[From Proc IoMNH&ASoc vol 3]
P. G. RALFE.
30 June, 1927.
Castletown is perhaps the most interesting of Manx towns, but of its history, apart from that of Castle Rushen, very little is known until we reach times comparatively recent. The story, if ever written, must be laboriously gathered from many registers, deeds, and lists of the driest character, and often not readily accessible. As this work has never yet been done, my paper must consist of a number of scraps strung together, and there will be found in it more suggestion than information. I know of no plan older than that of 1835 (which excludes the Green and other outskirts), and no view of the town much older than a hundred years, though prints of the Castle, back to the 17th century, sometimes include some of its houses.
Alone among our towns, Castletown has to a considerable extent preserved its old-world appearance. A print of a century ago would pass with little alteration for one of the present day. We still see in its main features, if not the Castletown of the middle ages, that which was known to "Illiam Dhoan" and Bishop Wilson, the Castletown in which for so many generations our rulers and legislators moved, and from which for centuries the influence came which formed the Island's life. Castletown has never got, for good or evil, a new sea-front the feature which has so completely altered the other towns. Our main streets are old streets, representing the high-roads respectively to Peel, Douglas, and Port St. Mary, whereas elsewhere the main streets of two hundred years ago have been replaced by wider modern thorough-fares, and have degenerated into something like back lanes. This makes Castletown picturesque, though inconvenient for motor traffic, but it is somewhat redeemed by the amplitude of the market place, that now generally deserted space which was once the animated gathering place of the countryside. This space is shown in an illustration 250 years old pretty much as at present, but the houses bordering on it were then comparatively low. The high buildings now so abundant seem to date, in their present form, from 80 to 150 years back. During that period, also, must have gradually disappeared the thatched roofs, which, we are told, were formerly the universal covering for the poorer class of house. I am not aware that there is now a single thatched cottage in Castletown or in its neighbourhood. The district of the Green, though now included in the town boundaries, must almost be looked upon as a separate place, and in its present state this neat and pleasant little sea-shore suburb is largely a creation of King William's College.
It is remarkable how few suburban houses have sprung up on the outskirts of holds perhaps the future of Castletown but has little place in its older history.
The story of Castletown is well summed up in its name. The town owed its origin to, and centred in, the Castle, as fortress, palace, barracks, prison, and courthouse. Without a Castle the site would probably have had no greater importance than those of Port St. Mary or Port Erin, or that of Derbyhaven, which for long appeared to old-time navigators a more attractive harbour. It may he that even in the time of King Magnus (who died in 1265), a little feudal town, or village, was clustering round the walls of the fort. The late Mr. Rigby suggested that this may also have been defended by a wall, hut, if so, I do not know of any existing remains. It is not till 1511, when the Stanley family had already been 100 years in power, that we learn anything about Castletown. We find then from the earliest rent-roll particulars of about eighty properties paying Lord's Rents, sums varying from ½d. to six or seven shillings. No streets are named, but occasionally we get indications of situation as one chamber near the sea,"one chamber near Dialhill,"a small parcel of land lying in the Bog,"one cellar near the Burne,' 'one chamber near the Chapel.' Many of the houses have gardens attached, a pleasing feature; the mention of 'chambers' as above, sometimes attached to other tenements, sometimes separate, is frequent. Robert Calcote, the Lord's Receiver has a 'hawkehouse'; there are several brewhouses, and there are twenty payments credited to brewing, totalling 7/10.
I will mention the names of some of these remote fellow-townsmen of ours, some of which are still to be found among us : James Lake, John Preston, John Litherland, Wm. Goldsmith, John Laurence, Christian Corlett, Edward Standish, John Clerke, Richard Holt, Donald McConylt, Gilbert Quyn, Thos. Walsh, Wm.Parr, Thos. Marshall, Christopher Carr, John More, John Abel, Robt. Girard, Marion Corbet, Wm. Leke, Thos. Rushton, John Coke, Agnes Ine Tere, John Aleyn, John McKeggin, Nicholas Duke, Roger Gale, and Marion Ine Creer. The large proportion of English names, much greater than now, is striking; the presence of English officials and dependents of the English Lord made Castletown largely an English town, in striking contrast to the country parishes, in many of which you could hardly then, and rarely even now, find an English name.
The great people of the neighbourhood were the Stevensons, holding the Balladoole lands in Arbory and Malew, and the Norrises, of Scarlett. John Moore also had a large holding of Abbey lands, for the Abbey of Rushen, soon after to be suppressed, still flourished endowed with revenue from the greater part of Malew. Its rights extended to the east side of the harbour and river (excluding however the site of Lorn House), and it had claim to 'toll and wreck and fort' at the head of the bay, even then called Sandwick. The town itself, Knock Rushen and Scarlett, and Castletown Mill, were outside its jurisdiction, and so, on the other side of the Green, were Ronaldsway and Langness.
As early as 1430 a great court of all the Commons of Man had been held Within the Gates' at Castle Rushen, when representatives of the people were elected, and the legislature long continued to sit in the Castle. It was not till 1706 that the Keys got a building, or at least a room of their own outside. Eventually the Library, the present Westminster Bank. was entirely devoted to their use.
For most of the time between 1643 and 1651 Earl James of Derby, the Great Stanley,' resided at Castle Rushen. During the absence of the Lord, his Governor and some other of his officers lived in the Castle, but they had now to remove to houses in the town. Eventually for his better accommodation, Lord Derby built the structure on the wall toward the harbour, now occupied by the custodian. The Governor's house in the town' is shown in a contemporary print. It was in the Market Place. We are told by Blundell, writing at this time that the town had 'one formal street' and a handsome piazza, which is the market place, with a cross in the middle.' The before-mentioned street, called The West Street' was 'dirty and foule by reason of the unevenness thereof, and that there is no passage for the conveyance of water thereout.' In 1650, therefore, the parishioners of Malew and Arbory were ordered to 'come in courses with horses and cartes, spades, creeles. and the like,' to repair it, and the householders on each side of the street were taxed to carry out the improvement.
The Castletown of these days would seem to us very unsightly, but this was perhaps the most stirring time in its history. A great nobleman was in residence, with a large household and garrison. He gave stately entertainments to the chief people of the Island, at which fantastic masques were exhibited; he originated and encouraged the races, which have left their name on the Golf Links.
(It is worth mentioning that some kind of canal had been cut across the neck of land there, so that smaller boats could come into Castletown from Derhyhaven side without rounding Langness). The Earl was offering protection and hospitality to Royalists who were forced to quit England, and was thus from time to time surrounded by distinguished guests. Besides the garrisons of the forts (that on Fort Island dates from this time), he had ships of war (the Roundheads called them pirates), which successfully fought the Parliament's vessels. But it was a time of dissatisfaction and unrest. Even among the remote Manx people the stirring of what we would now call 'Liberal' and 'Radical' spirit was felt. The exactions, as they were considered, of the clergy, the quarterage of the military, the Earl's interference with the land tenure, were sources of irritation. Many of the landed gentry who formed the official and legislative class, who associated with the Earl and received his hospitality, were openly or secretly his opponents. Among these was one of his nearest neighbours, William Christian, who had married the heiress of Knockrushen, and resided there. (As a Castletown citizen, Christian is best known by the complaints against him of the townsmen, that in one year his limekiln had been three times on fire 'to the danger of the total overthrow of the town').
When Lord Derby finally left Castletown, in 1650, on his last unhappy expedition he had with him about 300 Manxmen, of whom, no doubt, Castletown contributed more than its share, and we can (remembering the war days of our own time), well imagine the suspense and distress that prevailed after the news of his disastrous overthrow. This happened on the 26th August, and on 28th October, Colonel Duckenfield, the Parliament Governor of Chester, backed by a fleet of 44 vessels, with three regiments of foot, and two troops of horse, was putting his cannons in position for the siege of Castle Rushen. The result is well known; the Insular militia joined the invaders, the garrison was seized by panic, and Lady Derby, forsaken by all, surrendered on generous conditions.
Lord Fairfax, the distinguished general to whom the Parliament granted the Isle of Man, never visited the Island, but the little we know of his behaviour toward it is in keeping with his high and generous character. Thus he increased the stipends of certain of the clergy; for instance, Charles Crowe 'Minister of the Gospel,' received the sum of £30 yearly for officiating in the chapel at Castletown. Consideration was specially shown to preaching in Manx, and Robert Parr 'Minister' got a special 1s for the propagating of the Gospel, either in Manx or English. Fairfax also presented a number of books (217), of which a catalogue exists, to the Library in the Isle of Man.' They were mostly religious works, and some were in Latin. This library still existed fifty years later.
I have just mentioned Castletown Chapel, which has been in existence for a considerable time, how long cannot now be known. No doubt a chapel from early times existed in the Castle, for feudal lords attached great importance to the externals of religion, and we find names of chaplains to Norse kings of Man, The establishment of a place of worship outside in the town, would soon follow the building of the town. This town chapel is now the Grammar School, and the curious arches now built into one of its walls closely resemble similar work at Rushen Abbey. During the first ten years of the 17th century the chapel had been much in need of repair, and the less serious offences against Church law were sometimes atoned for by a fine applied for this purpose.
In 1651, Castletown paid 20/- towards providing 6d. a day for a foot post to St. John's Chapel. We know nothing else about Manx postal arrangements of the time, but it seems as if St. John's had been chosen as a kind of centre for the service.
On 20th May 1660, Charles II was proclaimed at Castletown 'with shouting, shooting of muskets and ordnance, drinking of beer with great rejoicings,' and the attendance of Governor Chaloner; the officials of the Legislature, and 60 horse. This was followed after an interval by the well-known proceedings against William Christian, of Ronaldsway, and his colleagues (the other Wm. Christian. of Knockrushen, had died in the meantime) Illiam Dhoan's trial, as we all know, took place at Castle Rushen, and his execution at Hango.
Bishop Barrow, immediately after the restoration, was one of the ablest men who ever held the see of Sodor and Man. He provided and collected funds for an 'academic School,' which form the nucleus of the endowment of King William's College, the scholars in the meantime being educated at the Castletown Grammar School, somewhere on or near the site of the present parish church. Barrow had also schemes for a library, and to provide Convenient lodging for the academic youths, who are forced to diet in publichouses in the town,' but these designs were not carried out. Denton (1681-) says 'There is a large Chappell in the town, and a school at the end thereof. The schoolmaster has £60 a year sallery allowed by the Earl of Derby for reading prayers every morning at 11 of the clock, and for reading Logick and Philosophy to four Academic Scollers, who are habited in black wide-sleeved gownes and square caps, and have lodgings in the Castle and a sallery of £10 a year a piece by a new foundation of the present Earl and Lord of Man.'
The power of the church was great and strongly enforced in these times. Two officers of the garrison of the Castle laughed from the ramparts at the procession of ministers and people passing by. They were censured to make public confession of their offence, and promise reformation, and they submitted accordingly.
Douglas and Castletown were both very little places, but, as early as 1594, a great part of the tiny trade of the Manx community had passed to the former, whose customs receipts were immensely larger than those of Castletown and Ronaldsway together (£20 and £3 respectively). By the end of the 17th century the dissatisfaction of the metropolis took form in a petition presented to the Governor showing that by the farmers' neglect of Castletown 'this metropolis, this place of your Honor's and the officers' residence, scarcely appears to be a market town, which exposes us to the contempt and ridicule of all strangers.' Another petition asks that the farmers 'be compelled to come to their market, instead of going to Douglas.' I do not know what result the complaints of Castletown had, but the country folk near Peel were, on a similar application, ordered to take their goods there.
The following cases give an idea of the barbarity of punishment often inflicted, and of the sights which Castletown Market-place witnessed in these days. John Quilliam, for offering a bribe to Governor Sankey, was, in 1691, ordered to be 'sett in the pillory upon Saturday next, at Castletown, for the space of one hour, and have his ears nailed hereunto, and pay a fine of 1/-.' In 1686, Thomas Corlett lost his ears altogether in the pillory and was fined 20/- 'for contemptuous expressions against the Lord,' while, in 1671, John Quirk after 'protesting before God that he was an enemy to the King,' in an inn at Castletown, kept by Robert Allen, got off lightly by being bound in security for £20 to appear when called on.
At the end of the 17th century a new chapel was built in the Market Place, on the present site, largely from funds accumulated during a vacancy in the bishopric. This was about as long as the present fabric, but narrower. Part of the old chapel was pulled down, and the remainder was utilised to form the present Grammar School,
The Lord's Rent valuation of Castletown in 1703 still exists and, by the courtesy of Mr. William Cubbon, I have been enabled to see a transcript. This list, which is very detailed, is invaluable to students of old Castletown, and I hope that a careful examination of it may be made by some competent person. Unlike the document of 1511, it deals with the town by streets, which are often named. The enumeration commences opposite the Castle gates, and proceeds through the oldest parts of the town by the Parade to 'West-street' (Arbory-street), up 'Church-street' (Malew-street), diverges into 'Water-street,' returns to 'Church-street,' diverges again into Miln Street,' and returns a second time to 'Church street,'
The present names of Parliament Square, Chapel Lane, etc., do not appear in the district first mentioned, but indications of locality are supplied by the phrases 'over against Castle Gate,"near Burn below Bridge,'-i.e. the wooden bridge, 'behind new library,' 'at the Chappell,"near new Chappell,' etc.
Queen Street is not named, but we have a house belonging to William Quayle Knockrushen, called Queen Hive, and, near by, Anthony Halsall had a property with the large rental of 8/5, probably the Halsall house in Queen Street, now in ruins. There seem to have been few houses in the street.
In West-street, the largest rent is John Saints' 2/6, but the property at the end of Malew-street,'Paradise,' by which the Saints' family is best known, was held by Mrs. Elizabeth Barry at a Lord's rent of 4/-, The 'Lord's Bagnio,"Old Lodge' in the 'Governor's Garden' is alluded to in West-street.
One of the first houses in 'Church-Street (Malew Street) is Hy. Lez. Squires,'at east side of street adjoining the little Tower over against the 'Ballcony," probably on the outer circumference of the Castle enclosure.
The amount of property included under 'Water-street' is somewhat puzzling [This is due to the ommision of the heading for Church Street East Side which led to a wrong attribution]. This street must begin with the Bank, but how it is made to include nearly fifty items is not clear. Among the higher rented properties here are Robert Radcliffe's 'House and Garden,' called 'Gerrad's House,' and that of John Harrison, Ballaglonna.
The Calcotts also had a house here.
'Mill Street,' which has retained its name, had few and low valued properties and the rents in 'Church-street,' were in general low. The total number of properties a little exceeds 200.
What were the houses like ? We have few particulars. The habitations of the poorer folk, in the country at least, were very miserable, but in the towns most houses, it would seem, were twostoried, the upper floor being reached by a ladder outside. Shopkeepers had two and even three houses, the extra ones being used for storing and entertaining, for most shopkeepers took lodgers, and these annexes are probably the 'chambers' so frequent in the list of 1511, The towns were controlled by the Captain,' the predecessor of the present High- Bailiff, a semi-military authority in vested with very arbitrary powers who used soldiers as his subordinates. The number of alehouses was very great, and the authorities even 300 years ago attempted, not very successfully, to cope with the resulting disorder. A remarkable fact was the general want, noticed in 1691, of chimneys to the houses, especially in the towns. In 1701, townspeople were forbidden to keep cows in the streets, or allow the pigs to stray from the backyards, and ordered to clean the streets so far as their rents extended. About ten years later all pavements in streets and market towns were to he made even and regular,
Castletown was intimately associated with the struggle between Church and State, which, in 1722, culminated in Bishop Wilson's imprisonment in Castle Rushen. Its final phase began with the animosities of two Castletown ladies. Robert Horrobin, chaplain of St. Mary's, who also held the appointments of Archdeacon and Rector of Andreas, was conspicuous in the affair; he was a man of what we would now call extreme broad church views. For some time during the dispute the Castletown Chapel was closed. An episode of the period is worth mentioning in connection with Castletown. A soldier of the garrison had voluntarily confessed a misdeed, and submitted to the penance of the church. For this he was tried by a kind of court-martial, imprisoned for fourteen days, and then drummed out of the regiment.
In 1726 we learn for the first time the population of Castletown (785). This was about one-eighteenth of the population of the Island as against perhaps one-twenty-fifth at the present time. In 1726 Douglas had 810 people.
Through the succeeding years of the 18th century, the population of the town was steadily increasing, and the comfort and civilisation of its inhabitants had a continuous upward tendency. A distressing feature of its life, however, was that of the still frequent epidemics, especially of smallpox. Castletown was not apparently influenced so much as Douglas by the smuggling traffic nor by the settlement of English debtors, which was such a feature of the Manx life of the period.
In 1765 came the 'Revestment', when the Island came under the more direct rule of the King of England, hut this probably did not make much difference to Castletown, the change most immediately noticeable being that the Duke of Athol's garrison was replaced by Euglish soldiers, who continued until 1896.
A little later came to the town one of the greatest of its visitors. On both his visits to the Isle of Man, John Wesley was in Castletown. in 1777 he preached near the Castle, and was much pleased with his reception, remarking that he found the women particularly attentive and affected. In 1781, Whit Sunday, June 4th, he spoke in the Market Place; he was then 78 years old. He compares Castletown to Galway in Ireland.
With the great French Wars came a renewal of military activities, whose manifestations seem very familiar in our own time. Besides the militia and the volunteer companies hereafter to be mentioned, the Island had a paid force, the Manx Fencibles. Wellknown Castletown names, as Quayle, Taubman, Cunningham, Geneste, appear among the list of officers. In 1793 we find twenty of the militia guarding Castle Rushen, each parish in turn sending twenty men, they being relieved every twenty-four hours. In 1808 garrison duty at Castletown was being performed by the South Manx Volunteers In 1810, their C.O. (Lieut.-Colonel) was John Taubman, of the Nunnery, and Wm. Cunningham was Major (succeeded by Norris Moore). In 1813 this body was present at Tynwald, and in 1815 took part in a peace celebration on the summit of Snaefell. They also did considerable duty at Douglas and Peel, at both which places there were batteries. These companies soon disappeared after the peace, but in 1859, during a scare of French invasion, no fewer than eight companies were formed on the Island Castletown again well to the front.
In 1805, the first bank in Castletown (and in the Isle of Man), commenced business, that of M. H. and G. Quayle, J. Taubman and J. Kelly. With some changes of partners, it carried on business till 1818, In the early years of the 19th century, Castletown had its fair share of convivial life, for in 1822 it had 28 public houses, while Malew had 24, Arbory 11, and Rushen 31.
In 1826 the present St. Mary's Church was consecrated by Bishop Murray It remained a Government Chapel till constituted a Parish Church in 1921.
In 1832 the town had a terrible visitation of cholera, which carried away ninety of its population. A hospital was improvised on the Claddagh; one of the last victims was Dr. Jones, who had given a devoted attention to the sufferers. When some years later the disease returned to the Island, Castletown was spared.
In 1837 Bishop Barrow's scheme, after nearly two hundred years, attained fruition in the founding of King William's College, which happily is still with us.
We are now approaching dates whose events are within the knowledge of all of us, and the memories of some. Up to our time, while the Legislature still sat here, the High Courts were held in the Castle, and the Governor was in residence, the town remained the centre of official life and of such political excitement as the Island's affairs could afford. Thus it was the scene of the proceedings against Douglas journalists, which led to the imprisonment of James Brown, and of various sensational criminal trials. The last execution in the Island took place at Castletown, which has more than its share of sites for hanging, from the mound under the College to the enclosure, now prettily planted, adjoining Station road.
In 1851 Castletown showed its highest population, 2,500. About ten years after, the residence of the Governor was removed to Douglas.* It is somewhat curious, in passing, to reflect how few of the Governors who, for four or five centuries, have officially resided here, have left any impression or memory in the place. Yet worthy of mention are John Greenhalgh, who held office for eleven troubled years of the great Civil War, and was buried at Malew just when 'Illiam Dhoan's' rebellion was breaking out, and James Chaloner, the Parliament's nominee, who wrote an early and good account of the Island. In the unsettled period which followed Cromwell's death he had some stormy experiences, and after the Restoration was arrested, but died before trial. Other names that emerge are those of Home, Lloyd and Horton, the opponents of Bishop Wilson, and Wm. Sacheverell, who also wrote an account of the Island.
Governor Cornelius Smelt, who held the post for an unusual time, died in office a very old man, and is commemorated by the conspicuous monument in our market-place. The distinguished governors of our own days, as Loch, Walpole and Ridgeway, were of course less intimately connected with Castletown, but Lord Raglan viewed it with especial interest, and will long be gratefully remembered for his restoring work at the Castle.
How Castletown ceased to be the seat of the Legislature, how it lost the Courts, the military, and the gaol, and even its separate High-Bailiff; how it got a new pier and, for a brief space, a passenger steamer of its own; how the railway made it easier to get to, and, alas ! easier to get out of ! how it gained modern conveniences in gas and water supply, and the dignity of Town Commissioners, though rather old tales by this time, hardly come within the sphere of my title. *A few of the later Governors had lived, not in the Castle, but in Lorn House across the harbour. The grounds of this house include the site of a very ancient chapel and burial ground; the present mansion was built about too years ago replacing an older one.
Of Malew Church, where the venerable Churchyard is the last resting-place of so many of the sons and daughters of Castletown much might be said. Its register, dating from the 17th century, is almost a summary of the lives of the residents of the town
In spite of its diminished privileges and population, Castletown is still Castletown, retaining an old-time aspect and a rather sombre dignity. In its long history it was probably never so pleasant as at present, and never more sought after as a place of residence, It does not seem likely that it will ever again be the Insular capital or become a chief seat of Manx industry, but it may keep and develop its possibilities as a place of rest and of culture. As a man's life consists not in the abundance of the things which he possesses,' so the life of a town is not measured by the multitude of its houses or the vastness of its trade, but by the health and happiness, the goodness and intelligence, of those who inhabit it.