[From Wood's Account of IoM, 1811]

Chapter III.

On the Population, Climate, Buildings, and Agriculture of t/ie Island.

BEDE relates that in his time (the eighth century) the population of the island did not exceed three hundred families.1 He calls the Isles of Man and of Anglsea, Insulæ Menaviæ, distinguishing one by the Northern, the other by the Southern Menavia. 2 Hollinshed, who wrote in the year 1584, says, " there were formerly thirteen hundred families in this island, but now scarcely half that number. In the year 1667 the island contained 2531 men between the ages of sixteen and sixty years.

Here follows a detailed account of the population at three distinct periods, the years 1726, 1757, and 1792.

Parishes and Towns.

Inhabitants in
































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Kirk Christ Rushen .











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At the present time the number of inhabitants is thought to be more than 30,000, a population nearly proportionate to that of England. This continual increase is probably owing to an improving state of agriculture, a greater division of property, anda more extended cultivation of the potatoe.

The following is list of baptisms, marriages, and burials in 1792, 1793, 1794, 1795, and 1796.
























In Braddon parish the burials exceed the number of baptisms ; but in every other . parish fall far short of them. The most prominent feature of the statement is the great excess of births over the number of burials. This is accounted for, but not satisfactorily, by the annual emigrations of the poor, who for want.of employment at home seek a maintenance abroad. Even the baptisms are very low for maintaining thirty thousand people, and, without any emigration at all, would require a very long average of life.

The climate of the Isle of Man is rather milder in winter than that of the neighbouring shores ; frost and snow being of very short continuance. The heat of summer, on the other hand, is not so great : the harvests are consequently late : the grain does not arrive at its full size ; and the straw for fodder is less valuable. Frosts seldom make their appearance before Christmas, and latterly have been so slight as little to impede vegetation. Gales of wind and falls of rain are frequent, and of long duration. In the spring of the year, they render the seeding difficult and less complete, and are very prejudicial to the tender shoots of corn.

The land is chiefly divided into small farms, from one hundred and fifty to two hundred acres each. A spirit of improvement is more general than it used to be ; and much common land has lately been inclosed.

Taking the tithes in kind, a customary method, is a great impediment to agriculture, and much disliked. Were the tithe commuted for a settled sum of money, the good effects of such a practice would soon be visible.

Leases are limited by law to twenty-one years, a great check to agricultural improvement. Till the year 1777, the law respecting them was much more prejudiciaL the lease always expiring with the life of the lessor. A person who attempts the cultivation of a barren heath does not expect to receive any benefit from the produce of the soil for the first eight or ten years. During this period at least, the profit arises from the better state of the soil, and the trees and hedges which may have been planted : and what tenant would be mad enough to commence the cultivation of land upon a twenty-one years’ lease, knowing, as he must do, that the land-owner would enjoy all the profits. Hence it is that land is little improved, unless farmed by the owner ; and land-holders and farmers being such distinct classes of society, this rarely happens to be the case to any considerable degree. The laws respecting leases, in common with other arbitrary laws, were made for the good of the governor, not for that of the subject : the former apprehending that long leases would diminish or do away sales ; and that the fines, due to him upon alienation, would be thereby evaded. The usual time of entering upon a farm is the 12th of November, and the rent is commonly paid half yearly. The covenant of a lease generally binds the tenant to keep the buildings and fences in repair. It frequently obliges him to spend upon the farm, if not in the neighbourhood of a town, or near the sea, the whole produce of the hay, straw, and manure, and not to take from any part of the land more than three crops of grain in succession.

Land in the vicinity of towns is chiefly in the possession of their inhabitants, who, after reserving what is necessary for the use of their families, send the remaining produce to market. From 21. to 31. per acre is sometimes given, but 30s, or 35s. is a more common price ; and the lots are usually very small. Farms are sometimes let for a guinea or even 25s. : those at a distance from 12s. to 20s. ; uplands 5s. and upwards; but rents everywhere are evidently rising. The measure of the English statute acre is universal.

The common, or uncultivated land, is estimated at rather more than one-third of the island. It includes the whole of the mountain chain, nearly to its base. Horses, cattle, and sheep are turned to graze upon it. They have, each, a fore and hind-leg tied together with a straw-band, to prevent their straying far, and to increase the facility of catching them. An animal thus served is, in the appellation of the Mhnks, lanketted. The ever-green furze yields them the chief nourishment in winter. Sheep can eat only the young shoots, and keep the bushes so round and even, that they appear to have been under the hands of the pruner. That necessity is the mother of invention is a proverb, not applicable to mankind alone. Horses, being accustomed to take in larger mouthfuls and longer branches than the sheep, cannot eat the furze in its natural state, on account of the prickles. When confined to this kind of food, they trample upon the branches, and paw them with their fore-feet, till the prickles become mashed together or rubbed off; and so completely do they perform their work, that the food thus prepared might be squeezed by the bare hand wiih impunity. I am informed, that there is no other place, except Anglesea, in which they are driven to the exercise of a similar sagacity.

The inclosures are usually from four to ten acres, with fences unaccountably crooked and irregular. The common fence is composed of sods of earth, reaching to the height of four or five feet. It requires frequent repairs. Gorze or furze is often planted on the top, making the fence more secure for the time; but in the course of three or four years, if not cut down before the expiration of that period, completely destroying it. A wall of uncemented stones is another common fence, and more easily repaired. The quickset is little used, and is supposed not to flourish in a westerly aspect. The gateposts, composed of stone and mortar, are remarkably and unnecessarily stupendous, being often square or rhomboidal figures of three feet each way. Only the gate itself is made of wood.

Houses of the best sort, both in town and Country, are built of hewn stone : those of an inferior kind, and even very good ones, of stone unhewn. Some of the latter kind. in Douglas, let as high as 401. per annum. Sash lines and weights, even to sash windows, are rarely to be seen, the people still continuing the barbarous method of supporting the sash at one invariable height by an iron catch. The farm-houses and offices of this island are generally small, irregular, and ill constructed. Some modern ones are upon a better plan ; and some few estates are well supplied with offices and barns. A common custom, and one every way bad, is to have the barn over the cow-house. Open stables are still too much in use. The farm-houses, and, indeed, most of the cottages are built of unhewn stone ; the former with a mortar, the latter with a mud, cement : the former with a roof of slate, the latter with one of straw. The meaner cottages are constructed of sods of earth, and resemble those of North Wales, consisting usually of two rooms on the ground, sometimes with, sometimes without, a solitary window. The thatch is of straw, and is kept in its proper place by bands of the same material, twelve or eighteen inches apart, crossing each other at right angles, thereby dividing into squares the superficies of the roof. Each end of every band is fixed to a pin, stuck into the mud wall. The smoke of a peat fire is intended to issue at a bole at ane corner of the roof left for that purpose ; but the greater part usually takes possession of the room, and emerges thence by the door-way. The walls of such a cottage are very durable ; but the thatch will not last longer than two years ; whereas an English thatch will last fourteen.

The roads have been for a long time in an improving state. Forty years ago they were dangerous for horsemen in winter, and for carriages even in summer. At present, though very good in summer, they are sometimes, in winter, impassable for many days together. There are only three chief, or carriage, roads; from Douglas to Casiletown : from Douglas to Peel : and from Castletown to Ramsay. The clay-slate with which they are made and repaired is soon ground into a sort of clay. About Balasalla and Castletown limestone is used, and makes an excellent road. By the statute of 1776, new high roads were ordered to be eight yards wide, to have ditches on each side, and to be well gravelled at top. The term gravel must be used in a very indefinite sense, since there is iiot any, nor, I believe, a piece of flint upon the island. The funds for making and repairing them will be noticed in the chapter on revenue.

Light ploughs are generally preferred to others; and almost all are procured from England or Scotland. These made by Mr. Small, of Ford, in Scotland, are held in most esteem. The horses being small and not strong, four are required to turn a furrow fourinches deep. Some hah’ows are óf a good construction ; but many of them are too light, and consume in time more than they save in labour. The roller, varying in weight from five hundred to one thousand pounds, is often used after a sowing of grass seed : and, when followed by a brush harrow, is a valuable implement in spreading manure. Drilling and hoeing machines are not very common.

The proper construction of wheel carriages seems little understood. Cart~wheels are invariably very narrow and generally small. In getting in a harvest, I observed many sledges to one cart ; frequently no cart at all. Crops of small fields are often carried home upon men’s shoulders ; and this is the usual way of collecting a tithe,

Dressing corn by fanners is the practice on most farms. A few but not many threshing machines are in use.

For live stock farmers rely more upon importation than their own rearing.

The usual number of horses allowed for husbandry, on the low land farms, is one team of two or three horses, from thirteen to fifteen hands high, to thirty acres of tillage. The upland farrmers use double the number, but of a smaller size, and of the native breed, which appears similar to that of North Wales. Horned cattle are numerous ; but the old stock, for want of care, is nearly lost. They were short legged and thick bodied, and. more profitable to fatten than reserve for milk. Twelve quarts of a rich quality was the average return, producing nearly two quarts of cream, yielding sixteen ounces of butter. A few barrel-churns are used, but plunge-churns are the most common.

Sheep are fed chiefly on the uplands. The ~tncient stock is very small and hardy, much like the south-down of England, and endures the severest weather. When fat, their usual weight is from five to eight pounds per quarters Their meat is excellent. This is still the breed upon the uplands and mountains ; but in the low lands a larger sort has been introduced. Two pounds and a half is thç average weight of the fleeces of the small sheep, and six or seven pounds of the large ones. It is not of the finest or longest staple. The sheep are not washed previously to their being sheared. Besides the two sorts already mentioned, there is a peculiar breed called Laughton, having wool of a light brown or snuff colour. . These are not accounted hardy, and are more difficult to fatten than the other sorts. The cloth made of their wool is much liked by the natives, and on this account only is the breed preserved. A writer of the sixteenth century says,"the Manks sheep are exceeding huge, with tails of an almost incredible magnitude : the hogs are monstrous" 3. Sheep, in this country, are subject to a peculiar and fatal disease, called by the natives Ouw, supposed to be owing to the eating of the hydrocotyle vulgaris, marsh pennywort. Its leaf is said to corrode the liver ; and, on opening a sheep that has died of the disease, to be found attached thereto, transformed into an animal, having apparent life and motion, but retaining its primitive vegetable shape. Dr. Withering attributes the rot in sheep to a flat insect, the fasciola hepatica, fluke, which is foúnd in wet situations, adhering to stones and plants, and likewise in the livers and bihiary ducts of sheep affected with this complaint.

Almost every cottager keeps one or two pigs. They are reared on the offal of the houses, run about the lanes, and are killed at the age of ten or twelve months. Potatoes and grains contribute to their maintenance in summer ; and potatoes, either boiled or raw, with some littlie corn, is the food used for fattening them. Their average weight is fifty pounds per quarter, and their price does not much exceed half that of beef or mutton.

Poultry, though numerous, does not exceed that limited quantity which the farmer can keep with little expence. Geese and ducks are common, but turkeys are not plentiful.

The country is sufficiently populous for the extent of cultivated ground ; but, the herring-fishery engaging the attention ofso many men and small farmers during the summer or autumnal months, is a great check to agriculture, and renders labour scarce. Another bad effect of it is, that it teaches habits of so much irregularity and idleness, that the people employed in it never become good labourers, and are, generally speaking, a very lazy and drunken class. The custom is greatly felt by those who have much corn to reap or grass to cut : the getting in of the harvest is very tedious, for want of sufficient hands ; and it is often much injured by the weather. I have known hay cut for many weeks before the farmer could get it carried, and sometimes not stacked before the end of September. The women, unaccustomed to the irregular lives of the men, partake not of their indolent disposition. Four-fifths of the farming business fall to their share. They are reckoned very expert in reaping and in digging potatoes, and perform not amiss many other parts of husbandry. A mower cuts in a day about three quarters of an acre of grass ; and five female reapers, with one to bind, cut an acre of corn. The practice is to cut the corn as close to the ground as possible. Stocks of wheat consist of ten sheaves, and are never topped : stocks of barley have twelve sheaves, and are covered. The average produce of an acre is sixty sheaves ; but their number varies greatly. Mowing corn has been tried, by way of experiment, but is not much practised. Hours of work are from six to six, in summer, allowing two hours for meals and a rest at noon ; they are from eight to four, in winter, allowing the same time for meals, but no rest at noon. The price of labour is continually Increasing. Men get, during the harvest, one shilling per day, and women, ten-pence, besides provisions : and . the quantity of work effected is very inferior to that of the opposite shores. A ploughman expects from eight to ten guineas a year, and a boy three. Some of the experienced Scotch labourers have been procured at double wages, and found a great acquisition to the farmers.

The labouring class of people live upon butter-milk, potatoes, barley-cakes, stir-about, and herrings. The barley-meal is kneaded with a tery little water, and rolled to the thickness of one-sixth of an inch. It is then baked upon a plate of iron over a peat fire, and usually has a stronger flavour of smoke than of barley. Oat-meal is occasionally, but not very often, substituted. Leavened bread is little known and little lìked. Stir-about, well known in Ireland, is composed of oatmeal and water boiled : this is their common breakfast : herrngs are a frequent part of their dinner, salted, not dried : and their last meal is either stir-about, or potatoes and milk. A labourer usually has a piece of potatoe ground, and sometimes, a cow.

Much land has been improved by draining, and a good deal more requires it. The covered drains are usually two feet nine inches deep, nine inches wide at bottom, and two feet at top. They are filled up one-half with stones, and on them a layer, either of straw, or neatly pared turf, to prevent the mould from getting in. On stiff clayey land they have been constructed, and found to answer, without stones, the drain being narrower, and the turf resting upon a ledge on each side. The ditches are, in general too shallow, and not kept clean. A northern tract of two thousand acres, six miles long, has been converted from a marsh to arabic and pasture land by a cirain of ten feet wide and six deep. The Loil is peat-moss and clay. When I saw it (in 1808) the drain was full to the brim, with marshy land about it, and seemed to require clearing. There are several other open drains.

For a manure farmers rely chiefly on farmyard dung, and, if near the shore, on sea-weed. The latter is either used immediately for corn or potatoes, or forms a part of a valuable compost.

For barley it is particularly useful ; but is totally expended by a second crop. Plough oxen, steers, heifers, and dry cattle consume the oat and barley straw. The aged cattle are kept in houses : the young, in yards or the corners of dry pastures, with the liberty of ranging the fields in the day-time. Lime is an excellent and durable manure upon soils of clay or peat ; but the expence of quarrying and of burning it prevents its being greatly used. The sweepings of the herring houses, were it not for their limited application, would be very profitable to the farmer. A soil of sand is highly improved by a layer of the clay found a few feet beneath the surface. From three to four hundred loads, of ten hundred weight each, are put upon every acre. After it is crumbled to pieces by the winter rains and frosts, the land is put in tillage. The northern flat is rendered by this treatment the most fertile of any in the island. Its chief produce is barley, a considerable portion of which is sent annually to Douglas.

Arable land is laid out in ridges of various sizes : those of peas, wheat., or oats, from four to nine feet wide ; of barley, from twelve to twenty feet. High-ridges are never used, the depth of soil being seldom sufficient to admit them.

A regular rotation of crops is little understood or practised. rFhe one most approved is this the first crop, potatoes or turnips, well manured; the second, barley ; the third, clover ; the fourth, oats ; sometimes, if good land, wheat ; the fifth, peas, or oats, if wheat has gone before. A poor soil, after having sustained two or three rotations, is often suffered to stock itself with natural grasses. This is th.e work of several years. For a few yeai~s more it is surrendered to pasture, and then subjected to another rotation of crops. ileathy land, not being sandy, is improved mostly with thorough fallowing and liming, and, after a few crops, is sown with grass seeds : but, unless these soils have frequent dressings and tiflage, they return to their origi— nal state. Summer fallowing is little practised.

The cultivation of wheat is not general, chiefly on account of its being subject to the smut in this cìimate. The red sort of seed is the most common, and is usually sown immediately after the potatoes are dug up, in November or December. The return is, usually, from twenty. four to thirty-six bushels per acre. It is always sold by the actual weight of sixty-four pounds to the estimated bushel. Five thousand pounds’ worth of flour is annually imported. About half the corn land is used in the cultivation of barley.

Two sorts are sown, the four-rowed, which is fit only for malt ; and the two-rowed, the meal of which is used for the unleavened bread. The four-rowed requires the earliest sowing, and is ripe a fortnight before the other sort. Seed time is from the middle of April to the middle of May. The usual allowance of seed per acre is from three and a half to four and a half bushels, and the average return, thirty-six.

Nearly the other half of corn land is used in the cultivation of oats. Two sorts are sown, the white and the Poland. The first, being hardy and not very liable to shake, is generally prcferred. Seed time is from the beginning of March to the middle of April. The allowance of seed is five or six bushels per acre, and the average return thirty. Beans are not much cultivated, owing to the lateness and wetness of the harvest. Grey and white peas are in common use, and are sown in the month of April. The allowance of seed is two and a half bushels per acre, and the return about twenty bushels. This is a crop which tends to meliorate the soil, and render it more fit for corn. . Little rye is cultivated, and the grain is not in demand. The inhabitants are very partial to potatoes. There are many sorts, and various modes of cultivation. The time of planting is from the end of March to the middle of May ; the sets, first planted, yielding the most mealy potatoes ; but those, last planted, the greatest crops. Eighteen or twenty bushels are the common allowance of sets. Their return depends greatly upon the care taken in weeding and hoeing, and is generally from one hundred and sixty to two hundred bushels. With extraordinary attention three hundred bushels have been obtained. The digging up is performed with a three-lined fork. A good labourer will raise eight heaped bushels in a day without the assistance of a picker. They are generally preserved in large heaps, out of doors, defended from the frost by straw packed close round them, and beyond this, sods of turf, with the grass side outermost. Turnips appear to be well suited to the climate, and their use is becoming annually more general. The common winter seed is the sort sown. Crops of carrots and of turnip-rooted cabbage have been tried ; but from want of management, or some other cause, were not found profitable. Flax, in small quantities, is very geiieral, but not enough is grown for the manufactures of the island. One plot rarely exceeds one quarter or one half of an acre. It is always sown on land in good condition, often after potatoes, but never after corn. April is the time for sowing it, and the usual allowance of seed is eighteen gallons per acre. The weeds should be removed as they appear,. till the laud be completely covered. By the middle or end of July it is pulled, and laid in water for a week, by which time the pith is putrified, and is readily parted from the other substance. It is then spread on a pasture to dry, till it is found, upon examination, to be fit for scutching, or dressing at the mill. This is an operation which disjoins the fibres and separates them from the bark. The process of boiling the flax, as recommended by the Bath Agricultural Society, has been tried here ; but the expence of it was found to exceed the value of the flax. The culture of flax, owing to the uncertainty of the weather, is a very speculative branch of husbandry. Hemp is never sown, except in garlens, and not much there. Sown grasses are so essentially useful, that almost every tarmer sows grass or clover with his spring crop. The red clover is very eligible, either to be eaten by cat. tie or cut for hay. The former practice is the most beneficial to the land ; and, if the clover be abundant, so will generally be the ensuing crop of corn. Ray grass seed is commonly sown with the clover, but by this practice the land is impoverished. Ten pounds of red clover, and two bushels of grass seed per acre, are the usual allowance for a hay crop. White and red clover, and white hay seeds are thought to yield the best pasture.

Markets for provisions are ordered to be held at each of the four towns ; but only at Douglas are they regular. Fairs for the sale of horses, cattle, and wearing apparel, the manufacture of the island, and for the hiring of servants, are numerous ; and about six are very well attended. There is no market or fair for grain, and those likely to want any generally make a contract with the farmers as soon as the harvest is got in.

Two modes of agricultural improvement have been long proposed. The first is the establishment of a Manks Agricultural Society ; now, in some degree, carried into effect by the extension of the Cumberland society to this island, which will not, I fear, prove of much advantage to the inhabitants. The other is, a conversion of the tithe, now payable in kind, into an unalterable sum of money, equal to its present value. To these two may be added a third, that of lengthening the term of leases.


1 Ecclesiastical History, Book II. Chap. 9.

2 Petrus Bertius Beverus, editor of Ptolemy’s Gcography, supposes the Menaviæ of Bede to be the Hebudæ or Hebrides : but this can hardly be the case, since Bede speaks of them as only two.

3 Hollinshed’s Chronicles, Vol. I. p. 38.

# For the groundwork of this chapter I am indebted to Mr. Quayle’s Agricultural Report.


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