[From Bullock's History of IoM, 1816]
Tour round the Island, commencing at Douglas - Description of that Town and Neighbourhood.
BEFORE: I enter on general subjects connected with the present state of the island, I think it may form a very proper ground-work to draw a short sketch of the country itself. The scenery of the Isle of Man, except on the north side, where it is better wooded, has no great beauties; there is nothing to elevate or astonish, and not much to admire: the mountains are of too tame a character, and too frequently covered with fog, which, as a native poet says,
"Sits like a night-mare squat on Mona's breast,"
to give pleasure, except to an imagination strongly tinctured with Ossianic scenery; such may here find all the varieties of tint and form that enraptured the mountain bard, but they will still languish for the bolder features of his scenery The highest elevation rises so gradually, that it; effect is lost to the eye; there is hardly a bold or abrupt precipice throughout the whole, except in the rocky scenery round the coast, which can only be surveyed from the sea; the interior is cast in the same mould with its inhabitants, and a sort of quiet mediocrity characterises the whole. The country is intersected by streams, which, though scarcely more than rivulets, serve to diversify the scene, and the water is every where pure and excellent, totally free from the brackish taste usually prevailing in the vicinity of: the sea, and as has been found, on experiment, admirably adapted to the use of the manufacture: as well as for domestic purposes.
The course usually pursued by travellers is to make a tour round the coast, on which all the towns and villages are seated, the interior being chiefly divided into small farms, or abandoned to the undisturbed dominion of heath and gorse, The high roads are tolerably level, and capable, with a little more attention, of being made excellent. The town of Douglas, from various causes, has a pre-eminence over all the other both in trade and population, though it is not the seat of government; but as it is the point at which nearly all visitors first arrive, I shall begin my description in that quarter.
The approach to this place by sea presents a most imposing aspect; on turning either of the heads that form the semicircle of the bay, which is of considerable extent, the eye takes in at once a variety of objects calculated to raise fair, hopes of the interior; in the centre stands the free stone palace of the Duke of Athol, called Mona Castle, magnificent from its size, if not from its architectural beauties. The hill behind this mansion is planted and cultivated, so as to draw forth and embellish all its natural advantages, though the space devoted to this purpose not exceeding five or six acres, bears no proportion to the size of the dwelling: at a short distance is a neat and elegant villa belonging to Col.Stewart, and in addition to these several modern houses, at different elevations, overhang the bay, and give an air of modest opulence and comfort to the whole. In a recess at the south side rises the tovn with a handsome pier, and a light-house, of classical elegance, presenting a new proof of the capriciousness of taste in the human mind, these two being planned and erected by the same artist, who built the chaotic mass, above mentioned for the Duke of Athol. The whole bay is two miles across, and is sheltered from all winds cexept the north east; both its points are rocky and dangerous, and in the middle is a bed of rock called "Connister," on which, in the stormy season, many vessels find their destruction.
It is unfortunate when the first glance at a place excites expectations, which every succeeding view must damp and dissipate; those who arrive at Douglas on a fine day can hardly fail to find the pier covered with groupes of white robed damsels, full of gaiety and spirit, they will cast their eyes with delight on the villas which surround or overhang the bay; if the time is evening, they may probably be greeted with the sound of military music from the parade and the combination must naturally lead them to anticipate an entrance into a mahometan paradise, peopled with houris; but this lovely vision will only last till they have ascended the stairs opposite to the custom-house; from that moment they must thread their way through a labyrinth of narrow dirty streets, and prepare to encounter the usual variations of dirt and neglect, for certainly nothing can be more inconvenient or disagreeable than the internal arrangement of this town, where the divisions form angles, which would defy the skill of the best charioteer of ancient or modern times; no part is flagged, nor is it well lighted, except in the vicinity of the harbour. The whole forms a triangle, the longest side extending from the bridge to the pier, but as the buildings are now rising in every direction, this shape will soon be lost; nor is it indeed even now so clearly defined as it was a few years back: the pier is in length five hundred and twenty feet, its breadth forty, it is handsomely paved with free stone; at the distance of four hundred feet it suddenly expands fifty feet to the right; this part being raised forms a semicircle to which there is an ascent by a flight of steps, and in the centre of the area is the lighthouse, according to the opinion of nautical men, more to be celebrated for its beauty than utility; being situated considerably within Douglas Head, and to nearly on a level with the town, that its light is often confounded with that of the neighbouring houses.
The harbour is esteeemed the best dry one in the Irish channel, and admits vessels of considerable burthen, at high water, close to the quay. The customhouse is the best building in the town, and conveniently situated for business: it was erected during the prevalence of the contraband trade, by one of those persons who had realised a considerable property in that pursuit; but in the panic following the revestment of the island, he sold it much under its value to the Duke of Athol, by whom it has been devoted its present use. Till very lately all the houses in Douglas were low and ill-constructed, crowed together without regard to convenience or uniformity; but latterly several new streets have been constructed in the suburbs, well situated for comfort and accommodation, in which th houses combine some degree of elegance in the exterior, with considerable attention to internal convenience.
The act of the legislature, taking away the protection from foreigners, has been more severely felt in Douglas than in any part of the island; this being the spot generally preferred by visitors of this description, and in consequence many houses are at this time uninhabited, and the shops have lost that animated appearance of business formerly visible in them; but yet as all the imports and most of the exports pass through this port, there is still a considerable trade carried on, and a degree of bustle perceptible on the quay, that keeps hope alive, and leads the inhabitants to look forward to the renewal of past prosperity, from some other source. The shops afford a good assortment of articles of necessity and convenience; but it is the practice to, mix various branches of trade in one receptacle, particularly linen-drapery, grocery, and hardwares, which is not favourable to the condition of the stock. One of the principal traders in the town of Douglas deals in the following incongruous list of commodities-millinery, mercery, liquors, wines, grocery, linen-drapery, stationary, ironmongery, salt, shoes, tobacco, snuff, brushes, brooms, mops, perfumery, hats, hosiery herrings, and coals.
The assembly-room is spacious, but neither elegant or even neat, yet the balls are well attended, and the young people dance to their two fiddles with as much hilarity as if the apartment was illuminated by Grecian lamps, or adorned with velvet hangings. A theatre was erected a few years since, but the encouragement given being insufficient to induce good performers to make even temporary visits, the building has been diverted to other purposes.
Amongst the most promising, establishments are a public library and reading room; institutions so necessary to the improvement of society, that they deserve in all places the highest support, and the most careful superintendence; but in this, as in many other instances, too much party spirit prevails, and in consequence the advance has not been equal to the commencement; the president, the committee, and the secretary, have been occupied with private differences, when they should have been debating only the best means of promoting the good of the society, and therefore the collection of books is neither so large, or so well chosen, as might have been, considering the time which has elapsed since the formation, or the funds subscribed. There is now only one printing-press* in the island, from whence a newspaper issue weekly, but it is the vehicle merely for advertisements. In Douglas is a small chapel dedicated to St. Matthew; but the place of worship most frequented is a new church, a little above the town, which is neatly finished, and where th pews let at a very high rate. The parish church called Kirk Braddan, is at a distance of two miles; there are besides these, a methodist meeting house, a presbyterian chapel, and also one for Catholics.
A Lancastrian school, and a house of reception for the poor, ought to be mentioned with praise; both owe their rise to voluntary subscriptions, to which those persons, whom the natives are too fond of distinguishing by the term strangers, have been much the largest contributors: formerly, the poor of Douglas, as is still the case in all other parts of the island, were partly maintained by a collection, which is made every Sunday in the different churches after the morning service, when the wardens go round from pew to pew, and though none of the donations are large, yet it is very unusual for any one to refuse some trifle. In country places, where the persons claiming parochial relief are not numerons, these alms have been found tolerably adequate to their support; but in the towns, though the collections were much larger, yet they fell very far short of the wants to be supplied, and this deficiency it was the custom to make up by domiciliary visits of the paupers themselves, who usually on a Monday morning made a progress in a body from house to house, to the great annoyance of the inhabitants, who were literally besieged by a body of claimants not easily to be either satisfied or dispersed. The establishment of a public kitchen in Douglas has completely relieved the housekeepers of that town from this weekly visitation; to support this institution each family subscribes according to inclination or ability, and the whole is conducted under the vigilant and judicious superintendance of the high bailiff of the town, to whose exertions the plan, excellent as it is, first owed its rise. Those poor persons who, from sickness or infirmity, are unable to attend at the regular meals are provided with food at home, the others take their shares at a common table, and some few reside in the poor-house altogether. The whole number receiving daily aid are about 100 persons.
The Lancastrian school has also been an essenntial public benefit, and a very visible improvement has taken place in the children of the poor since its institution. Establishments of the same kind, but on a smaller scale, have been set on foot in Ramsay and Castletown, from whence it may be hoped, that the blessings of education which not many years since were unattainable even by the higher ranks in the island, will now be extended to the lowest. The last public buildings which I have to notice are the hot an cold salt water baths, these, which are not yet quite finished, will be of inestimable utility to valetudinarians, and no doubt tend to increas the resort of visitors from the opposite coasts during the bathing season.
The post office for the island is in Douglas where all letters are brought from Whitehaven and thence forwarded to the other towns. The packet sails from England, wind and weather permitting, every Monday night, and after a stay of three days is again due for the opposite coast.
The lodging-houses are very numerous in this town, but there are few inns, and only two of any pretensions; in these the accommodations are good, and the difference between their charges and those made at English hotels is so great, that it induces many persons to give a preference to Douglas, for a temporary visit during the summer, especially as the sands are well adapted for bathing, and proper machines in waiting. The markets are abundantly supplied; but for a scale of prices, &c. I shall reserve a page at the conclusion of the work.
The Duke of Athol's house or castle, as it is the first object which strikes the eye of the traveller, and the most considerable for magnitude in the island, must not be passed over with the slight notice already taken of it. It is an erection faced with free-stone, on a plan so extraordinary, that it has puzzled persons, much better skilled in architecture than I pretend to be, to decide what class it belongs to. The mansion is a perfect square; on a line with the back front extends a string of offices, forming one wing under a colonnade, and thereby giving an air of deformity to the whole. The principal front recedes a little in the centre, for no reason but to countenance the erection of a modern balcony with a light iron railing, to contrast the gothic columns running up in the other parts of the building. The windows are much too narrow and the grand saloon, which is of magnified dimensions, is completely spoiled by a rows small lights, like the windows of an attic story passing over the cornice and principal sashes; besides all, the eye is offended by a line of battlements, above which rises a pointed and slated roof, giving a direct contradiction to the armed pretensions of the front; nor is this the worst error in judgment, for, amidst an assemblage of chimneys, roofs, cornices, and carved work, springs up a round Gothic tower, with long sash windows between the loop-holes, the only visible use of which strange excrescent is to sustain a flag-staff, whence the colours are occasionally displayed.
The domain around the mansion is on a scale of littleness exciting continual astonishmet since there could be no cause why the lord; the whole island should fix on a spot so circumscribed, that the dwelling appears complete crowded under the hill, or rather gives an idea of having slid down in some violent concussion of the earth.
The terraces, walks, and gardens, would hardly suffice to exercise the taste of a citizen. who had to plan out his parterre and paddock for a country-box at Islington, and the whole so much elbowed and incommoded by neighbouring villas and cottages, that it can be compared to nothing more appropriate, than the noble owner himself, descending from his elevated station as lord of Man, and submitting to jostle and associate as deputy with those officers over whom he ought to have held sovereign sway. The cost of this building, with all its defects, is said to have been upwards of £50,000.; a large sum to expend on a mere monument over departed greatness.