Historical Background to Manx Public Houses

(taken from 'Boy Travellers)

".. it is not the multitude of alehouses that occasions a general disposition to drunkenness among the common people, but that disposition arising from other causes, necessarily gives employment to a multitude of alehouses."

Adam Smith Wealth of Nations

Inspection of the data would apparently indicate that most Island hostelries started life in the 1840's or later - this is however an artifact of the records. Canon Quine pointed out that the Manorial Roll of 1511/1515 indicated some 177 breweries on the Island many of which were licenced to millers; many of these could be assumed to provide 'jough' for smaller public houses.

Standardised measures were obviously enforced from an early date:

Every Ale houskeeper to bring their Canns to be Sealed, or else not to be allowed to brew anymore, and if a Cann be presented to any man unsealed, he may drink & pay nothing for it, and that when any brew two sorts of drink, they are to sell the best sort for a penny a quart.—(Liber. Scaccar : 1597.)

1597 also saw the requirement to obtain the Governor's licence to sell ale whilst a later Order of 1609 required recognizances for public-house licences.

An early injunction of the Bishop forbad Vicars from keeping ale-houses!

Castletowne, July 29th, 1667.

Haveinge had informacon that sevrall Clergie men in this Island doe contrarie to ancient Canons of ye Church, and the prsent Constitucon and comands of our owns Church, disgrace theire Callinge & pstitute yer houses (wch should be as schooles of Discipline to the rest of theire Pishes) to Irreguler & disorderly meetinges by vendinge ayle & beere & Keepinge victuallinge Houses. These are to require all Ministers within the Isle aforesaid to forbears this unhansome & undecent Course soe inconsistante with the Dignity of yer pfession and soe contrary to that studious retirement they are oblidged to by it. And yf any shall herafter be found guilty of this sordid indecencie he shall for the first tyme be suspended from his office and benefice And for the second made incapable of any spirituall prferment in this Island

Isaac Sod: and Man. To the Register to be Dispsed by the Genrll Sumner or otherwise as he shall think fitt.

Manx beer had a good name from earliest days - Denton writing in 1681 states that "Manx bear, wch exceeds any that I have drunk in 3 Kingdomes for strength and tast." A view endorsed by Sacheverell in the 1690's;

Not to mention the goodness of their ale, which is a commodity not only in the neighbouring kingdoms, but were we allowed the freedom of commerce, would be of great value wherever England trades. As God has given them this blessing in plenty to comfort them in their misfortunes, so he has given them hearts to make use of it, (I wish I could say with moderation.)

That there were many drinking shops on the Island pre 19th century is obvious from the opening to the 1734 Act to restrict the number of petty tippling houses

WHEREAS the great Number of petty Ale-houses and Tippling-houses kept in the several Towns and Parishes of this Isle are not only obnoxious to all sober discreet Persons, but likewise destructive of the publick Good, as being the common Receptacles of Felons, and other idle profligate Persons, as well as of Servants and Children, (generally at unseasonable Times) who but too often are tempted and mislead by evil Examples to purloyne their Master’s and Parent’s Goods to supply them in their extravagant and enormous Courses

That things had not much improved by 1818 is also apparent

WHEREAS it is recited in the preamble to an Act of Tynwald, passed in the year one thousand seven hundred and thirty-four, that the great number of petty Alehouses and tippling Houses in this Isle were destructive of the public good ; and that such Houses were so far from being in a condition to perform the tenor of their Licences, that they were in no sort fit to entertain Travellers or Strangers in any decent manner:

And whereas the remedies provided by that and subsequent Acts have been found insufficient for the removal of the before recited evils :...

Douglas developed from being a small village to a major entrepot port during the late 17th and early 18th centuries due to its role in the 'running trade'. As a considerable amount of trade was in rum, brandy and wine it would hardly be surprising that the Manx obtained something of a reputation for drinking. This reputation had however preceded the running trade for Blundell writes of the Manx in 1640's

as for beer or ale there is none brewed by them except by some prime person among them, for this liquor they forbear to drink till they meet at markets, where they will as familiarly, and with as much facility, drive it down their throats, as any do in Duckland, for in their natures they are much given to compotations, and therein to exceed.

Woods writing in 1811 was even less complimentary:

Malting and brewing being uncontrolled, ale and beer may be made for considerably less than half the price which they cost in England. These last mentioned trades, centering in the same person, are, probably, the chief in the island: and, judging from the quality of the ale, and the number of people who daily get intoxicated with it, particularly in the fishing season, the business of brewer must be extremely profitable. The fondness of the people to ale does not however diminish their attachment to spirits. Townley imagines that nearly half the inhabitants die of the grog consumption, which complaint, he facetiously adds, is accounted very catching and infectious.

Taxes were long imposed on both brewers and sellers of ale and spirits - these were latterly used for the upkeep of bridges and highways.- "a duty of 10s. 6d. on public-houses; 5s. 2d. on greyhounds and pointers, and 6d. on other dogs, with moderate statute duty, repair the roads. These, with 9d. on passes, are the only taxes levied" [Feltham 1798] - these taxes were extended to cover carriages.

Feltham writing in 1798 has this to say on the drinking establishments:

From the number of public-houses mentioned in page 115, it will be obvious that every village and parish is provided in that respect, and the little huts, thus privileged, have mostly a small empty barrel outside the door to indicate their nature. If you venture in, the chance is, that you will be gratified with excellent wine, plenty of rum, and improvable ale, and herrings and potatoes of course.

 The reference on p115 (to a footnote) is:

The principal inns are the George, Downes; Mr. Duggan's, and Redfearn's, at Castletown. At Douglas is the hotel, Clague; George Wilson's Liverpool coffeehouse, Messrs. Ray's, Atkingon's, and Coultry Cannels. At Peel, Black's, the White Horse, and at Ramsay, Mr. Hendry's, and Mr. Cornelius Hinde's, the King's Head. Besides these there are one or two respectable inns in villages, particularly at Kirk-Michael, where the beautiful hostess cannot fail to attract and please every visitant. By an act in 1739, the number of public-houses in the island is limited to 300, at five score to the hundred.

With the growth of Methodism from the 1780's came the first signs of Temperance (the Primitive Methodists were to provide a base for Teetotalism from 1835 onwards). That this was needed seems to be agreed to by all contemporary observers - Lord Teignmouth writing of 1829 states:

Notwithstanding the respect for religion and its rites, it is to be remarked that drunkenness and concomitant profligacy abound. The extreme cheapness of spirits, the intercourse with strangers, occasioned by the maritime employments of the people, and the resort of vessels to the ports of the Island, sufficiently explain the cause of those evils. Public-houses have multiplied to a pernicious extent, though the recommendation of the minister, and, in towns, of the bailiff, is necessary to the granting the license ; and the governor is opposed to their increase* .

*The district society in Castletown has produced manifest diminution of vice, especially drunkenness.

The following map shows the number of licences granted per town/parish in 1822 (figures from Moore Book 4 chap 2)

distribution of licences, 1822

Ramsey would appear the best provided for.

Archdeacon Philpott illustrates how in the 'right' hands this control of the public house licences could be done c.1835:

There were now thirty-three public-houses and fourteen fairs in the parish of Kirk Andreas alone, which all kept aquadente on tap. The drunkenness was terrible, and the temperance society had not been able to cross the boundaries of the parish. The Archdeacon now took off his coat and prepared to grapple with the curse. When he put it on again thirty-one of the taverns had been closed!

Anyone walking in the north of the Island will vouche that public houses are to this day few and far between!

The start of the Tourist Trade can be dated to the 1820's when the Duke of Atholl built Strathallen Crescent for letting to visitors (of the better sort!) and also had built what became the Crescent Hotel. However it was the advent of the IoMSPCo and its, at times anticompetition fare-cutting activities, that allowed the working people of North West England to take their holiday on the Island. This gave rise to a tourist boom from the 1870's, engineered to a great extent by Governor Loch's championing of the in-filling along the bay to provide numerous boarding houses and hotels. All these tourists required drinking facilities- most would appear to have hardly set foot outside of Douglas with its many attractions in the form of pubs and dance palaces.

An 1856 Act established annual licensing courts to which application had to be made for a licence Later acts eg 1876 Taverns Act, extended the power of these courts - often a 6-day licence enforcing Sunday Closing was given. The proceedings of these courts were reported in the Press and thus providing a ready source of information concerning tenants from 1876. Often these applications were opposed, sometimes by the police, sometimes by the Temperance Lobby and occasionally by tenants who were being forced out by the owners in search of higher rentals. In the report of the 1884 Douglas Courts (Manx Sun 15 Mar 1884), the Clerk of the Court referred to a 'black list' of pubs and publicans - the Chairman, speaking of the proposed 1884 Taverns Act stated "There is no doubt that we will have to make a sweeping change if the new measures come into operation. We shall have to sift out all the bad weeds that are at present growing up around us. Who the good people will be it is impossible to say".


Mathieson comments on the prosaic nature of most of the names - judging from Feltham's comments most of the larger inns would appear to be known by their owner's name until well into the 19th century (and even later for some like Redfern's) and that until the 1840's any names moved, probably with the sign, as owners changed premises.

Hulbert writing of a visit in 1820 states he saw only one painted sign - and that by a landlord who had spent considerable time in the British Army.


One feature that is immediately obvious is how few Manx names are reflected in those of the Landlords - most would appear to be English who have settled on the Island. Even in 1808 the author of a tour noted "The inns are mostly kept by persons from the north of England."




S Cubbon Manx Inns: A pub crawl through history Laxey: Amulree 1998 (ISBN 1-901508-01-3)

N Mathieson Old Inns and Coffee Houses of the Isle of Man Proc IoMNHAS vol V #4 pp411/433 1955

N Mathieson Old Inns and Coffee Houses of the Isle of Man Proc IoMNHAS vol Vol VI #1 pp122/166 1959 (this gives the tables missing from part 1 plus additional notes and corrections)


B. Cox English Inn and Tavern Names Centre for English Name Studies/University of Nottingham 1994 (ISBN 0-904889-42-4)


  Pubs Index


Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
© F.Coakley , 2001