[From IoM Examiner 11 Nov 1899]
BY JAMES COWIN
The character applied to Well-road Chapel by Mr Kermode not the M.H.K. at the late Wesleyan meeting in Douglas has awakened in my mind many old reminiscences of men, manners and things
Well road Chapel has no doubt suffered, like many other buildings by being badly located. But our "" ancestors who are coming after us," as one of the Teare Glentrammons said in the House of Keys had no great ambition for sites costly or ornamental more especially for churches, chapels, or schools, for Thomas-street, at present Victoria-street Chapel and now a "church", was in about as narrow a street as. it well could be; and as "back and behind" as it well could be ; and Wellington street Chapel built and then rebuilt down in "a gut" of a street and St: Barnabas' Church was no better; but then High-Bailiff Quirk and "Tom the Devil ". had to do all their great official duties is St. Barnabas' square and St Barnabas' Sunday and Day schools were sandwiched by tan-yards and breweries, and the nearest approach to them for many people through "Gutter a gable"
Lame Dan's School, my "alma mater," was a ladder in a dirty yard in Heywood's-place and my sanitary instincts are now shocked at my recollections of this barbarous place. Lame Cubbon's School was up steps in Society Lane, not a great improvement. Imeson's, afterwards Claude Cannell's, was in Bath-place, a shade better. But what puzzles me more is the fact that Forester built a new and improved school in Shaw's brow for the boys of the elite of Douglas, abutting upon "Little Hell," but sometimes called "Little Ireland" or by the more euphonious name of Thorn Hill" but where-ignorance was bliss it was folly to be wise, and a good savoury smell was a thing valued by many Douglas people then, Tan-yards were looked upon as a luxury in that line, a kind of disinfectant that killed one smell by making a greater, and we have no better proof of this conservative feeling: than the fact that we still hold and cherish that "Stink Pot" at the top of Douglas Harbour, a nuisance condemned, and measure after measure suggested for its cleansing under the old regime of High-Bailiff Quirk over half a century ago. If we could find any deposit of ore or guano under it, it soon could be " boomed " and a company formed but considerations of dividends always dominate considerations, of health or decency. But. to come back to my text of "Poor Well Road Chapel"
I remember it passing, through a fiery ordeal; by being partially burnt down and it is the only church or chapel in Douglas during the century that enjoys this distinction; and had the insurance offices an experience like this in other risks, they would not have had to threaten more than once to withdraw their business or raise the premiums, and, to, be denounced as " libellers in staigmatizing Manxmen as incendaries " But I am afraid the profit and loss account, of many insurance offices doing business in Douglas will not show up very well on the credit side; but as an old friend of mine used to say, , "Howsomever, and you'll get lave." Well-road Chapel got on fire. and was briskly burning in the late early hours of the morning. I think it would be about six when I got on the ground, and took my stand among a crowd on the top of the hill, opposite Well-road well." I was not long there till I was joined in company of a very well-known and rather remarkable character in the person of Billy McShinney who had. put in an appearance after very little attention to his toilet or the adjustment of his clothing, rather rough looking at the best of times. On this occasion he appeared at his very worst. Boots or shoes but no stockings his, trousers hitched up as if by a cord suspender, his jacket with a button in the top hole and head without any covering, showing tufty hair standing in rebellion against anything like comb or brush treatment to bring it into submission. A woman ran up and in great anxiety said. " Is it the chapel that is burning , Mr Kelly ?" The reply was characteristic" Can't you. see woman, that it is the chapel that is on fire, and don't you think.. that chapels will burn, and if you were in it you would burn too", "Oh, that's a dreadful pity," she replied, "I wonder if its insured". "Well", he said, "you are a stupid foolish woman. Wher in the world have you come from? You mast have come from Dawby (Dalby) or some foreign place. to be so ignorant. Do you think that the Chapel would burn if it was not insured. It is only insured places that are burnt down. Look at the country places where 'childer' runs about among the: 'haggards' and thatched tholtans with clewss of goss on fire, and they never burn; and it is because they. are not insured.
After delivering himself of that philosophical outburst, he gave his head a significant nod as if is had silenced his questioner. Billy was only one, but I think the chief of the McShinney firmly, and if a tithe of what was attributed to them were true they were the most gifted and talented Manx family I ever knew and must have had considerable help from the', powers of darkness,"" and certainly were ubiquitous, for they must have often been in two or three places at the one-time but it is only another illustration of giving a dog a bad-name" They were looked upon as a kind of pirates,-and if there were not-a good fishing on the long lines, or a good haul in the lobster pots, the McShinneys were accused of being out forestalling from Derby Haven to Maughold Head was considered quite within their grasp to accomplish in a few hours of the dark nights, and if there were any hen roosts robbed from Laxey to Ballasalla on the same night McShinney's got the credit of it. They were equally dexterous and clever by land or by sea.
The Fire at "Poor Well Road" caused much damage, and some of the knowing ones thought this was a golden opportunity of improving the shining hour and the chapel at one time, and that insurance companies were easily bled and a few hundred pounds extra would enable them to modernise the sanctuary. A large timber merchant " local brother" and leading official and at the same time a very great authority on building, put down the cost at £1,500; and to this they stuck, backed up by the expert brother, and nothing less than £1,500 would settle the claim.
The best laid schemes of mice and men,
Gang aft agley"
And the insurance company elected, as they could according to their bond, to restore the building themselves. They entrusted to Richard Cowle, familiarly known as Dick Cowle". Dick was an outsider religiously made no professions but was the very soul of honour and honesty, and whether at the bench, beating the drum, or playing the tromboine in the teetotal band he recognised that it was the proper thing like
In the ancient days of art
To do all work with greatest care,
For the Gods see everywhere.
Cowle finished his work so well that no one could challenge it and the cost was about £800.
There are always people ready to draw contrasts between the religious professor and the man of the world to the disparagement of the former and it was freely indulged in in this time. I don't mean to say that "poor Well-road" suffered by the above transaction but I have known such things to bring a blight on a church from which it never could emerge.
There is another episode connected with Methodism and Well-road Hill, that I have a lively recollection of and in which the character of a Manx Wesleyan minister got so sullied that he could never rise above it. The last severance from the Wesleyan body was through the "fly sheets" or anonymous missiles sent among the brethren. many were suspected as the writers and many dodges resorted to to get at them, and the "question by penalty" or mental thumbscrew tried, but was denounced as un-English. It was left to a young Douglas minister to unearth one of the writers and "become the accuser of the brethren" by picking up a paper in the Rev Daniel Walton's study when left alone in it to prove Walton's connection with the "sheets" whether he got there by accident or strategy I don't know let us hope charitably that he thought he was doing a service for God and Methodism, but it was a dirty trick that dogged his life ever after, and, no doubt, kept him from filling the presidential chair, a position which his great abilities admirably fitted him for. It is a moral lesson for young men to avoid mean and dishonourable actions for even a temporary gain.
Everett, Dunn, and Griffiths, three of the expelled ministers, preached often in Douglas and got large meetings is the Wellington Hall, and the" Methodist Free Church" in England; one of the largest to the old body, was the result. The attempt to form a branch here proved a failure, as the leaders who took it up were most. unpopular men. Ward, the ironmonger was connected with a good local family. by marriage, had been in full ministry as an "Itinerant" or as the Manx country people used to say, an English preacher. Many thought he abandoned the principles of the gospel, except as the follower of Tubal Cain and Alexander the copper smith,'" and a fellow-feeling brought some others of the same kidney to join him. to form a Cave of Adullum
They formed a society in the centre room of. what is now Merrs Nicholsons paint-shops Well-road Hill. One of Mr Ward's principal supporters was a Mr Collins, auctioneer, an extraordinary genius Could be all things to all men" pious and profane from pitch and toes to preaching, and, like the Wizard of the North's, bottle could bring out brandy or butter milk, cursing or blessing I went one night to hear some genius. He did not turn up. Ward went through the preliminaries, then Collins mounted the rostrum, and when he got fairly on the job some man who had crept stealthily up the stairs, pushed at the door a little open, cried out 'another sixpence, Mr Collins, and knock it down', The sally knocked Collins down, and Ward said let us sing a verse " Praise God from all blessings flow" Whether the thanks to God, were for knocking Collins over was not very clear, but I believe this incident knocked the bottom out of :the Manx branch of the reformers.