[From Castle Rushen, Armitage Rigby, 1927]


By R. F. DODD, A.R.I.B.A.


this work was left unfinished by the author, and since it was his intention to let the final chapter take the form of a summary, it has been decided that the book shall conclude with a short general survey of the whole. The privilege of undertaking this survey has been accorded to me, as I was intimately associated with Mr. Rigby during the whole of the restoration period of the Castle.

From early times Castle Rushen was a strong point on the island, though not able to support a garrison sufficiently large to suppress the inhabitants of the island in case of rebellion, or to drive off a powerful invading party from abroad. The reason for choosing this particular site is clearly pointed out, and it is interesting to note, in passing, how the configuration of the land has changed with the passing centuries. The castle was a foothold for the lord of the island from which he could make military expeditions; in which he could incarcerate himself securely with his garrison in case of invasion; or as a last resource, a convenient place from which to escape by sea.

In perusing the earlier history of the island, one is struck by the everchanging overlordship. The absence of the overlord on a military expedition seemed always a signal for his possible successor to seize the opportunity of outwitting him.

The description of the building in its varying stages becomes an interesting study of the continued progress of military architecture from the thirteenth century to Cromwell's time. One appreciates the ever necessitating additions which were considered essential to the strengthening of an isolated fortress of this type, for as the implements of war became more powerful, so the fortifications were elaborated and strengthened to combat them. It will be seen from the text that this happened on at least three separate occasions.

If the structure of the Castle were examined to-day, it would be seen that the passing of centuries has left little impression on the excellent local limestone of which the building is constructed, although it is said to have been in a ruinous condition at the beginning of the last century, prior to its conversion into a prison. It is quite obvious that little repair was needed to the whole of the structure with the possible exception of the roofs. One constructional feature is of particular interest. The text mentions the large slate slabs of which some of the floors were constructed. This is an original method of flooring, and has the double advantage of being both durable and fire-resisting. It was made possible because large slabs of this description could be obtained from Spanish Head. The demolition of the nineteenth century prison additions, which was carried out by the author under the direction of the late Lord Raglan, has restored to the Castle a considerable amount of dignity of which it had been robbed, though undoubtedly these additions saved the building from becoming a ruin, and a local quarry providing stone for new buildings.

In considering the plan of the building, one realises the ingenuity of the military architect of the Middle Ages, for the approach between high walls, the ingenious contrivances of portcullis, drawbridge and sallyport, all go to show what an impregnable fortress Castle Rushen must have been in those days before the use of cannon.

Then, too, the domestic arrangements in the Castle were very complete and thorough. The supplies of drinking water were ample, as the restoration has shown. A number of covered-in wells were opened, and were all found to contain excellent supplies of fresh water. It has been pointed out in the text that several buildings were situated on the inside of the curtain wall, and the foundations of some of these are now uncovered. Undoubtedly these buildings housed the horses and cattle of the garrison.

Furthermore a flour mill was established in the vaulted chamber under the guard house. In time of siege, therefore, the garrison was well provided for, and, as history has proved, all within the castle were able to sustain themselves for lengthy periods without capitulation. The domestic arrangements for the lord and his family would be sumptuous for the period, while the number of guard-robes shown on the plan reveal the care that was given to sanitation. The method of lighting was restricted, since in all early fortified castles small windows were essential for the purpose of defence.

The Castle contained a Chapel, and also an oratory, the foundations of the former being unearthed during the restoration. Thus we find equally well considered the military, domestic, and spiritual sides of garrison life.

The Derby House built within the curtain wall, though of a later date, is an interesting feature. As conditions improved the accommodation afforded within the keep became too inconvenient, hence the building of this house for the visiting owner of the island. The author makes it clear that in later days, when the island was owned as a private property, the owners or their representatives paid occasional visits to inspect the property, but did not reside there for any length of time. This explains the apparent meanness of the Derby House, which was no more than a temporary lodging for the visiting owner.

The aspect of the surrounding town has changed very considerably in the past 300 years. The author refers to a house known as Old Lodge; this is a house of undoubted antiquity, and may well have been one of the lodges at the entrance to the Castle grounds. It would appear also that Malew Street formed the principal approach from the northern part of the island, and there is no doubt that the oldest dwellings are to be found in Queen Street, on the shores of the bay, in the district around the harbour, and in the vicinity of Malew Street. The approach from Derby Haven was ever an important one, as the Derby Haven Bay afforded a safe landing place for vessels coming to the south of the island. The present surrounding quays were non-existent, and in those days the harbour formed a small land-locked lagoon.

No finer example of a mediaeval castle exists in such a complete state within the British Isles, and posterity owes a great debt of gratitude to the late Lord Raglan, and the author of this volume, for all their excellent work in the restoration of this venerable building.



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