[From H Stowell Brown, Notes of my Life, 1888]



The year 1832 made a great change in the history of our family. The Rev. Thomas Howard, Vicar of Kirk Braddan, was appointed to St. George’s, in Douglas. He retained his position as vicar of the parish, but my father became his curate, and, I believe, had all the emoluments, and was virtually vicar. In the month of November in that year, we removed to the vicarage, some two miles and a half from the town. The excitement of the removal was great ; the joy to myself and my brothers Robert and William inexpressible. Now we had a country life. The vicarage was nearly three-quarters of a mile from the church, and stood some two hundred feet above the sea-level, but was about two miles from the shore. It was surrounded by three fields, and had a garden and a good farm-yard. Another part of the glebe was a mile away higher up the hill. The vicarage was a very poor place; the rooms were barely seven feet high; there was a kitchen and a back kitchen and a parlour on the ground-floor; above, two bed-rooms, and a room which my father made his study; and a dark, dismal attic above in which no one could stand upright. The house had a great many trees about it, and they were our gymnasium; we climbed them all, and sometimes almost lived in them. The view from the vicarage was rather extensive. We saw the town and harbour, and beyond them the blue sea, and beyond that, in very clear weather, and especially just before sunset, Black Coomb in Cumberland. Old Kirk Braddan Church still stands, and is well known to all who have ever visited the island; a small, quaint building, thickly surrounded by trees. The churchyard is so full of the dead that its level has been raised, so that the church is almost in a hollow. The internal arrangements were of the most primitive character. The vestry was a dark, damp, and filthy den under the church, and my father never entered it, but put the gown and surplice on and off within the communion-rails in the presence of the congregation. There were no cushions in the pews; there was no stove, no organ, no choir; the clerk not only led the singing, but did it. No other voice could be heard, and his own was hoarse and cracked. He also had a vested interest in the responses, and any one joining in them would have been stared at with wonder, and perhaps with indignation. The people sat and knelt and stood absolutely mute. The sermons were alternately, or nearly alternately, in English and in Manx. My father, when he went to Kirk Braddan, knew nothing of the Manx language, but he set to and learned it, and before long preached in it very creditably. I can scarcely imagine anything more dreary than that Manx service, especially on a dark, cold, blowing, and rainy day. The church damp and cold, with the green mould upon its walls, thirty or forty people forming the congregation the clerk doing the singing and the responses, and my sister, brothers, and self, not comprehending a single word. But my parents were of the same mind with the Highland woman, who, referring to an Englishman who did not go to a church in which only Gaelic services were held, said with indignation, "He says he dis’na understand the language, as if that was any excuse!" I don’t think that of the parishioners of Kirk Braddan there were a score of the attendants—not a dozen—who did not understand English quite well enough to understand the Bible, the prayers, and my father’s exceedingly fine and simple English ; but for these few who lived up the hills, and hardly ever came to church, we were doomed to that dismal penalty. I am inclined to think that even the Manx-speaking portion of the congregation, with very few exceptions, would have understood my father better in English than in his Manx. Every Sunday morning after service, the Sumner of the parish, a burly old man, named Christopher Carran, mounted a tombstone in the churchyard, and announced, first in Manx and then in English, the fairs and sales by auction that were to take place during the week. He would also inform us what arrangements were being made for the propagation of cattle and horses; legal information was next given, as to Chancery and other Courts, the meetings of Tynwald; he also knew what farms were to be let, and what cattle had gone astray. Churchings generally took place in the afternoon, and it was customary for the mother and other women who brought the child, to drink the water that remained in the three-halfpenny basin that served as a font. And why not drink it? Had it not been sanctified to the washing away of sin? It surely might be expected to do the women good. Then on every Sunday afternoon, funerals, for the churchyard had to do duty for almost all the people of Douglas, as well as the other inhabitants of the parish. So the friends came at service-time, the coffins were placed in the church, and remained there until the end of the service, perhaps an hour and a half. I have seen as many as five at a time; and in hot weather, my father in the pulpit improving the occasion, and we in a pew, within three feet of the coffins, were half-poisoned by the stench. Many of the mourners were drunk, of course, and some of them in a state of stupor, tumbling over the coffins, sometimes sobbing and howling. During the whole year there was but one evening service. It was on the evening of Christmas Day, and it bore the name of Ill-vary; I do not know how to spell the word; it is Manx, and I believe has reference to the Virgin Mary. The service concluded with one or two Christmas carols, sung by some rustics who had got them up for the occasion. What those in Manx were I cannot tell; but I remember one in English in which the singers spoke of Mary in such horrible fashion that my father could bear it no longer; he stood up in the reading-desk, angrily rebuked them for their abominable indecency, and brought the service to a hasty close. Such was Kirk Braddan when my father went to it in 1832, and such, or worse, were almost all the parish churches in the Island.

It was well that we went to the vicarage when we did, for we had scarcely left the town when the cholera suddenly made its appearance there, and terrible was the havoc that it made, and no wonder, considering the filthiness of the place. The fatality was great, and the alarm was extreme. If I remember rightly, there were often six or seven funerals a day at Kirk Braddan. For me and my brothers it was a jolly time. We were to have been sent to school had not this calamity occurred (we had not been to school before); but now it was supposed, and not without reason, that the town was in a perilously pestilential condition, and we were strictly forbidden to go near it. So there we had our first summer in the country, doing much as we liked. All was new to us, and we enjoyed it thoroughly; June, July, August, September, well on into October before we were sent to school.

The manner in which the people of Douglas and of the island generally looked upon cholera was characteristic of them. They thought it a judgment on them for their sins, but had no idea that it was the punishment of their filthy habits. Any one suggesting this, and proposing as a remedy some sanitary measure, would have been looked upon with horror as an infidel. And so nothing was done. The undredged and unflushed harbour stunk its stinks as before, the high water of the bay continued to be distinguished as a dark line of mingled ashes, filth, rotten fish, and offal of every description; the water lay stagnant in the gutters and streets, and the people died like flies. Discarding science and common sense as things profane, the survivors developed the superstition that has always been a feature in the Manx character; and instead of whitewashing their houses, cleansing their streets, and drinking less rum, they went to their prayers.


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