Unpublished Documents in the Manx Museum

Description of Ballaugh Parish in the year 1774

Interesting particulars by Vicar-General James Wilks

THOMAS PENNANT (1726 - 1798), F.R.S., the eminent naturalist and traveller, made a series of tours to various parts of the British Isles. He went to Cornwall in 1746, to Ireland in 1754, and the Continent in 1765, to Scotland in 1769 and 1772, the Isle of Man in 1774, and to numerous parts of England. He was an enthusiastic naturalist and antiquary and wrote many standard works.

During his visit to Man in 1774 Pennant seems to have made arrangements with the Vicars to supply him with a description of the features of their respective parishes. The account of the Rev. John Christian, Vicar of Kirk Marown from 1753 to 1780, was published by Mr. A. W. Moore, S.H.K., in Yn Lioar Manninagh, vol. ii, pp. 29-31. Only three of these accounts appear to have survived, namely that of Kirk Marown referred to above, and two which have not yet been printed.

These are the descriptions of the parish of Ballaugh by Rev. Vicar-General James Wilks (1719-1777) and Kirk Michael by the Rev. J. Crellin, Episcopal Registrar.

These valuable documents have recently been given to the Museum by Mr. Arthur Moore, of Holly House, Hornby, near Lancaster, son of the late Mr. A. W. Moore, S.H.K., to whom the credit of rescuing the documents belongs.

From A. W. Moore Collection

Document No. 194.


To the 1st.

The antient and modern name is St. Mary’s of Ballaugh — the Etymology of Ballaugh, as I take it, is from ye Mx, Balnylaghey, which Laghey signifies mud or mire, wherewith this Parish formerly abounded from ye Number of Quags or mires in ye E : side thereof.

2. Villages we have none, nor is ye Term Hamlet used among us.

3 & 4. For an Answer to these you are referred to ye annexed schedule.

23. Several—-some have been opened & urns full of human bones mostly burned found therein.

24. None in plan—tho’ every family mostly manufactures their own Linen & woollen Apparell & spare a considerable Qty of coarse Linen.

25. There is one annual fair in Augt coarse Linen ye chief Comodity for sale tho’ there are many pieces of woollen Cloath, stuffs, &c.


I . The interior part of ye Parish is hilly & mountainous, ye rest/which is abt ¾ths of ye whole is low & rather flat.

2d. We have not many plantations of Wood, but ye ge& run of ye Parish is arable & pasture in rotation, save

3d. a Range of boggy ground on ye East side of ye Parish, a considerable part of which is meadow & pasture, & part very boggy out of which ye owners dig Peat for firing.

4. A considerable part of ye Land consists of a stiff loamy substance & produces grain very well, other parts are very sandy wth abundance of Furze & principally used as sheep Pastures.

5. We have no lakes, or large waters, save in ye winter season when falls of rain are great, the fenny part is much overflowed for want of proper drains or falls for ye water.

9. We have two mills for the grinding of bread-corn.

11. We have sevl Quarries of different kinds of stone fit for building, & one Quarry of a slaty kind out of which are dug long stones from 5 to 30 feet long used as Lintels & mantel trees.

12. The manure principally used is Lime worth abt 9s. p. Barrell & 24s. per Ton.

13. The chief produce of our Land are Barly, Rye, Pease & Oates, very little wheat being sown.

14. Our Rivers or Streams produce very little fish of any sort, tho’ we sometimes get a few Trouts & Eels.

14. Horses, horned cattle, sheep, Goats, Hares, Rabbits, Weasels & Lizards. As to our Birds of all sorts, whether migratory or otherwise I beg leave to refer you to ye Sheete given by Mr. John Lewhellin of Ramsey & best Zoologist in this Country.

19. On digging Wells, we first meet wth a stratum of earth of abt 2 feet then a loamy clay of abt ye like thickness, then a thin stratum of Turf or Peat of abt 6 Inches then a coarse Gravel 3 feet thick, then sand from 6 to 10 feet then a Grey shingly Gravel, from which ye water generally oozes.

20. Some springs lye lower others higher, & our water always sweet & good.

21 . We have very little marl as yet discovered in ye Parish, no Fullers or potter’s earth or Ocre — But we have a very singular kind of Turf or Peat dug in one part of ye Parish, closer & ponderous & when put into ye fire has a most rank suiphurous smell, whose Ashes are very red & tinge everything they touch — N.B. this kind of peat is hardly bearable in a house & therefore principally used for burning Lime, as it produces a very intense heat.

23. No great Quantity of Timber is produced in this Parish, tho’ many Estates have a sufficiency for Plows, Harrows & other Implemt’ of Husbandry.

24. A considerable No. of Sheep are raised in this Parish, but not well fed as we have generally an overstock & nothing but ye natural grass to feed them.

25. I can’t say our people are any way remarkable for strength, tho’ we have many scores upwards of 6 feet high.

26. Gentry we have few of, & ye principal diversion our common People are fond of are Shooting at Bows & Arrows & dancing.

27. The air is very healthy, nor are our People [ subject] to Agues or Fevers unless Disorders be epidemick, or occasioned by Colds.

35. Our shore is sandy, wth nearly loose perpendicular sandy banks from 10 to 30 feet high, & much of these banks carryd away by high Tides, & high winds.

36. We have many sorts of fish caught, such as Herrings, Cod, Haddock, Ling, whitings, whiting, pollocks, sea Carpe, mackerel, Gurnets, Ray, Flaunders, Congers, Cur-net, & sometimes & but seldom Turbot, soles & John Doreys — the principal fish however depended on is the Herrings which generally comes in great Skulls abt ye begining of July, & stays on this coast till ye latter end of Augt when they quit this coast & go southward. The Quantity taken at times is very great for 10 to 20 Thousd in a boat. The prices vary according to ye demand ; — at ye beginning of the season they are mostly sold to Irish boats which come over on purpose to purchase for ye Dublin market, from 3 to 5p. Hund afterwards from 1 to 2’ as ye Qty. taken increases — I have known them sold at 4½ p. Hund. & no demand for them even at that price ; but of late years since the removal of our contrabnd Trade, our merchts have erected many houses for curing Red Herrings & keep up ye price, so that they [are] seldom bought now at less than 18d p. Hund - our markets for other fish are some-times Dublin, Leverpoole & Whitehaven, as the wind best suits the boats who follow yt business.

37. In the months of June, July, Augt & 7r. we have at times on our shore great Quantities of Sand-Eels, which ye people catch wth small Iron hooks like sickles, from 1 to 12 Qts. to the hand, these they bail sometimes fresh, & often dry them for winter-store.— We also have some musel banks along shore, but they are seldom come at or used.

38. The only sea-weed made use for manure of land, is ye comon Sea Tang, even of this we have but small Quantities.

39. The courses of the Tide on ye North-Shore of this Island are remarkable owing to the Channell between Ireland, & Scotland for when it flows it comes in a direct course from sd Channel to a Head-land abt half a League south of Peel, where by its force it divides & to ye southward of sd headland ye flowing Tide sets Southward, & to ye North-ward thereof sets along shore vizt N :E : —& the Ebbtide to ye southward of sd Head-land sets Northward & to ye northward thereof southward — one genl & invariable rule for full Sea, is when the moon is E :S :E:

40. The number of Herring fishing vessells in this Parish is Ten, all open boats from 20 to 24 feet keel, navigated generally by 8 hands each boat — we also have abt 6 small yawls, employd in catching Grey fish, manned mostly by old men.

43. We have but one harbour in this Parish, which is called Ballaugh burn foot.

44. The only sea-fight known to have been on this coast, was that of Capt Elliot & Thuroe Anno 1759 — but there was a remarkable wreck in this Parish of a vessell loaded wth Brandy anno 1697 — the first cargoe of Brandy ever known in this Island.

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