[From Flaxney Stowell, Castletown 100 years ago]
Presented to the Subscribers of the Castletown Temperance Society.
'Twas the sweet day of rest on the first day of May,
To the Church of St. Mary's I wended my way:
I breathed as I passed up the sacred aisle -
"As sound as the bells keep my heart from guile."
Let the lowly, the meek, and the humble be here,
To join with their heart in the orthodox prayer:
For whether verbal or written, to doubt there's no need
The bells of St. Mary's respect no man's creed.
And when to their places of worship they go, -
Other sects of religion, - it matters not who, -
Her tones, like the God whom they reverence, are free;
The bells of St. Mary's are music to me.
Not an oar nor a sail for pleasure that day
Will bend on the waters of Castletown Bay,
The Commandment stands good: "My Sabbaths revere,
While the bells of St. Mary's respond through the air.
The Curlew, so fearful, so timid, so shy,
Comes nearer the beach with his whistling cry,
By the hand of the sportsman it's sure not to fall;
The bells of St. Mary's sound safety to all.
O ye youth of our town, your Sabbaths preserve,
For go where you will, such you never will have,
If you travel abroad the whole universe round,
When the bells of St. Mary's are far out of sound:
When oceans and mountains divide you from home,
And the Logical Sceptic may tempt you to roam,
He never can shew better than where you were rear'd -
In the town where the bells of St. Mary's are heard.
Chime on, ye sweet bells, till the Morning appears
When we shall account for our many past years,
And if circumstances take any part in that Day,
May the thought of your peals never lead to dismay.
The old streets bring up hosts of associations to the Castletown-born Manxman. Stories he has heard, events he has seen happen, seem to rise up like ghosts at the mention of their names.
Queen Street is built on the Strand which runs west towards Scarlett point. Queen Street was not so named in honour of any member of the English Royal Family, as many imagine. An old woman kept a little shop in the street before it had a name. She sold "a lil drop," and when dispensing it to her customers she sat on an overturned hive, and so the neighbours called her Queen of the Hive, and the street came to be known as Queen Hive Street, and now it is Queen Street. The Queen of the Hive sold Jamaica rum for a penny a glass, and if a man had two pence in his pocket he could say to his friend "Come on, let's have a lil drop," and they would go in and put down the money, and get two tumblers, a jug of water, and the rum, and could mix the potion to their fancy. There was no total abstinence in those days, and what was to be expected with cheap rum and no brandy substitutes for it such as we have now?
[note above derivation total fantasy - a Queen Hive house existed prior to 1704]
A famous house in Queen Street was one known as the "Court House," where Hal Maddrell Matthew lived.
When anything of importance had occurred the Queen Street men met on Sunday afternoons at the Court House to discuss it - in summer at the gable end, and in the cold weather by Hal's fireside. Besides current events, they would talk of the Bible, and of their Island's Government, or even of ghost stories and superstitions, handed down from father to son by word of mouth.
Solomon's books were favourite reading with them, and it is told how Hal had been struck with the words "The laughter of fools is like the crackling of thorns under a pot." One night, when the friends met, Hal spoke of this, and put some button-wraick under the three-logged pot as well as the thorns. They listened for some time, until, the button-wraick heating, the buttons, or little air-filled balloons which give it its name, began to explode and drown all other sounds with their noise, like a round of miniature musketry. Then old Hal observed "Chut, chut, but Solomon's thorns would have had no chance with the button-wraick."
The gable-end was furnished with huge stone slabs for seats, and here the friends would moralize and argue through the long summer evenings, which nowhere are more beautiful than in this neighbourhood. Sometime the Primitive preacher would join them, and improve the occasion with an extempore sermon, which was always respectfully received, and reasoned upon, and another time the Wesleyan preacher would come and minister to them.
Law matters greatly interested the Queen Street men, and any special case being tried in the Courts was keenly scrutinised by them. They freely criticised both Bench and Counsel, from Deemster Gawne to Sammy Looney. Mr. Bluett was their ideal lawyer. His practice was large, though he always avoided doubtful cases, advising the parties to agree privately. Mr. Bluett on one occasion lectured in the town on "Reason and Instinct" to a crowded house. In Queen Street lived a couple called Jemmy and Kerry, remarkable for the way in which their one matrimonial dispute was settled without the aid of the lawyers. When Jemmy and Kerry quarrelled, Kerry agreed to go and leave Jemmy. Away she went, kit and kind, and stayed for a fortnight. Then she came to the conclusion that after all there was no place like home, and for home she once more started. Getting to the door she called in a most pathetic voice "Jemmy, thou ungrateful fella, to think I have been a fortnight away and thou never come to look after me." "No," said Jemmy, "nor if thou was another fortnight away I wouldn't come to look after thee." Poor Kerry saw there was no repentance to hope for from Jemmy, so she made the best of it, and went in, and never after attempted to go from home. How much bitterness and misery would be saved if our statesmen could, for the twentieth century, devise a means of settling matrimonial disputes which would have as salutary and happy an effect as Jemmy and Kerry's dispute a hundred years ago.
There used to stand in Queen Street an aristocratic residence. Its style was massive, with wide staircase, wainscotted rooms, and panelled ceilings. Like too many others, it was allowed to fall into disuse and decay. It became the property of Ross McKissack, and was finally cleared away to make room for a poor-house, which was to be conducted on the voluntary principle. Now we have the compulsory system of poor rates, but it is doubtful if our poor are better treated than they were in the old days, when the rich man helped the poor man because his heart prompted him to do it.
Every boy born in Queen Street sooner or later received a "nick-name," and came to be better known by it than by his rightful patronymic. Indeed, were you to call the young fellows by their proper names they themselves would hardly know whom you meant. But if you asked for "Limerick," "Rumbo," "Larney," "Smid," and so on, there was no difficulty. When the lads left Castletown, however, they left their nicknames behind them, too.
One day in a boarding-house in Liverpool, a friend of mine chanced to meet with a Manx lad who, immediately inquired what part of the Island my friend came from. "Castletown," said my friend. - "Oh, indeed," said the young man, "I haven't the pleasure of knowing you." - Then my friend inquired his name.-" Maddrell," he said, - "No, I don't think I know you," replied my friend. Then one of the party called out, "Why don't thou tell thy right name ? Tell him thou'rt 'Smid'." Instantly my friend remembered, and they were in each other's embrace.
Kirk Arbory Street is named after the Church and Parish of Kirk Arbory. Half way up the street, on the right hand side, there is a large house, old-fashioned-looking now, with a garden attached to it. An old resident of Castletown still tells of the time when she used to see the Duke of Athol, then Governor-General of the Isle of Man, promenading the old garden walks with his Military Orderly in attendance. Only half the old garden now remains. The other half was sold as the site for the Town Hall.
The house opposite, on the left band side of Arbory Street, contains a room which is famous, because in it John Wesley slept when he visited Castletown. Its walls are thick, and the ceiling low, yet John Wesley found health and peace in it to help him in his labours among the dwellers in old Kirk Arbory Street.
Another house was occupied by Dr. La Mothe in his exile. He was one of a number of Frenchmen taken prisoners after the Battle in Ramsey Bay. He was at first lodged in Castle Rushen, but in time set at large to an extent. La Mothe practised medicine, and became highly respected among his captors, Descendants of these Frenchmen are still to be found on the Island, and the La Mothe's have made their mark and been a power for good among its people. Dr. La Mothe married a Castletown lady, a Miss Corrin, and the story goes that during his incarceration in Castle Rushen, he was visited by some of the Castletown ladies. One of them fell ill with the brightness and smartness of his Naval uniform. The lady was Miss Corrin, and the doctor spent the rest of his life in trying to cure her. They were laid to rest together in Malew Churchyard, where their gravestone may still be seen by any one who cares to visit it.
There were several businesses carried on in old Arbory Street, such as joinery and saddlery, and there was a grocer's and a linen draper's shop. Smuggling was practised pretty freely. Indeed, several houses in Arbory Street had vaults underground for storing away contraband liquor. It is a game two can play at. Government has for 800 years been trying to enforce sobriety by law, but it must come from a Higher source than the Government - a Heavenly and not an earthly law. The British Government boasts of having freed the slaves at a cost of 20 millions, and until it looks on the Drink Traffic as an evil of equal magnitude, and the pulpits incite the people to do away with that as they banished the Slave Trade, little good will be done.
Down Arbory Street, in 1824, came the potato mob in its thousands. The whole of the South of our Island was moved to desperation at the tithe demand. Every tenth blossom of a poor enough crop must the workingman wrench from his starving children. The mob marched on till they reached the Market place at the foot of the Castle walls. Here they demanded relief from the Lieutenant-Governor, Mr. Smelt. His Excellency ensconced himself in the Castle, and planted his guard of a few old Waterloo veterans on the low walls overlooking the Market place. But had there been a rush on the part of the mob, the guard would have been easily overpowered, for they had only their clumsy flint lock muskets for defence. The Lieutenant-Governor sent Mr. Kelly, the High-Bailiff, to tell the leaders to come and state their case. This was no sooner said than done, and, in consequence, the tithe was removed from that day forward. Would that there had been the same spirit of conciliation and consideration when the Mountain Commons were taken over by the Government.
In Arbory Churchyard there is a stone to the memory of a little girl who died of small-pox in Arbory Street. The stone bears this pathetic inscription:-
"Asleep in bed I laid,
Where none I did offend;
From thence against my will conveyed
To a plaguey pox by men.
Dear parents cease to weep
I innocently forgive,
Rather remember me to meet
Where love doth ever live.'
Kirk Malew Street is about a mile distant from the Parish Church of Malew. Malew street is, like its neighbouring streets, built zig-zag. It once contained a remarkable building known as Big Tree House, built in massive style, with the favourite panelling and wainscoting on ceilings and walls. Old Deemster Moore at one time made Big Tree House his residence, and held Minor Courts in it. The beautiful building was sold some years ago for a site for the Primitive Methodist Chapel.
The town barber, Mark Kelly, lived in Malew Street. He and his wife carried on business in the evenings. He wielded the razor and she assisted by applying the ends. During the day Mark worked as a labourer, using his spade ten hours a day for one shilling. Needless to say, he earned more in his shop during the evenings than working all day with his spade.
Like other barbers Mark could tell a good story. There was only one fault to be found with him, and that was, that in his anxiety to amuse his customers with his stories, he would sometimes go a bit past the strict truth. If he was questioned, and swore what he said was true, then his hearers settled it in their own minds that he was going past the truth; but if he would tell the story without swearing then they knew it would be truth. Poor things! Mark Kelly and his wife were both taken in a few hours by the terrible cholera scourge of 1832, when eighty-four Castletown people died. The disease was thought to have been conveyed to the Island from Russia, and while dry weather lasted, the plague wrought dreadful havoc. When the rain came, however, the disease disappeared under its cleansing influence.
Higher up Malew Street lived a joiner, a witty man, who knew how to get himself out of any scrape. Once he made a coffin for a sailor, who had been found drowned in the harbour. The coffin, when completed, was very crooked, and when Jack, the joiner, was asked how came the twist in the coffin, he replied that he had made it crooked because the dead sailor lay that way in the harbour.
The joiners were on easy terms with one another, readily
acknowledging who was a good workman among them, and willing to help
each other. They would divide out a job, so as to keep all employed
as long as the work lasted. Bob Shimmin was the best man among them.
He would go in and look at the rough skeleton of a building, and in a
short time, without the aid of scale or plan, would estimate the cost
of the finished building. When any big job was finished, Bob would
stand a good supper all round to the workmen. When any were in
difficulties, Bob would be sure to step in and help them, even if it
meant paying out the Coroner. He, with most of his companions, now
rests in Malew Churchyard, and when we visit their long homes we
"Sweet is the savour of their names,
And soft their dying bed."
Passing on, we come to Eldersley, which was built for a residence by General Cumming, or Comish, after he retired from the army, where he had seen service under General Wolff at the taking of Quebec.
General Cumming's family numbered five sons and daughters, and they added greatly to the social gaiety of Castletown by giving frequent balls, for which the gentry from far and near would come to Castletown. Eldersley would be lit up from floor to roof, and great excitement prevailed on these occasions.
Another house in Malew Street was the scene of a painful crime. A man and his wife quarrelled and fought, and in the brawl she fell downstairs, and was immediately killed. He fled from the hand of justice, and it was afterwards told how his wife's funeral passed under some trees at Great Meadow while he was hiding in the branches. He confessed after that the sight had touched him deeply, and made him repent bitterly of his sin, but his repentance came too late to do any good.
Up this street came marching at the dead of night, the Royal Manx Fencibles, followed by a crowd of women and children who were bidding them farewell, They were going to meet the French, said to be landing at Ramsey. Mr. Kirwan, an Irish gentleman, married to Mrs. Stevenson, of Balladoole, took command, and his Lieutenant was Mr. Cunningham, who married a Miss Taubman, of the Nunnery. Away they marched to meet the foe, terribly in earnest, and as they were going up Silverburn Hill they saw in the dim light horsemen coming towards them down the Mountain Road. These men, they took it, were the advance guard of the enemy, and word was given to "Prepare to receive Cavalry." A solid square was formed, but as the horsemen drew nearer, it became evident that there was a mistake. The order was given to 'Hold Fire', and the horsemen explained that they were part of the crews of three privateers which had put into Ramsey for the purpose of cleaning their guns prior to going into Liverpool. They were returning from a long cruise taken for the purpose of harrying French commerce. Our soldiers retraced their stops looking somewhat crestfallen. One Billy was especially disappointed at having to come back without his fight. Later on, he turned his energies to fighting "the good fight of faith," for when Mr. Butcher, a Primitive Methodist Minister, came to Castletown, Billy was one of his many converts.