of a people unused to such a mode of travelling, and the serious injury of the company’s traffic. But gradually, owing to the vigilant watchfulness of the railway officials, and the good sense of the community, these customary concomitants of such undertakings ceased ; and, as the advantages of the new way of travelling were more fully realized, the traffic on the line steadily increased.

The formation of the southern section of the railway, between Douglas and Port Erin, was carried on during the remainder of the summer and the succeeding winter with great activity, about 500 workmen being employed at various points along the line of route. On the 31st July, 1874, it was inspected by Col. Rich, and on the 1st August it was formally opened to the public, little ceremonial being observed. From the physical character of the district through which this line passed, its construction was much more difficult and costly than the central section between Douglas and Peel. At several points deep cuttings had to be made, and at others large embankments formed; but it was not, in any part, more difficult than such works usually are ; and, notwithstanding the unfavourable weather experienced during the greater part of the winter, it was completed in little more than a year from its commencement. The effect of the railways upon the internal trade of the country has been extraordinary. Instead of the one coach which, before their advent, sufficed for the wants of the passenger traffic, well-filled trains now run continually along the several lines ;while the scene at the Douglas station on market days is a wonderful contrast to the starting of " the coach" from the Market-place in the old days.


Back index next


Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 1999