[from D. Robertson, Tour, 1794]
THE MINES A BEAUTIFUL CASCADE TYNWALD-HILL ST. JOHN'S CHAPELPEELITS ANCIENT CASTLERUINS OF THE CATHEDRALINSTABILITY OF HUMAN GRANDEUR.
FROM Fairy-Hill we proceeded through a mountainous part of the country, to the lead-mines at Foxdale; which are wrought, under the government of a company in London, by a few miners from Derbyshire. The ore being rich and abundant, the mines afford an ample recompence to the workmen; and would prove highly lucrative to the proprietors, were they conducted with more vigour and attention. Besides these, there is a strong presumption of coppermines in this country; for, according to Sacheverell's letter to Addison, " there is a pool in the mountainous parts of Kirk Christ-Rushen, of so vitriolic a quality, that no ducks or geese can live near it; which proceeds from the particles of copper, that are discovered on all sides of those mountains." Sacheverell adds, " there is also a great probability of coal ;" but, in the course of a century, this probability has never been ascertained. The inhabitants of the interior parts of the Island are however plentifully supplied with turf from their morasses, and those of the seaports with coal from the exhaustless mines of Cumberland.
At a little distance from the lead-mines is a very romantic and beautiful cascade,which leaps down the neighbouring mountains, till it approaches a steep perpendicular rock; from whence, with much rapidity, it throws itself into the vale below. The fall is from a considerable heighth; and its picturesque beauty, and wild melody, receive an additional effect from the solitude of the surrounding scenery.
About two miles nearer Peel is the Tynwald-Hill, a Danish barrow of a conic shape and beautiful structure; which, considering its ancient dignity and importance, we regarded with some degree of enthusiastic reverence.
The vestiges of two gates, and of a wall which once fenced it round, are now scarcely visible; but the rest of this important mount is entire. The approach to the summit is up a spacious flight of grassy steps, fronting the ancient chapel of St. John's. Below the summit, there are three circular seats raised for the different orders of the people. The lowest is about four feet in width, and eighty yards in circumference. In the circuit and width of the two higher, there is a proportionable diminution; and each seat is regularly advanced three feet above the other; while the summit, on which was anciently placed the chair of state, does not exceed two yards in diameter.
This romantic spot is situated near the centre of the Island: and here, in 1417, Sir John Stanley, King and Lord of Man, convened the whole body of the people, to witness the first promulgation of the laws; which, till that era, had been locked up in the breasts of their venerable Deemsters(1). The Tynwald-Hill is, in some degree, still the scene of legislation; for all laws, respecting the internal polity of the Island, are never constitutionally binding, till, according to immemorial usage, they are promulgated at this place; from which custom, the Legislature, framing such acts,are denominated a Tynwald-Court, and the Laws of the Island, Acts of Tynwald(2).
The artificial mount of Tynwald has received little injury from the lapse of ages; but the ancient chapel of St. John's is now desolate and ruinous. The roof is greatly shattered, and the walls are now a sheltering place to the sheep in the neighbourhood.
About noon we passed the pleasant villa of the late Sir George Moore; and soon after arrived at Peel, which now ranks as the third town of the Island; though, from its impregnable castle, it was anciently deemed the most important. Previous to 1765, Peel had a considerable traffick with the Irish and Scotch smugglers; but since then, its trade has almost disappeared. The town at present is inert and solitary, and the houses in general have a poor and miserable aspect; yet, situated near the harbour, are some stately buildings, which may be considered as the only relics of its former wealth and commerce. Small vessels occasionally visit the harbour: its exports however are few, and its imports chiefly from Douglas. The inhabitants are for the most part indolent and poor; but being hardy, seem contented with their humble blessings. Peel-Bay is spacious, and abounds with a variety of fish; particularly with the red-cod, which is an exquisite delicacy. It is of a bright vermilion colour; and feeds among rocks, covered with tweeds and mosses of a crimson tinge. From these, perhaps, this beautiful fish derives its peculiar colour: for, as the vermilion hues of the moss and plants fade, the bright beauty of the fish also decreases.
At the north boundary of Peel-Bay is a range of several very grotesque and romantic caverns; supposed by the superstitious natives, to be the subterraneous palaces of those sullen and malignant spirits which I formerly mentioned. The south extremity of the Bay is formed by Peel-Isle, an extensive and lofty rock encircled by the sea; the summit of which is crowned with the venerable and very picturesque ruins of the castle of Peel, and the cathedral of Mona, dedicated to St. Germain, the first Bishop of the Isle(3). This romantic and important spot is still fenced round with a wall, having towers and battlements; and, before the modern improvements in the art of war, certainly repelled every invader.
Besides the castle and cathedral, there are scattered around, some other noble fray meets of antiquity; particularly, the ruins of St. Patrick's church, the armoury, the Lord's mansion, and the Episcopal palace.
From these relics we may however conjecture, that before the erection of Castle Rushen, Peel-Castle was the residence of the Princes and Peers of Mona: but alas! its ancient grandeur has long since perished. The once formidable strength of its battlements and towers is now yielding to the injuries of Time. Its massy columns are levelled with the dust; and its ornaments lie scattered around, among noisome weeds; while the mouldering walls are, in many places, only supported by the clasping ivy. Yet such is the general fate of humanity. Time has defaced the grandeur of this Gothic edifice; and sooner, or later, the same Power will triumph over human genius, and destroy every monument of the pride of man. Virtue alone will survive the wreck of worlds: for, Virtue, though human, is immortal.
To this account of Peel-Isle I shall beg leave to subjoin Mr. Grose's more minute description, as he has anticipated some of those observations which occurred to me, on visiting the place. The following particulars are transcribed from the fourth volume of his Antiquities of England.
" Peel-Castle stands on a small rocky " Island, about an hundred yards north of the town. The channel which divides it from the main land, at high water is very deep; but when the tide is out, is scarcely mid-leg deep, being only separated by a little rivulet, which runs from Kirk Jarmyn mountains. The entrance into this Island is on the south side, where a flight of stone steps, now nearly demolished, though strongly cramped with iron, come over the rocks to the water's edge; and turning to the left, others lead through a gateway in the side of a square " tower into the castle. Adjoining to this " tower is a strong vaulted guard-room. The walls enclose an irregular polygon,whose area contains about two acres.
They are banked with towers, and are remarkably rough, being built with a coarse grey stone, but coigned and faced in many parts with a red gritt found in the neighbourhood. It is highly probable this Island has been fortified in some manner ever since the churches were but the present works are said, by Bishop Wilson, to have been constructed by Thomas Earl of Derby, who first encompassed it with a wall, probably about the year 1500.
Here are the remains of two churches; one dedicated to St. Patrick, the Era of its erection unknown; the other called St. Germain's, or the cathedral, constructed about the year 1245. It is built, in the form of a cross, with a coarse grey stone; but the angles, window-cases, and arches, are coigned and formed with a stone found hereabouts, almost as red as brick. This mixture of colours has a pleasing effect, and gives a richness and variety to the building. The cathedral is now extremely ruinous, much of it unroofed, and the remainder so much out of repair, that it would not be oversafe for a congregation to assemble in it.
The eastern part of it is, however, still covered and shut up, in which there are seats, and a pulpit. This was the episcopal cemetery; and the inhabitants still bury within and about its walls.
Beneath the easternmost part of it is the ecclesiastical prison. The descent into this vault is by eighteen steps; and the roof is vaulted by thirteen ribs, forming pointed arches, and supported by as many short semi-hexagonal pilasters, only twenty-one inches above ground. The bottom of this place is extremely rough; and in the north-west corner is a well, or spring, which must have added greatly to the natural dampness of the place; to which there is no other air or light, but what is admitted through a small window at the east end.
About the middle of the area, a little to the northward of the churches of St. Patrick and St. Germain's, is a square pyramidical mount of earth, terminating obtusely. Each of its sides faces one of the cardinal points of the compass, and measures about seventy yards. Time and weather have rounded off its angles; but on a careful observation it will be found to have been originally of the figure here described. For what use this mount was intended may not be easy to determine. Perhaps from this eminence the commanding officer harangued his garrison, and distributed his orders; or else it may have been the burial place of some great personage in very early times; tumuli of this kind not being uncommon in the Island."
This account of Peel-Isle I shall conclude with the following historical passage from Waldron.
"It was in this castle that Eleanor, wife to Humphrey Duke of Gloucester, uncle " to King Henry the Sixth, and Lord Protector of England, was confined, after being banished through the malice of the Duke of Suffolk, and cardinal of Winchester; who accused her of having been guilty of associating herself with wizards and witches, to know if her husband would ever attain the crown, and other treasonable practices. Sir John Stanley, then Lord of Man, had the charge of her, and having conducted her to the Island, placed her in this castle; where she lived in a manner befitting her dignity, nothing but liberty being refused; she appeared however so turbulent and impatient un der this confinement, that he was obliged to keep a guard over her, not only because there were daily attempts made to get her away, but also to prevent her laying violent hands on her own life. They tell you, that ever since her death, to this hour, a person is heard to go up the stone stairs of one of these little houses on the walls, constantly every night as soon as the clock has struck twelve; but I never heard any one say they had seen what it was, though the general conjecture is, that it is no other than the troubled spirit of this lady, who died, as she had lived, dissatisfied, and murmuring at her fate."
1: In the historical department of the work, I have given an ample account of this memorable Convention.
2: Formerly a Tynwald-Court was annually held on St. John's day; and every person had a right to present any uncommon grievance, and to have his complaint heard in the face of the " whole country."
3: He lived in the Fifth Century.