[Appears by courtesy of nephew John Quirk]

THE STORY OF MARATHON ROAD METHODIST CHURCH

A talk presented to the Manx Methodist Historical Society on Saturday, August 17th 2002

by Alan Robert Quirk.

Mr. Chairman. Ladies and Gentlemen, Good afternoon.

Before I start my story, I should like to tell you of my association with Marathon Road Chapel, the subject of my, talk today.

My father, Isaac Quirk, was one of the founder members of the Chapel and I attended the Sunday school there from a very tender age along with my three brothers and two sisters.

In about 1935 I was appointed Society Steward, a post which I held, with the exception of the war years, until the chapel closed in 1977. My mother, one of my sisters, and one of my brothers have all, at different times, been organists at the Chapel. All these factors have created a strong family connection.

To begin my story, it is necessary to look back a little over 100 years, to the close of the nineteenth century. May I say, at this stage, that as one travels down memory lane inevitably one finds attractive side turnings down which one is tempted to stray. I have in this talk endeavoured to keep to the main path, but at times I have yielded to temptation and digressed slightly by introducing a few personal reminiscences. I hope you will bear with me in this!

The period I referred to - the years just before and just after, 1900 - was a time of great development in upper; Douglas.- The promenades had just been largely filled with boarding houses and the development was therefore directed inland, the main roads of Broadway, Ballaquayle Road, Victoria Road and Woodbourne Road being the arteries which. fed the new residential areas now known as Upper Douglas.

As matter of interest, Ballaquayle Farm, in Dukes Road, continued to operate for many years, despite the developments going on all around it, - I think up to the end of World War One. As a lad living in the area I remember often seeing the Ballaquayle herd of cattle plodding their way through the streets to their pasture or back to the milking parlour.

One thing, however, was missing from this concept of expansion. That was the provision of a facility for public worship - a fact which was duly noted by the members of Loch Parade Primitive Methodist Church and upon which they decided to take action;

So, in the year 1900, a Leaders Meeting of that Church decided to send an Evangelical Mission to that area of upper Douglas - a Mission consisting of half a dozen or so of the young men of the church together with their wives and families.

They began their Mission work in a room in a private house in Dukes Road. Although that house has been pointed out to me by my mother, I am afraid that I cannot now recall its precise location except to say it was in Lower Dukes Road not far from the Ballaquayle Road junction.

There would appear to be no records of those early meetings, as they would be held, no doubt, with a minimum of formality and very little taking of notes. It is interesting to note that some of the older people of the Church would, right up to the closure in 1977, refer to the Chapel as "The Mission".

The work prospered, and it soon became evident to the Mission that the room used was really too small for its purpose and that larger premises would have to be obtained.

Their prayers were answered when Mrs. Dorning who, with her four daughters, occupied a large double house, (formerly used as Victoria College) graciously offered the Mission the use of a large room formerly used as the refectory with a similar sized room above, formerly used as the dormitory.

The Mission continued to thrive in its new premises and when, in 1920, the property consisting of the Mission Rooms and the two adjoining houses, came on to the market, the members of the Mission boldly formed a Trust of 21 members constituted in accordance with the rules of the Methodist Church - thereby becoming a legal -entity with power to own property. And, by means of a Deed of Bond and Security passed to the Trustees of Thomas Cubbon, the Marathon Road Trustees purchased the entire premises and grounds for the sum of £1,500 from the Trustees of Annie Harris deceased.

Once in ownership, the Trustees lost no time in adapting the building to their needs. One of their early modifications was to remove the ceiling and floor separating the ground and upper floors. This work was carried out by the direct labour of the Trustees working under the direction and supervision of Mr. Corkill, a builder, who was a staunch supporter of the Mission. This modification created a dual-purpose hall of a very convenient size. Other, lesser, modifications were also made to the building, which further improved its suitability.

But Marathon Road was more than just a building. of brick and stone' -it became the spiritual home of many of the people of Upper Douglas- and, in addition, it filled a gap in the social life of the community. The Teas and Concerts' sometimes a Manx Tay and Concert' - which were held from time to time were always very well supported. In fact, we even had one gentleman from Ballasalla who always turned up for this type of function and who, not content with joining the first tea sitting (there were always two sittings for tea) would remain in his seat and partake of the second sitting as well. The ladies of the Chapel always took a sympathetic view of this, as he was a kindly old gentleman - and he was a bachelor!!!

Another of the social activities, in the summer, were "rambles" when members and friends would walk to a farm in the country owned by a relative or friend and where we would be given a substantial tea and a good cooish before setting off for home. Some of the rambles that I can recall were to the Killeys at Ballagrawe, West Baldwin; to the Berridges at Ballaugh, Richmond Hill, and to Lanjaghan and Slegaby. During the winter we would hold socials periodically in the homes of members when we would play games, have a good supper and generally enjoy ourselves.

About 1948, a much-needed expansion took place when two additional rooms were created for the Sunday School by excavating under the Chapel at the rear lawn level. This also had the advantage of providing easy, and direct access to the two lawns - very useful during the summer months when the Sunday School would be held in the open air, weather permitting, of course. Access to the Sunday School from the Chapel was by means of a trapdoor in the Chapel floor, which when raised, revealed a flight of stairs going down to the Sunday School. This was a unique feature of the Chapelll

Regarding the Sunday School, this prospered right from the commencement of the Mission. I have a photograph, a very old photograph, taken on the annual picnic in 1914, which shows over 50 children present, and about the same number of adults. As a matter of interest there are two people on the photo who are still alive - Mrs. Amy Shimmin (née Crellin) the widow of Mr. W. Shimmin, one time a Town Councillor, and myself - two years of age, sitting on my mother's knee.

The Sunday School Anniversary was, in the days before the Second World War, always held on the third Sunday in June on the bottom lawn (that is, the lawn fronting on Victoria Road) on stages which had been erected by the men of the Chapel a few days earlier and fastened to two big sycamore trees. Unfortunately, Anniversary day coincided with Mad Sunday and the noise of the motorcycles on their way to the Course would drown the voices of the soloists and the congregation, and the voice of the preacher!! Until just after the First World War, a small string orchestra led the singing - it included the Kermode brothers (the tailors from Hill Street) on violins and W.J.Dawson (the school teacher from Woodside Terrace) on viola. There were two or three others whose names escape me now.

The three Primitive Churches in Douglas all co-operated fully in their Anniversaries. They were always held on different Sundays, and on each Anniversary the other two Sunday Schools would march in procession to the afternoon children's Service.

There was a choir at Marathon Road, but it only performed for special Services - the view was taken that it was preferable to have the singers among the congregation in a small place like this. Mr. Phillip Kelly was the very efficient choirmaster and he put the choir in the Guild several times. It was a source of great pride when one year we won the class for Church Choirs.

I say 'we' because I was singing in it .that year - although my contribution to our success was minimal!! Our success was due to the fact that the tenor solo in the test piece was sung by George Peters, one of the Island's foremost tenors, for which the judge awarded full marks, thus enabling us to gain first place.

I mentioned earlier that the choir performed on special Services only. Now it so happened that, in front of the choir sitting on the platform, here was an ornamental wooden rail and it wasn't long before the Ladies of the Chapel fitted a curtain to the rail - I remember that it was red in colour - because, according to popular rumour, the legs of the ladies in the front row of the choir could be seen by the congregationl!!

As regards the services in the Chapel, these were very sincere meetings and very emotional at times. While they followed the usual Methodist pattern, there were some practices which I grew up to accept as normal but which, I suspect, were not universally adopted. For example, after each evening Service there was always a prayer meeting which followed on without a pause - anyone who did not wish to stay could leave during the singing of the last hymn. There would be usually five or six men who regularly prayed - never any ladies - and they were, from time to time, encouraged by other members with cries of "Hallelujah", "Praise the Lord", "Amen" or some similar expression of fervent approbation. In my childish innocence, I used to think that the cry of "Amen" meant that somebody was trying to tell someone something!! As children we would count the number of men present who we knew would be offering a prayer, and this would enable us to estimate how late we would be in getting home! There was one man, a Mr. Kelly, who, in his praying, would emphasise his religious emotion by shaking and thumping the back of the form in front of him - much to the discomfort of the people sitting on that form! I think it was during the Second World War, or shortly after, that these prayer meetings ceased to be held.

Again, another practice which I believe was peculiar to the Mission, was concerned with the Communion Service. During;. the singing of the last hymn the congregation would, without any prompting, change their positions in the Chapel so that every alternate seating form was empty. The minister would then administer the Elements by coming down and passing among the people in the body of the Chapel. This practice continued right up to the time the Chapel closed.

Up to shortly after the First World War it was the custom for the ladies and very young children to sit on the left hand side of the Chapel (looking towards the pulpit) and for the men and boys to sit on the right. How this practice started I'll never know, but I imagine that "Women's Lib" might have been responsible for its' demise. I have never heard of it elsewhere.

Another feature of the Services was the way in which, after the last verse of a hymn was sung, someone would start singing it again. At first unaccompanied, the organ and choir would soon join in. Popular in the country Chapels, I believe.

In November 1955, the Chapel was registered for the solemnisation of marriages. The first person to be married there was, appropriately, one of the Trustees, Mr. Dennis Kewley:

And so the Chapel prospered and carried on with its good work - until sometime in 1977 when a vertical crack appeared in the south wall. From the outside, a distinct bulge in the wall could be seen. Architects were called in and their report showed that the roof was leaking, the gable above the arch, which was over the platform, was extensively cracked. The large beam supporting the arch was infected with dry rot and the south wall bulged outwards. The architects had uncovered the beam and it could be seen that it was resting on its corbel by only a ½ inch.

Acrow props were immediately brought in to support the beam.

At a special meeting of the Trustees held on 30th September 1977 it was resolved that the building be closed forthwith and put up for sale, the main point being that the Trustees had not sufficient funds to pay for the repairs, which would be very costly. We were advised that there was practically no possibility of financial assistance from the Church headquarters in Manchester. A policy of retrenchment was in force, retrenchment by the amalgamation of neighbouring churches. Bucks Road had joined with Rosemount to form the present Trinity Church; Victoria Street had joined with Loch Parade to for the present Promenade Church. The joining of Salisbury Street and Marathon Road was only a matter of time and, here, the question of which Chapel should close was being answered at a stroke.

In the event, some of the Marathon Road people went to Trinity, some went to Willaston, some went to Salisbury Street, and some went to the Promenade Church. The furniture, seats, hymn books, organ and so on were distributed among the country Chapels - and at Ballagarrey Chapel one can still sit on one of the old Marathon Road forms - one hundred years old or thereabouts.

The houses attached to the chapel had been sold in February 1947 to the Trustees of Thomas Cubbon for £4,700 to be used as a nursing home or, alternatively, as a boarding house - neither of which purposes has been achieved - as I understand both houses are let off as flats. These houses have had a chequered career - probably built as private residences, they later became Victoria College under the control of Dr. Farrell, (the late Bishop Thornton- Duesbury was educated here, I understand). Then, during the First World War,.they were run as, a. convalescent home for wounded :soldiers by the four Dorning sisters.

Romance blossomed here as one of the wounded soldiers was a Canadian named Alfred Fisher and he fell, in love with Bessie Dorning. They were married later at Loch Parade Church and they had three daughters, one of them being Marjorie Fisher who some of you will remember as a well-known local preacher. Alf later became one of the Trustees and was their Secretary for many years. Another sister, Lily Dorning, married a Tommy Cain and they ran a chip shop for many years in Dukes Road on the corner of the lane which runs behind the north side of Marathon Drive houses.

After the war - the Great War - the houses were bought by the Trustees, (along with the rest of the property) and were then let off as private residences.

When the Second War came along, the houses were commandeered by the Government for the Civil Defence Headquarters and I believe that considerable alterations were made internally for protection against a bomb attack. As I said earlier, the houses were sold in 1947 and the Trustees had no further proprietary interest.

To go back to the Chapel, this was put into the hands of an estate agent who, in his valuation report, stated that.. "we were alarmed to notice that in two separate locations the building was being supported by iron vices..." In a letter to the Insurance Company the Superintendent Minister, the Rev. A. Harris wrote, "...the cross beam in the roof at the front of the building is unsafe and must be propped up immediately. There is extensive dry rot. The outside gutters require considerable attention. The West wall is moving and the East wall is cracking....". This gives the impression that it was dangerous even to breathe inside the building!!!

After a period of negotiation the Chapel was finally sold for £10,500 to the Society of Friends and, without formality, became officially closed as a Methodist Church. It has changed hands since then, and has since been converted into a private house. On the South wall there used to be the crest of the college in raised concrete consisting of a shield quartered containing the letters V.C.D.M. (Victoria College Douglas Man.) with the motto 'Labor Omnia Vincit subscribed. I'm sorry to say that this crest has now disappeared - presumably during the repairs to the wall and the subsequent re-rendering.

It is very significant that in a letter dated 5th October 1977, the Insurance Company wrote, "frankly, these are premises we would prefer not to insure::."! !!

This really brings my story of Marathon Road Chapel to a close, but there is still one question to which I feel you might like to know the answer! That is..."What happened to the money?" The money from the sale of the premises, that is.

The sale of the houses in 1947 fetched £4,700 gross and this was applied to repaying the outstanding charge on the property and in installing gas radiators in the Chapel. The balance of £2,500 was placed for investment with the Trustees for Methodist Purposes in Manchester. The interest, as it fell due, was placed in the Chapel trustees account. The proceeds of the sale itself; £10,500 was, after payment of the advocate's fees, paid to the Trustees for Methodist Church Purposes for their use and benefit, there to join the £2,500 which now also became their property.

You will understand, no doubt; that under the Model Deed, which applies to all Methodist property, all real estate is held by the local Trustees acting on behalf of the Manchester trustees. The property had really belonged to them ever since the Model Deed became operative:

There were, however, certain monies which remained under the control of the Chapel Trustees - the various small sums held by the departments` of the Chapel such as the Sunday School, the Ladies' Fellowship and so on. Of these monies it was resolved that £75 be paid to Willaston Church and the balance, about £300 be paid to the Circuit Funds.

I had intended, at this point, to conclude my story of Marathon Road Chapel, but a friend, Mr. Alan. Daugherty, only last week lent me a document, which I feel is worthy of comment. It is the "Marathon Road Primitive Church Official Handbook of the Grand Bazaar and Sale of Work"

And grand it was, too, for a small Chapel like Marathon Road! It was held on two days, Wednesday and Thursday March 26t and 27th 1924 in the Villa Marina and the opener was the Mayor of Douglas, A.B.Crookall, J.P., M.B.E. Our Ministers at that time were the Rev. Aaron Smith and the Rev. W.E.Bellew,

The number of helpers is surprising - they were all named in the Handbook and it is evident that help was received from the other Methodist Churches. For example, the refreshment stall had no fewer than 22 lady helpers; the Ladies Working Stall had 16 Ladies; the Sunday School stall had 19 helpers; and there were other stalls and sideshows as well -all with a good number of helpers. The Refreshment Stall advertises: - "Afternoon tea for One Shilling - and High tea for One Shilling and Nine pence. Suppers will be provided. Chocolates and Sweets." And in addition to the foregoing attractions there was, on the Wednesday Evening, "Concerts by the Cecilian Orchestra conducted by Mr. W.E.Preston" and on the Thursday Evening there was presented a "Children's Operetta" entitled "The Flower Queen" under the direction of Mr. and Mrs. P.Jackson.

Truly it was a really Grand Bazaar!!

At that time the Trustees were, of course, burdened with quite a heavy mortgage and this Grand Bazaar was, no doubt held to reduce some of this debt. Unfortunately, I cannot find any financial statement relating to this effort, but I was there myself, and remember there being large crowds in attendance so it was almost certain that it would be a financial success. The people of those days certainly had faith and courage and I am reminded of one of the sayings of my father that - "...a Church in debt is a thriving Church, but a church that has no debt tends to be complacent and lethargic..."

And so the story of Marathon Road Chapel comes to a close. It only remains for me to express my sincere thanks to everyone who has helped me in this project - the very helpful staff of the library of the Manx Museum, Mr. Frank Cowin, Mr. Alan Daugherty, those of my contemporaries who have given me their personal reminiscences and to you, the audience, for your kind attentiveness.

Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, I thank you all Signed Alan R. Quirk

Original records relating to Marathon Road Chapel are deposited in the Manx National Heritage Library at the Manx Museum in File No. 10808 and indexed 'Marathon Road Chapel - Bucks Road Methodist Circuit'.

A.R.Q.

Obituary of Alan Quirk


Alan Robert Quirk

An obituary of the writer who belied his age and gave an excellent talk (the editor being present) which deviated a little from this prepared speech - obituary taken from Manx Independent 20 Dec 2002;

Former chef registrar dies at the age of 91

A FORMER chief registrar, who worked with eight different deemsters during a 44-year career with the civil service, has died aged 91.

Alan Robert Quirk, of Alexander Drive, Douglas, passed away in Noble's Hospital last week.

He leaves his wife of 62 years; Jean, `sons Peter and John, daughters-in-law Betty and Elizabeth, five grandchildren, Sharon, Paulo, Brian, David and Andrew, and three great-grandchildren, Laura, Natalie and Oliver. -

After-leaving the then Douglas High School for Boys aged -16, Alan began his civil service career in the income tax office where he spent 17 years.

The war years intervened and in 1941 he married Jean at the former Bucks Road Methodist Church.

During the: war, he joined up with the Royal Corps of Signals as a despatch rider, spending most of his time in the UK and a spell in the Middle-East until being, demobbed, when he returned to the civil service in the General Registry, ultimately became the chief registrar.

Although he retired in 1972, he remained extremely busy.

He served on the Civil Service Commission for three years, was a committee member of the Douglas Coal Fund and a trustee of the former Marathon Road Church- his father Isaac was a founder member - and West Baldwin Methodist Chapel.

When the Marathon Road Church closed, he became a parishioner of the Promenade Church and was a member of the choir.

His other interests included woodturning, gardening, engineering and, in particular, music as he played a wide range of instruments, from the organ to the ukulele, both for pleasure and in a number of dance groups.

Model making was also a keen interest, he made a full-size, furnished dolls' house a few years ago.

He also attended the Douglas High School Old Boys' Association annual lunch in September and a few days later his memories of the school were recorded as part of a history of the school.

He was the oldest member of the association when it reformed three years ago, having moved to the school when it opened in 1927 as a member of the fifth form which transferred from the Eastern District Secondary School on the Park Road site.

The funeral was held at the Promenade Methodist Church

 


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Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
©Alan Robert Quirk 2001, HTML F.Coakley , 2012