[From T.Quayle Agriculture of IoM, 1812]
THE greater part of the mountainous district in the centre and south-western part of the island, has not been reclaimed for the purposes of agriculture, but is dedicated principally to the support of a wild and hardy breed of sheep ; and in the summer months, of a few colts and young cattle. To a country destitute of coal, and nearly destitute of wood, this district is invaluable by its supply of fuel. The turbaries which it contains are free to all the inhabitants. Its herbage affords a common without stint as to the animals, and without any restriction, in practice, as to those who place them there. The proprietory government, during which the grantee of the crown was in possession of all the public authority, ceased in 1765. Whilst it was in existence, applications by individuals were occasionally made to the governor to obtain licence to appropriate a portion of the waste. From him a reference was made to an established jury in each Sheading, called the Great Inquest, in order to examine on view whether the proposed enclosure interfered with any turbary, road, or the rights of any individual, or of the public. In the event of the proposed enclosure meeting the approbation of the jury, and of their favourable report, the governor's assent followed ; a rent was affixed ; and the land newly granted was termed, "An intack" On the extinction of the proprietory government, and the consequent appointment of the governor by the crown, his interference in manerial affairs would have been improper, and the great inquest has ceased to receive applications for new intacks. The tract of land now used in common is indeed inadequate, and were it of twenty times the present extent, it would as certainly become inadequate to support the stock depastured there. Some intacks of ancient date remain to this day unenclosed. The most valuable of these, after changing hands, and frequent ineffectual attempts, by fencing, towards the exclusion of the hungry animals by which it was surrounded, was not completely secured by stone walling, 'till the month of June 1811. The progress of enclosure on the mountain, under the present system, is now probably at an end.
Whether the sheep kept by some contiguous proprietors occasionally throughout the year, on the waste, really produce to their owners any profit, is doubtful. The surface of this elevated region is in part covered with plants, which the animal will not touch till compelled by dire necessity. Its sufferings during the severe weather sometimes occasion great mortality. Those that remain are sold at the age of three, four, or five years, at various prices, at present from 3s 6d. to 15s. each. When shorn, eight fleeces unwashed average only seven pounds of wool ; some of the sheep indeed have but little wool to lose. The injury to the public by the trespassing of these starving animals is not in-considerable; and whilst the common is overstocked, and the contiguous holdings are improving, the mischief done by them will increase with the temptation.
Were the consent of the parties most interested to be hoped for, to the plan of locating and appropriating the waste, the same benefits which have resulted from similar measures in other countries, would result in this. The interest of the Lord and of the Church being provided for, either by the appropriation of an adequate portion of the waste, or by a compensation in money ; the turbaries remaining on the present footing, but with improved access, and the interests of individuals who might receive peculiar injury, being carefully attended to, the remainder might be parcelled out and sold for the public use. The roads, bridges, public building, and other objects of importance to this little community, at present in a state of neglect, might be placed and preserved in a proper state by means of this fund, if it were managed with judgment and fidelity. Each portion of the waste, when made private property, enclosed, drained, and receiving the other improvements of which it is capable, would become valuable summer pasture far sheep: the rocky and steep portions planted with trees, adapted to such a situation, would afford shelter to the remainder, great ornament to the island, and in time a supply of timber, for which it is now tributary to other countries.
The consent of the persons who are most interested from vicinity to the mountain in keeping it in its present state, or of any considerable portion of them, is however at present little to be expected : the measure would be unpopular. This and other obstacles, to which it is unnecessary to allude, forbid all hope of soon attaining it, however desirable and however probable hereafter to be carried into effect.
Among the mountains, in several spots, considerably elevated, and of very thin soil, appear at this day evident traces of the plough ; the ridge and furrow being clearly discernible. No tradition remains of the occasion on which these lands were brought under tillage; nor in the present day of improved agriculture and increased population, would it be deemed advisable to repeat the experiment. It may be conjectured that these higher lands may have been brought into cultivation in extraordinarily wet seasons, when the vallies were so much deluged as to preclude the islanders from committing in due time their seed to the earth. That the drainage of the lower lands was, two or three centuries ago, imperfect, and the discharge of the fresh water to sea impeded by obstacles which no longer exist, appears from this circumstance, that some portion of the land near the streams, which at present is the most productive, and not peculiarly subject to be inundated, is intack. It therefore must have been brought into cultivation, though infinitely superior in quality, at a period long subsequent to the cultivation of the higher grounds. A portion of the mountain may therefore possibly have been brought into tillage only on extraordinary occasions, and none more probably in such a climate, than in those of continued inundation, when this measure may have been resorted to as one of their resources against impending famine, by individuals obliged to seek those resources entirely within themselves.
The materials of which fences have been and still are ordinarily constructed, are the sods taken from the surface, and piled up in an equilateral triangle to the height of about five feet. In width, at the foundation, they reach six feet ; at the summit, about two feet. They are constructed in the winter, or early spring, at the price, at present, of from 5d. to 7d. per yard. During the summer they cover them with sward. The space of ground robbed of its surface for materials to construct these hedges, varies with the quality of the soil, and the dimensions of the hedge. In a good soil, not less than four feet on each side must be sacrificed ; on very indifferent shallow soil, where the stones approached the surface, and straggling furze intervened, an instance appeared in the erection of a recent fence, where fourteen feet at a medium on each side the fence had been excoriated. From the first moment of the erection of this attempt at a fence, its decay commences. In sandy sr ils, portions at one side of the hedge often slip down together to a considerable extent. From the mere action of the elements, it is daily returning to the surface from which it came ; and new sacrifices of soil must be made to keep it at the original elevation. In the western counties of England, mounds thus formed were destined to the growth of trees and brushwood; but the comparatively unsubstantial width of a Manks fence precludes this mode of application. Furze seed is sometimes sown at the top ; and when the plant is in vigour, and properly treated, is its best appendage. The root strikes deep, and adds solidity, whilst the top mats sufficiently to exclude the passage of any animal. At the end of three years the autumn is taken for burning the thorny part of the plant, as occasionally managed, and the larger stalks are afterwards cut off for domestic fuel; sometimes the whole plant is cut down near the hedge, and deposited at the foot, on the side from which trespassing is apprehended. The practice of sowing furze, though a considerable improvement of this description of fence, is not universal; nor do double rows appear in frequent use. Sometimes in the northern district, a few straggling sallows appear on the summit of the fence, for what purpose is not very evident ; attempts have been made to dig up a spit at the top of an old fence, muck it, and plant quick. In one or two instances, these have, for the present, prospered ; but, in general, the summit of the fence, when in repair, is devoted to the undisturbed possession of weeds, for the growth of which it at once affords a convenient asylum, and the best contrivance ingenuity could devise for their propagation.
The original purpose which fences in this island appear to have been designed to answer, was rather, it might be supposed, to ascertain the extent of each man's holding, than for the exclusion of strangers' cattle, or to keep in his own. The latter purpose, if within their view, was very imperfectly attained. By the collection of insular laws, it appears that in 1577, the two Deemsters, or common law judges, registered among old customs, which had never been put into writing, but used and allowed of long time, " that all manner of tenants shall make a sufficient ditch 1 to "defend his goods from his neighbour's ; that is to know, such a ditch as shall defend horse or cow, and to be made from the annunciation of our Blessed Lady till Michaelmas, and to keep a sufficient herd to keep their beasts from doing injury to one another." The Deputy and Council pronounce in 1583, " that it shall be lawful for every occupier of land to keep the same several, winter and summer; making his ditches environing the ground in such lawful repair, and keeping the same, as the course of the law appointeth, viz. every ditch of the height of four foot and a half, and in thickness of a double ditch, 2 according to the ancient and usual custom of the isle." This "sufficient ditch," four feet and a half high, would indeed require a " sufficient herd" in addition. Pinfolds, or pounds, were also established, to which trespassing cattle were conducted. In 1665 the insular Legislature interferes, and orders the Great Inquest to present all persons neglecting to make sufficient and able fences, as well in winter as in summer and harvest, and not continuing the fencing in every year. In default, fines are imposed. Again, in 1691, the Legislature returns to the subject of fences. As ill-disposed persons will not join with their neighbours in making up and repairing their part of the fences ; in case any person in future encloses any parcel of land, and be wil-ling to make fences to the expenses of which his neigh-bours, whose lands abut on his, and who are by law obliged to make up the fence with him, refuse to contribute, the Governor, or Deemsters, may require the reluctant person to join in making up and repairing the fences within an appointed time. If they still re-fuse, the work is to be completed by the person fencing he is to keep and deliver an account, on oath, of the charges, and execution is to be granted against the offenders for their share.
These fences had, previously, it appears, been raised to the height of five feet. By this law, they receive an additional elevation of six inches, with a trench at the bottom of one foot nine inches, and three feet broad ; and are directed to be of the height of six feet perpendicular, where a trench cannot be made. In 1776 the legistlature returry to the charge : in case of the insufficiency of boundary-fences, of one party's being dispose to erect a stone wail, the other refusing, a jury is directed to be impanneded to inquire on view, and report the expense of putting the actual fence into repair, and keeping it in that state for ten years. Half the amount of that sum when ascertained, is enjoined to be paid by the person refusing, to the person undertaking to build a stone-wall. The dimensions of this are to be at least two feet four inches in the foundation ; five feet in height ; and sixteen inches broad at such height, with proper coping. Means were taken to shorten boundary-fences when running irregularly; which is often remarkably the case in the island. But no means are provided for compelling the erection of a stone-wall, where no fence had previously existed. Thus stands the insular law respecting fences: in the statute book, it appears a subject of frequent recurrence : great indignation is expressed, and hard epithets bestowed on those vile trespassers. It does not seem once to have occurred to the legislators, as it should oftener to those who call names, that the fault does not perhaps lie with those on whore these epithets are bestowed, but with themselves. They are proceeding on a wrong system : they are endeavoring to produce by means of fines and penalties, that which the laws of matter and motion forbid. An earth-bank four feet and a half, or five feet high, is not at first a sufficient fence against most animals. In order to procure the food growing on the fence itself, they all acquire the habit of clambering on it, and of then seeking that food on the opposite side. But if it were at first a sufficient fence, from its nature it must fall into disrepair. By the legislature's dividing it in halves, between contiguous owners, they sow the seeds of discord ; they make it the interest of each to throw the burden of repairs on his neighbour, and consequently to neglect it himself. To this very system, therefore, the present disrepair of fences, and the disputes which they generate, may be attributed ; and, in fact, the fences are in a state even more wretched than might be expected.
Some remedies are occasionally attempted : in the mountain, large slates are set into the hedge obliquely, near the summit, and touching each other. In the low-lands, short stakes are set into it at the distance of four or five feet from the bottom, and two parallel ropes of straw, or of heath, are wound round them, leading from stake to stake.
In the materials of this description of fence, a variation is occasionally to be seen ; alternate rows of sods and of stones being used in its construction. It is probable that the motive for this practice was to get rid of stones with which a field was occasionally encumbered, and not with the view to add stability to the hedge. It would indeed appear to have rather an opposite tendency. This practice also, is said to be borrowed from the Irish.
Shackles for all animals are in common use. By these, provincially termed lankets, the legs are attached together ; usually the fore leg and hind leg, sometimes on one side, sometimes on both. In the low lands, sheep are generally submitted to this discipline, never in this country being attended by a shepherd. Indeed every animal, from the bull down to the peacock, has its lankets. There being no hurdles to be procured, in cases where they would be employed in England, it sward be on the spot the Manks farmer makes no ceremony of digging it up in sods to erect into a temporary fence of three or four feet in height. This he constructs of a single row of sods, caps it with furze, and commits to its protection an adjoining crop. In the upland farms, where stones are at hand, dry stone walls are constructed nearly of the dimensions prescribed by the insular law; the expense varying, according to the distance of the quarry, from is. 6d. to 3s. per yard. But few farms have white thorn fences ; where they have been tried, and proper protection afforded them, they have universally succeeded.
THE deficiency of timber has induced the wealthier farmers to substitute for posts two pillars; cylindrical, square, or rhomboidal-; constructed of stone and mortar, on which the gate is hung and secured. The cost of these is about a guinea each ; the gates themselves are too often in disrepair, sometimes totally gone: and in their stead single poles are substituted, running into holes left in each pillar; or loose stones are piled up ; or furze faggots ; or often the favourite wall of single sods. All these substitutes for gates are removed when access into the field is wanted; and afterwards replaced.
1 By ditch is here meant hedge. The word probably is a corrupted sound of dyke, or mound; and is used in that sense is Ireland.
2 By a double ditch is meant a hedge, consisting of two exterior ranges of sods, with a space between them filled with earth raised from the side or bottom.