[from Proc IoMNH&ASoc vol2 #3 1924]
28 SEPTEMBER, 1922.
[much of the older property described was pulled down in the 1930s]
Never before in the history of the Society has there been an excursion so late in the season as this one, and seldom, if ever, has there been one which has been more successful. The event commenced immediately after the incoming afternoon trains, and Mr. J. N. Oates, who was the leader on the occasion, met his large party, numbering about eighty, at the Railway Station.
As Mr. Oates reminded the company, when they made their first pause in Bigwell Street, Douglas is not very old. In the year 1511 there were only about fifty houses, and they were clustered along the north side of the river and along the sea shore, which were destitute of any protection from stormy weather. There was a round stone fort, situated at the point of Fort Street where it touched the sea. In 1790, Colonel Townley paid a visit to the Island, and in his 'Journal' he refers to the town, but not to any particular part of it. It was too small for division. It was about 1800 when the houses and streets began to be named.
Bigwell Street takes its name from a popular well which existed there, the site of which may still be seen. Of course, at that time there was no general supply of water. There was a pipe leading down from the well to a house kept by a man named Reed, who dispensed water to the people at the rate of two bucketfuls for a penny. The better class of people were supplied by men who hawked it at two canfuls for a penny. In Queen Street there is a fine dwelling built in 1809 by a Colonel Charlton, which has a good Georgian porch. Quine's Corner is so called from a public house which formerly stood there, and was kept by a man named Sam Quine. Thornhill between Barrack Street and Shaw's Brow, is a congeries of little dwellings, to which access is had by means of several flights of steps. The district is known by the names of `Little Ireland ' and 'Little Hell.' An interesting explanation was given of the name Barrack Street and the presence of these little houses. Originally the high land around was a green brow, partly covered by gorse. Here women went to spread their clothes to dry, and boys scouted round with dogs for rabbits. Later, military barracks were built pretty much on the site of the present Hanover Street Schools. The officers had good houses with gardens around them, and the soldiers were quartered in the little dwellings near by. Beside one of the shops in Barrack Street there is a passage leading into a courtyard and to a cluster of houses behind, of which nobody would suspect the existence.
In Hanover Street the party paused to inspect the old 'Brig,' a fine house of the olden time. About 1830[sic ? Murray left Island 1826] it is said to have been inhabited by Bishop Murray and his family. The Cattle Market, just opposite, is reported to be the site of an ancient church which existed long before St. Matthew's. In excavations, human bones have been disinterred. In Mr. Oates' opinion, this church was dedicated to St. Martin, the patron saint of the Parish of Conchan, because a lane leading from the quay towards this site was in the beginning of the last century called St. Martin's Lane. There is a deed recording that this old church of St. Martin was exchanged for a cellar in the Market Place, where the old St. Matthew's Church was built in the year 1711.
In Ridgway Street the party were shown the tablet on the Municipal Library marking the site of the house in Lord Street where Professor Edward Forbes, the greatest naturalist of his time, had been born. From this point, the very large party proceeded to Muckle's Gate, leading off the Market Hill, and forming an access to a quaint maze of twisting lanes and old-fashioned little dwellings. The name Muckle's Gate is derived from the Norse Muckle Gata, the great gate. It was the entrance to the town proper in the days when the houses crept alongside the river bank. A large house on the left is said to have been the. first house that the Duke of Athol lived in when he came to Mann. It was then a house of some consequence.
The market place at Douglas is an ancient one, and the business done there, even within living memory, was much greater than it is to-day. Some sixty or seventy farmers' wives and their daughters here displayed their butter, eggs and poultry. The fruiterers occupied the quay front, and the butchers and fisher folk were alongside. On market days, iron stakes were placed at the end of the streets to prevent carts driving through the throng.. Saint Matthew's Church, with its quaint steeple, was the chief object in this lively scene.
The Douglas Hotel is believed to have been built by the first Duke of Athol for his residence prior to the building of Castle Mona, which was completed in the year 1803. When the Duke of Athol left it, it was taken over as the Custom House, and the quay was called, Custom House Quay. William Scott was the Collector of Customs for that period. An Edward Scott also resided in the town for a short period. He was a brother of Sir Walter Scott, and supplied him with the local lore displayed by the eminent novelist in 'Peveril of the Peak.' Alongside the Custom House was Quiggin's well-known printing office, in the works of which Train's History was printed. It was afterwards carried on by Matthew Glover until the year 1876. It is noteworthy that the Douglas Hotel is the only property left in Douglas which pays Lords' rent-£4 3s. 0d. a year. Underneath the hotel are under-ground passages, which lead, right out to the quayside and which may have been associated with smuggling exploits. Market Hill and Duke Street abounded with communicating cellars for the storage of brandy, rum, silks, &c. It should be borne in mind that there was no such thing as smuggling into the Isle of Man. The import duties charged were very light; but there was very considerable smuggling out of the Island to near-by ports on the English and Scottish shores. The smuggling business was introduced and organised by clever but mercenary people, who came to the Island, chiefly from Liverpool and Cumberland: and enlisted the services of Manx fishermen and sailors. We in the Island were a 'foreign country,' and our vessels could not be touched within three miles off a foreign shore, and no English revenue cutters could come within three miles of the Port of Douglas.
The site of the ancient seat of learning in the town, the old Grammar School, in New Bond Street, was of great interest. It was here, in 1736, that the Rev. Philip Moore, the ablest and most revered clergyman the Island has known, taught the best scholars of his day. These included the Rev. Dr. Kelly, the author of the Manx Grammar, and the Rev. William Fitzsimmons, who wrote a very considerable history of the Island up to the year 1800, which has not yet been printed. It is said that Philip Moore educated all but four of the Manx clergy of his next generation. He was a great friend and associate of Bishop Wilson, and preached his funeral sermon.
Mr. Oates also reminded them that the Rev. Robert Brown, the father of the great Manx poet, was master of the Grammar School in 1817, and lived in New Bond Street before he went to Braddan.
The 'Step Down' public-house in New Bond Street was once a post office, and is pictured in the screen story of 'Darby and Joan' by Hall Caine. People walking from Laxey along the shore to Douglas were accustomed to put their shoes on at this point. In Fort Street there is the site of the first Isle of Man Hospital and Dispensary. The old Douglas Town Hall is now the Custom House. In Spittall's Court, a poor little alley, the father of the late Major Spittall lived, and built up a big merchant's business. Mr. H. B. Noble came here from Cumberland, and served his time to the shipbuilding and wine and spirit trades. So that two big fortunes had their beginning here.
In St. Barnabas' Square, Mr. Quirk, a former High Bailiff of Douglas, had his residence. There is a fine arched cellar under the house. It was a district much favoured by the doctors and the gentry.
Proceeding to the North Quay, the old Steam-packet Office was pointed out. The Royal Hotel was owned and occupied by the Bacon family previous to their removal to Santan. Woodhouse Terrace, on the opposite side of the harbour, was a notable locality. Lady Bessborough lived there: she was a particular friend of Lord Byron. Mr. James Holmes, the banker, and Dr. Burman also lived there.
At 'Blore's Corner' was noticed the milestone from which all distances from Douglas along the main roads are measured. The building now known as the Rocket Station was erected about 1797, and is part of the old Court House of Douglas. Afterwards, in 1846, the Government purchased the Oddfellows' Hall in Athol Street, which has remained the Court House to the present day.
The Red Pier is so named from the colour of the Runcorn sandstone, of which it is mainly composed. The first stone was laid by the Duke of Athol in 1793, and seven years afterwards the pier was opened. The cost was £22,000, and this sum was provided by the British Government which had for a long while wrongfully annexed the Manx revenues.
In 1800, there came to the Island from Dublin, that curious character 'Buck Whaley,' who built Fort Anne. He was a great gambler and a boon companion of King George IV.
Fort Anne was occupied afterwards by Sir William Hilary, who was instrumental in founding the Lifeboat Institution and also erecting the Tower on Conister rock. Harold Tower was another worthy building on the Douglas Head side of the harbour. A well-known family, the Wilsons, who were the chief drapers in the town, lived there. There were three handsome and accomplished daughters. One married James Spittall, another John Martin, the painter of 'The Plains of Heaven', and the other Edward Corbould, the Art Tutor of the late Queen Victoria's family [m Ann Wilson Douglas St Georges's 18510807].
As the afternoon was well advanced, the party made their way towards the Nunnery, where there was a reception of the Society by Mr. Leigh Goldie-Taubman, M.L.C. On the route they examined the remains of an old bridge which crossed the stream not far below the Nunnery Mill, and which existed down to the end o£ the 18th Century. The remains of the buttresses can be seen projecting from the old wall at the road side.
Mr. Taubman met his big party of guests on the terrace, and at once made them feel at home in his beautiful old house. Subsequently the party assembled in the Chapel, where Mr. Taubman read a very interesting paper giving the history and detailed description of the old building which is dedicated to St. Bridget of Kildare (A.D. 453).
The following were duly elected as members of the Society: - Mrs. Ramsbottom, Port Lewaigue; Rev. H. C. McNeil and Miss McNeil, St. Ninian's Vicarage; Mr. William Lawson, Ivydene, Kirk Braddan; Mr. John J. Costain, Lancs. & Yorks. Bank, Castletown; Sir Sampson Sladen, Castletown; Rev. W. N. Carter, M.A., St. Mary's, Castletown.