[from Proc IoMNH&ASoc vol 4 #2 1936]
At a meeting of the Society held at Clifton House, on February, 20th, 1936, Mr. C. H. Cowley read the following papers:
By Mr. C H. COWLEY.
The Insular Government voted the sum of £100 this year, which was to be expended upon the examination of various foundations of walls and excavation of mounds.
The work to be carried out under the supervision of the late Mr P. M. C. Kermode and Rev. Canon Quine.
Mr. Winterbottom, Government Surveyor, was frequently on the spot during operations, made all arrangements for the supply of tools, and also paid the workmen. The late Mr. C. R. Shimmin, M.H.K., and myself were asked to take charge of the workmen when Mr Kermode and Canon Quine were unable to attend; unfortunately, owing to his, numerous duties, Mr. Shimmin was not there as often as myself or there might have been a fuller report to present.
I may here state that these notes were made at the time as a personal record only of work done under my own observation, and were not intended for publication. Apart from Canon Quine's valuable notes and contributions to the Journal of the Manx Museum, I know of no other report having been done at this excavation, and with the exception of remarks embodied in this paper, do not think any notes were kept of the work done in Peel Castle under the direction of the late Governor Lord Raglan about thirty years ago.
During the time that work was being carried out, I frequently visited and inspected the work being done with my old friend, the late custodian, Mr. William Cashin. This was fortunate. as knowing the workmen then engaged, I have been able to confirm my notes from one of them William Thompson. I have noted the workmen's names whom I engaged for the 1929 excavations, in the event of further information being required from them: John Bell, William Faragher, John Pugh, and Hector Quirk.
Work was started upon the 17th of May, by an examination of "The Giant's Grave" outside the walls to the west of the battery, and finished on the 20th. Four cuttings were made in the two mounds; two close together at the east end, one at the west end of the long mound, and one only at the shorter mound.
A few bones and small white short stones were found at one spot in the inside east cutting of the long mound, and might have been a grave.
When direct steamer ran between Peel and Belfast, about forty years ago, the body of a baby still-born on the boat, was interred about this spot.
The general conclusion arrived at was that these mounds were trenches thrown up for defensive purposes. (See paper read before the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society, 18th April, 1929).
On May 21st, work was started inside the Castle, by cleaning the foundations outside the Cathedral walls, measuring and examining same and other buildings. This work continued until June 12th. A box of bones and skulls was sent to the Insular Museum for future examination, and all cuttings filled in. I am unable to give any details of this work, having been in England on holiday; but from this time on was over mostly every day. Mr Kermode came over occasionally to give orders, and whatever was done under my supervision was according to them. His first instructions were to examine the flagstaff mound and a cutting was made on the south side from the bottom of the trench into the centre of it. The natural subsoil was a hard yellow sand clay, rising as the cutting progressed to about three feet higher in the centre; and here, heaped upon the top, was a body of (burning) turf, three feet deep, which retained much moisture. Above the turf bed to the present surface level was a composition of earth mixed with rubbish, broken flint nodules side by side with pieces of roofing slate and mortar, and about four feet below the surface a broken beer bottle and a two-penny earthenware ink bottle.
Mr. Kermode wished to retain these and send them away for examination; but I explained how I had seen the late Mr. Cashin dispose of this class of rubbish by putting his walking stick into them, insert them as far as he could into a rabbit hole and leave them there.
A cutting into the west bank of the trench outside the centre mound showed similar composition and would be of about the same age. The depth of this bank with filled-in material was three feet. These cuttings were very disappointing, as it was generally understood that this was one of the earliest fortifications of the Castle. I do not think it is more than 300 or 400 years old. These cuttings were filled in on June 18th, and we then cleaned out and examined a kiln upon the south side bank of the tilting ground. I had seen this opened during excavations carried out several years ago by the order of the Governor at that time, Lord Raglan, but it had been filled in with rubbish, which we cleaned out. This kiln is a double one, the fire being in the centre of a flue joining the receptacles on either end, into which the pottery to be glazed was placed. The west end of the kiln had been destroyed, so we built a wall across, leaving the whole as near as possible as it was originally.
Towards the south-west and a short distance away, was a noticeable depression. This was opened and found to contain a quantity of fine Welsh coal on the bottom. Underneath the coal was a floor of stone slabs of blue slate loosely placed together to form a coal cellar for the coal used in the kiln. The measurement of the hole was four feet in diameter by four feet in depth; it was filled up with earth, as we found it.
My instructions from Mr. Kermode were now to remove the flight of stone steps leading up to the doorway in the Round Tower and examine the base of the building inside. below the floor. The steps were modern, having been built by Governor Loch's advisers when h had examinations and excavations made about 1876-1880. As the wall of the Tower seemed easy to penetrate where the steps had been removed, a man was put to cut a hole through. After going in twenty inches or more, we found the mortar so hard, and there was still nearly three feet of stone to remove, that we decided to fill in the hole again and examine it from the inside. There was evidence that a previous attempt to obtain an entrance had failed at the same place, that is, below the doorway.
Work was then commenced on the interior. The stone slabs covering the debris and forming a floor were carefully removed, showing that underneath was filled in with rubbish, old mortar and stones from other buildings. All this was removed down to solid rock, which is 7 feet 9 inches from the step of the doorway. Proof of recent excavation was obtained by the finding near the rock of a battered modern bucket with loop handle. The contents were replaced and packed in as carefully as before. The time expended. on this examination was from 21st June to 4th July a great loss of time and money and the result of no record having been kept by those in charge under Lord Raglan. Before leaving the Round Tower, a coating of hydrochloric acid was applied to the face of the wall from which the steps had been removed, as a quantity of unsightly mortar adhered to the stone. The acid effectually removed this, leaving the Tower in its original state.
During the time I was away on holiday, a start had been made to clean out the cell-like hole on the left side coming into the Castle by the turnstile. but was unfinished; so on 26th June, we returned to it. The rock bottom was proved at a depth of five feet nine inches taken from the outside floor level. An aperture goes up a considerable distance above floor level, and is now roofed over by the steps leading into the keep ;previous to this, it had been open to the sky, like a chimney. The interior is roughly built, and on the left side appears to have been re-built as if an opening had existed there at one time. I daresay this place was an oubliette, into which rubbish from the keep was deposited; or, as someone suggested, as a place to put an unruly prisoner in. This place was not filled in at the time, as we wished to further examine it, but I believe it has been so since that time as a matter of safety. In any case, it will not be difficult to re-open as most of the filling-in was gravel. There was a tradition that a passage led from this cell into the cave on Fenella's Beach, that was used as a means of ingress to the Castle, but we found no trace of one. A fuller examination of this place at some future time might be undertaken.
Tests were made about this time of various localities for depth of soil, etc. In the centre of the grass plot at the west corner of the Castle the rock was only three inches from the surface. deepening towards the outside wall. After examining the soil at different places, I have come to the conclusion that a great deal of earth was carried in and used to make the revetment of the outer wall, and for filling in at other places.
The remains of a wall runs from the Derby offices to a small building near the blacksmith's forge on the west side. About the centre it forms part of the sides of two small square places, like wells. These latter were cleaned out and appear to have been butteries. Present depth about 12 inches and four feet square, with a rock bottom.
The building mentioned as being near the forge was cleaned out and an uneven flagged floor exposed, which we recovered with soil. I consider this one of the original of the buildings, and that it was built before the curtain wall is evident by the fact that an older wall still exists outside the doorway to protect the entrance, its use now not being so evident as it forms part of the revetment. An ornamentation of red sandstone runs around most of the interior, about half-way up from the floor of this building, and although it is now difficult to determine its use it had evidently been a place of importance. (See note by Canon Quine later).
At the Derby offices, the main room was cleaned out and the floor left uncovered to show the stone flags, these being even and perfect, and similar to those in Fenella's Tower. The other rooms had uneven flagged floors and the soil was replaced in them.
Adjoining the revetment and behind one of the rooms exists a peculiar enclosure with very thick walls, a likely place to contain fragments of pottery, etc.; so it was cleaned out to below the outside grass level. The only finds were a piece of pottery and a large thick oyster shell, which Bell. one of the workmen, stated was similar to those found "across in Ireland there."
After several days' exposure for inspection this place was filled in.
July 1st. At the request of Canon Quine, I got the work-men to give the interior of the Armoury a thorough testing to find out if a passageway had existed between it and the Round Tower underground. We uncovered all the floors of the Abbots' Parlour at the west end, that ,is, from the west gable to the south door, and found the rock very near the surface and fairly uniform. The rock had been roughly levelled and a coating of puddled clay spread on top to make it smooth and even. The other part of the interior floor had not been levelled or clayed, the rock being at varying depths, but generally close to the surface. The north wall, that is, the one next to the Round Tower, is built upon rock, which shows above the floor level in places. No trace of a passage was found to be underground.
A test was made for depth of soil in the north-east corner of the Armoury, with the following result:
NOTE. A plan was submitted by Mr. Cowley. It is regretted that it has not been possible to reproduce it with the Proceedings, ED.
Length A to C, 10 feet, B to C.'6 feet excavation. A to B, 4 feet long, 18 inches broad, depth, 2 feet. Excavation started at A and stopped at B, where we found adult bones. Between A and B, and under the foundation of north wall, a burial indicated by an adult shin bone, which was left undisturbed.
Human bones were also found in the cutting D at 2 feet below surface. All soil not returned to original position was used outside to fill in holes where rain had exposed the foundations. Canon Quine was busy all this time, measuring. examining and having photographs taken, more especially of the Armoury, Round Tower, and St. Patrick's Church.
After their work was finished we went to the site of the Brewery. A circular well-like depression about 4 feet deep was cleaned out and proved to be flagged on bottom. a. built circular wall rising up from same. The stonework was badly burnt. Probably an iron grid rested upon the top of the stonework and a cauldron was placed thereon wherein to brew beer. To the north of the "Museum" is the remains of a small building, a supposed keeill. This was next examined. The walls had no depth in the soil and the floor was not level, but sloping down-ward with the run of the walls at the same angle of the bank upon which it is built. At the corner of the west wall, close to where it joins the north wall, and showing from under the foundation, was a piece of pottery or shard. This appears to be of local manufacture and is much larger than the pieces usually found in or about the Castle. A shore stone of an unusual shape was also found in this enclosure.
Canon Quine and Mr. P. M. C. Kermode decided to restore the east window to its original state. For many years the aperture had been enlarged, appearing to the ordinary observer as a huge doorway, the opening continuing to the ground. John Quirk, a mason, was sent for, and by using the stones removed from the steps at the Round Tower, restored it as nearly as possible to its original state.
The east gable was unsafe, so Mr Winterbottom obtained two iron bars. These were bolted through the wall and set into cement within the church.
Doubt exists as to the original length of this building. It should be one-third as wide as its length, according to usual measurements, but in this case it is considerably longer. By some people it is said to have been added to when the garrison of the Castle was strengthened. but examination reveals that the original foundation runs the full length of the building. A considerable part of the walls near the east end are more recent than the west end. Th herring-bone pattern in the building of the walls is unique. Canon Quine places the date of this building about 1600 to 1640, two or three centuries later than the Armoury and Round Tower.
On the eleventh day of July, Mr Winterbottom and myself made a survey of work done, and saw that everything was in proper order to be left for the summer months during the visiting season. He made notes of several repairs to be done after reporting same to the proper authorities.
For future examination, I noted a peculiar arrow-shaped aperture in the south wall of the nave of St. Germain's Cathedral. The flags in the floor of Bishop Simon's Palace are very uneven, but were not disturbed by our workmen. The window in this building is double splayed, similar to those in the Armoury and the Sacristy.
There is one place in the Castle wall, between the Bishop's Palace and the Brewery, which should be cleaned out and examined. It appears to have been a room with steps leading down into it, but is now filled up with soil.
Before closing these notes, I would like to record a few additional ones in reference to the examinations carried out in Peel Castle by Messrs Rigby and Kermode, under the direction of Lord Raglan. Mr Wm. Cashen was the custodian at that time, and I am sorry to say all these men are now dead. Mr Cashen and myself were very friendly, and after the workmen had finished their work and left the Castle, my friend and myself occasionally walked round to inspect the day's work. Not being so interested at. that time as now in antiquarian research. I made no notes, but recollect the following facts:
Two trenches were cut across the tilting ground, running. north and south. One was about 12 feet west of the Warwick Tower, about 6 feet wide and opened to the bottom rock. I am unable to say the exact depth, but it would be about nine or ten feet deep. Exposed on the bottom were two circular kilns, built around by shore stones each about the size of a man's head. The general opinion was that these kilns had been used for burning kelp to produce potash for soap-making.
The other trench was at the west end of the tilting ground; not so deep as No. 1, and proved of little interest. The only loose objects found were pieces of pottery locally made and a small horse-shoe.
The passage leading from the tilting ground to "the covered way to the sea" was cleaned out, and iron gate repaired. This passage was at one time filled up, but by Governor Loch's orders, re-opened. The kiln for burning pottery on the south side of the tilting ground was also cleaned out, but had again become a receptable for broken bottles and rubbish until the present time. I forgot to mention that Mr. Winterbottom had a protecting rail made and placed around it.
Mr. Cashen pointed out to me at this time two places in the Castle where the Arms of Man, i.e., the Three Legs, were cut into stones built into the wall. One I have re-discovered, and the late Mr. Shimmin kindly re-cut the surface, as it had become nearly obliterated by wind and weather. To find it. one walks straight from the entrance gates to a flight of steps across the sward. Ascending the steps the Arms are to be seen on a stone on the left side, at the top. The other stone I have been unable to find, and am afraid the face may have been worn away.
In addition to the trenches I have mentioned in the tilting ground, he said they dug one through the Banqueting Hall, and that the other buildings nearer the Cathedral had double floors, that is, below the stone flags exist a paved one lower down. Upon the lower floor of the Sacristy, he continued, was a fire-place. This information regarding the lower floors is of intense interest. confirming Canon Quine's statement that the 'residence' of King Magnus Barefoot was in this locality.
There is no doubt that whatever mystery hangs around St. Patrick Isle, or any objects of an antiquarian nature remain hidden and unobserved by the vandals of the past, they will be found in this group of buildings overlooking the harbour entrance.
Continuing his reminiscences, Thompson remembered that they had cleaned out the interior of the Round Tower, but discovered nothing worthy of note. His statement, however, confirmed our opinion that it had recently been examined.
He corrected my measurements of the trenches cut across the tilting ground by stating they were three feet wide by nine feet deep. The kilns at the bottom, he remembered, were built up of red shore boulders.
They also at that time exposed a length of retaining wall north of this place; that is, on the sea side; as a secret passage was supposed to run along inside the wall, but none such passage existed.
After the death of Mr. P. IM. C. Kermode, I enquired if there had been any notes left by him relative to the two excavations in Peel Castle, and was informed that none had been found. Mr. W. Cubbon, the Curator at the Manx museum, Douglas, informed me that they had there a box of human bones, including two skulls. These were presumed to have been sent from the last excavations at Peel Castle by Mr. Kermode, during the time of the excavations. I knew there had been a box of bones sent to the Museum whilst I was on holiday, and so made enquiries of John Bell as to where they had been dug up, and the orientation of the skeletons. Bell informed me that they had been taken out of the cutting on the south side of St. German's Cathedral chancel. One of the skeletons was "heading towards the West; yes, heading Westward"; but he could not say, about the other one.
I can give no information regarding the remains sent to the Museum, but understood they were to have been submitted to Sir Arthur Keith for examination. All the objects found during the 1929 excavations were handed to the late Mr. P. M. C. Kermode, who, I think, placed them in the Peel Castle Museum. Those found during the time of the late Lord Raglan were also placed there, one of which I remember was a small horse-shoe found in the tilting ground.
There are also several things from Governor Loch's examination in the same place, one of which, a wood-dipper, was found in the well below the old wood pump close to the Bishop's Palace. The well in question having been at that time cleaned out, will need no further examination. In the event of future investigations in Peel Castle, a careful watch should be kept for one-half of a Bas-relief in stone of the Castle, supposed to have been built into one of the walls, and for further particulars of which, see "A Walk Around the Walls of Peel Castle;" in the Society's "Proceedings," Vol. III., No. 4.
The several mounds behind the Cathedral and surrounding the powder or tool-house, have at various times been marked for examination and once or twice been tested; but they contain such a quantity of human bones that it was thought advisable to let them remain unmolested.
No plan exists, or any record of the buildings torn down when the battery was erected overlooking the Lifeboat House. during the Napoleonic scare, and we may be thankful that the idea of erecting the Royal Naval Reserve Battery within the walls was annulled owing to the difficulty of handling the big guns.
A great deal of information is yet to be obtained as to the structural alterations to several of the buildings, more especially the base of St. German's Cathedral, leading from the crypt on both sides, where they are very noticeable; also, the built-in arches and alterations to windows.
It may be recorded here that the local red sandstone used in the buildings of the Castle was brought by boat from Creg Malin, at the east end of Peel Bay. Where it was necessary to bring in boats on a rocky beach, the rock or boulders were removed to form a passage. This was called a "Barra," several of which still exist along out coast-line.
There being no roadway over which to convey the stone to the Castle at that time. it was necessary to form a "barra" at Creg Malin by hewing it out of solid rock, and it is probably in the same condition now as when left by the builders of Peel Castle.
To finish, I shall relate a story, told to me some years ago by a friend, who, I believe, had a relative present when the incident occurred. It seems that a funeral was about to take place within the Castle grounds. A number of people stood around the newly-opened grave, awaiting the arrival of the cortege. which at that time had to wend its way along the river and hillside, then across the narrow causeway. A man standing near to the debris thrown out of the grave. picked up a skull in a fair state of preservation, remarked upon the peculiar fact that a hole had been driven into the temple of it, and passed it on to the company to inspect.
The skull passed from hand to hand until it came to an old woman, and immediately she received it blood began to drop from the. hole in the temple. Hastily, she passed it on to her neighbour, and it went to the end of the line of people without further bleeding, but upon its return, and being placed again in the hands of the old woman, the bleeding re-commenced. Every-one was horrified, and looked to the old woman for an explanation, and she, conscience-stricken, made the following confession:
"When I was a young woman," she began, "I went one summer evening with my sweetheart for a walk around these Castle walls. Coming to a green sward at the West corner. We sat down to rest, and, unfortunately, began a lover's quarrel. My lover, tired of quarrelling, laid his head upon my lap, but I, still passionate and filled with jealousy, continued the strife. In my pocket was a nail, and in my mad desire to have revenge, I seized a stone and drove the nail through my lover's temple. Horrified at my crime, I hastened away. To this day, I have never spoken of it to a living soul, but now I confess everything. "
My friend was unable to tell me if retribution other than a guilty conscience followed upon the old woman's confession. I am indebted to the Rev. Canon Quine for the following information relative to the Armoury, recently received. He writes: "I am more certain that the Armoury is pure and simple the `Bishop's Palace' of Bishop Patrick, Bishop of Dublin in the time of Godred Crovan. In short, the then St. Patrick. with town, the Cathedral and the residence of the clergy, in those days, 'episcopal palace.'
"Thus it stood for over a century, till St. German's was begun in the time of King Reginald. The small building W. or S.W. of the Bishop's Palace was probably the actual 'Bishop's residence around which the Stanley fortification deviated a little, not to injure it."