Memories of Old Crosby is the title of a talk given by the late Mr. Robert Samuel Sim (a well-known builder years ago), and it covers the period 1868 to 1916.
My task is to deal with the life of the village as I first knew it some 50 years ago and for a subsequent period of say 20 years or so. The first thing that naturally comes to one's mind is the change that has taken place in the personnel of the neighbourhood during the last half century.
Very few now remain of those who "lived and moved and had their being" in our midst but as far as the village itself is concerned there is not much change except in those days we had no railway station, no church hall, no Wesleyan hall or even Kissack's hall. Any meetings other than those in the church, and chapel were held in the Lodge, now residence of Miss Kneale. Of course, the imposing terrace below the hotel was not then erected, nor the other three houses on the roadside just opposite or the house now occupied by Constable Corris.
There was, however Cedar Lodge, which I can faintly remember being burnt down and which was the residence of Captain Anderson and the ruins of which you are all so familiar with. There were also two semi-detached cottages in the top corner of Ballaglonney field opposite the hotel, the entrance to which was by the gate just above Ballaglonney Cottage and a cart track along the top hedge.
The cottages were called, well - not exactly "Little Heaven" - but another name with which I will not offend your ears. In one of these lived Tom Craine, a very familiar figure in the parish, who worked on the high road and went in very largely for pig rearing.
Tom got drunk with great regularity and was frequently taken by the fairies round and round the field when trying to find his own door, at least he attributed his failure to get home to these troublesome little people. He was also a kind of travelling barometer and used to predict rain close at hand when his corns were extra troublesome.
The centre portion of Eyreton Castle was occupied by a worthy old couple, Thomas Creer (or Tom Judy as he was called) and his wife. Mine host of Crosby Hotel was Mr. James Burrows. The "Original" was kept by John Watterson (Johnnie the Bugler), while James Key ran the Highlander.
One of the great events of the year was the parish Fair Day held on Candlemas Day. February 2nd. It was called Greeba Fair and Jas Kay's Fair from the fact of it being always held in the neighbourhood of the Highlander. It was a school holiday and we youngsters used to reap quite a harvest by holding horses, etc. the while the farmers would be in the tent driving bargains over their cups.
There were no auction marts in those days and consequently a considerable amount of business was transacted at these Fairs, both in farm stock and also by the vendors of gingerbread, "pop" and toffee. It was at night, however, that scenes took place that one looks back upon with horror.
A fiddler named Barr from Douglas was engaged and the young farm hands (of which there were considerably more then than now) used to gather in great numbers at the inn with a sprinkling also of the fair sex. The whole house was thrown open, even the bedrooms and every room filled.
The drinking, step dancing, the singing of lewd songs, card playing and fighting was carried on to a late hour. To many a young person those Fair nights were the first step in the downward career and the tragic end of more than one comes to one's mind tonight.
Another annual event was the procession of the old Parish Club on Holy Thursday. I can clearly remember one of such functions and I fancy it was the last one. They used to meet in the old school on the hill and their regalia consisted of sticks about two yards long painted green and with yellow knobs at the top.
Their route was from the school round by Ellerslie and Ballaquinney and back to Crosby where, on the occasion referred to, they sat down to dinner in a tent erected in the field behind Eyremount Terrace. And such a dinner; my word, if Lord Rhonuda or Sir Arthur Yapp saw such a spread in these days there would be wigs on the green.
The menu consisted of roast beef and mutton, plum pudding and pies with a plentiful supply of ale to wash it all down. And then when it was over those of them who were able, went home.
A friend of mine tells a story of a man who went to America some years ago and after a time wrote to his people giving a description of that wonderful country. He said he had plenty of work, big wages, and as for food, well - they had club dinners every day.
Well - the old Club, like so many other parochial benefit societies came to grief and became numbered with those systems which "had their day and ceased to be". Through lack of business methods, they found they could no longer meet the claims on their funds and so decided on the inevitable, sharing their diminished stock between them which I have been told amounted to about £10 each, and a stick.
Thanks however, to a number of far-seeing men in the parish, notably Messrs. Thos. Kelly, John Wingrave, Robert Curphey and others, the present prosperous Rechabite Tent was built up on the ruins of the old Club and there is no danger of it sharing the same fate, for it is written "Thus said the Lord, God of Hosts, the God of Israel, Jonadab the son of Rechab shall not want a man to stand before me for ever." A very prominent member of the old Club was Colonel Johnson, who lived, I think, in No. 3 Crosby Terace and was a very tall gentleman.
The vicar of the parish was the Rev. Robert Wesley Aitken, brother of Canon Hay Aitken, the renowned Mission Preacher. He lived in the big house on the bridge, now divided into two and occupied by Messrs. Forsyth and Cadman. As a preacher he could hardly be called a star, but as a sportsman his superior was hard to find. He spent a good deal of time with his dogs and gun and on one occasion being late for a funeral, he at length was seen to climb over the churchyard wall and after tying up his dogs and placing his gun in safety robed himself for his solemn duties and then returned to the chase.
He also owned a fine pair of hunting horses and I well remember seeing them take the hurdles set up in the field adjoining Cedar Lodge, the parson's long coat tails extended like a pair of wings. He was attended on these occasions by his groom John Perry.
He was, however, a very kindly disposed man and the poor found in him a friend. One thing I remember about him was that he would generally take his turn in shouldering the bier at funerals. He lived to a good old age and died some seven or eight years ago in a remote parish in Cornwall.
Whilst in the parish he had fore time a curate named Savage, but I don't remember much about him. The Parish Clerk was old Thos. Christian, who lived in the thatched cottage just above the constable's house and he was a very greasy looking old chap.
About this time there lived in the terrace two maiden ladies sisters, named Northmore, very Godly ladies who devoted their time to the visitation of the sick and poor. The younger of the two, Miss Gertrude, used to conduct a service for children on Saturday afternoon and the elder, Miss Northmore, one for adults on Sunday afternoons. These services were held in one of the front rooms of No. 4 Crosby Terrace (the house being then unlet) and were of a thoroughly evangelistic character.
In Crosby Villa, now the vicarage, lived Joseph Lees, a very stern old gentleman who used to strike terror into the boys. He seemed to be always looking for occasions to lecture us on our evil doings and evidently thought that whenever he met a boy he could be quite sure that he was either going into mischief or coming out of it.
He attended the chapel and occupied a large pew at the front. One Sunday night the preacher (the late Jas Kaneen) had come out of the pulpit for the prayer meeting and was kneeling inside the Communion Rail. While a brother was leading prayers Mr. Kaneen was responding rather fervently for Mr. Lees, whereupon he rose and called out "One at a time, brother, one at a time".
He had a headstone erected over the grave of his first wife on which were inscribed some five or six verses of most ridiculous doggerel, the first of which ran something like this - "lived and died in Crosby Villa, Joseph Lee's wife, God had blessed her, weep not dear Joseph left in Kirk Marown, thy Mary is in Jesu's robes laid down"
Reference to this got into the guide books to the Island and visitors used to alight from the cars and go down into the churchyard to see it.
When, however, the old man died his son had the stone taken down.
In Mr. Flanagan's house there lived a man named Finnis who had two sons named Horace and Herbert - what became of them I am not sure, but I fancy the old man set up in business in Douglas as an auctioneer.
A very deep impression was made on my mind about this time by the death in one week of two brothers named Cowan - boys of about my own age.
Their mother was a widow and came from India. They lived in the house where Mr. Billy Corlet now lives. She also had a daughter older than the boys, who was very delicate when they came to the Island and after lingering for some time she also died and all three are laid in our churchyard.
They brought with them a coloured maid, named Sarah Isabella Young, who used to amuse us by her funny speeches and the singing of love ditties. One of her favourite songs I remember was "Oh Rowley, leave off, sir, don't tease me no more you've kissed me eight times already before." Mrs. Cowan and Sarah, after their bereavement, left the Island much sadder than when they came.
One of the leading men of the village was Thos. Cowin, who kept a boarding school in the house where Mr. W.S. Gelling now resides. Of course he had a number of day pupils who went home, but the boarders regularly attended the chapel and came marching in dressed in Eton suits, headed by the Principal.
He was also skilled in medicine and his services were much sought after in cases of illness - in fact, he was practically the village doctor. Being also a local preacher, he used to travel to his appointments on horseback, the old grey mare from Ballavitchal being hired or borrowed for these journeys.
He was a dapper little man, short of stature, slight of build and dressed in the regulation swallow tailed coat, stand-up collar with black scarf tied round it and had altoge ther a very aristocratic bearing.
As was fitting to a man of his position and education he was a deep thinker and his Sermons were very profound. Perhaps, however, he was lacking in the grace of charity and like a good many more of the men of that day looked for old heads on young shoulders.
Well do I recollect how one Sunday night, when the late Mr. J.J. Davidson, then a local preacher on trial, had finished his sermon, Mr. Cowin stood up and most mercilessly criticised it. Now, you who knew Mr. Davidson would never think of charging him with not giving of his best, and declaring the whole counsel of God, but as I said he was then only on trial and ought to have had the sympathy of preachers of a riper experience.
Quite a scene was created as some others called on Mr. Cowin to sit down and expressing their opinion that the young man had done very well.
And now, on this subject, let me say a word or two about the chapel itself and some of the preachers of my early days. Some of you will remember that the building was differently laid out then from what it is today. As you entered the door a vestibule ran across giving entrance to the aisles of which there were then two.
A double row of pews were in the centre with an aisle on either side similar to the Douglas Chapels. Then against each wall running longitudinally there were other pews from which it was easier to watch the worshippers in the centre go to sleep, than to keep looking at the preacher.
The idea of class distinction which was more rife in those days than now was not absent even from the House of Prayer, for while the rented pews all had doors to them, those which were free were doorless, thus giving the taint of poverty to those who used them.
We have got beyond such foolish ideas in these days and one is reminded of a story told of a certain church in which the Holy Sacrament was being administered. The Squire of the neighbourhood had knelt at the rail when a poor labouring man came and knelt beside him. Seeing this, a church official requested him to move further away as it was not fitting that he should be so near the great man.
The Squire, however, told him to remain where he was, adding "We are all equal here." There were either four or six of these doorless free seats in the centre and one at the side which was called "the rogues' seat."
I expect it got its name from the fact that the younger men of the rougher type used to come in after the congregation had assembled and after remaining in the vestibule during the opening hymn and prayer and peeping round the corner to see who were in, would slip into this seat, though the last to enter would be the first to leave.
It was looked upon as the first step in the downward course when a boy, feeling himself too big to go with his parents, would leave the family pew, and sit in the rogues seat.
And now to the preachers of my early days. As one looks at the Circuit Plan - how few of those names are there now. The time would fail me to tell of John Clague, The Howe, Wm. Clague, George Holmes, Samuel Watterson, Peter Grave, Edward Lewthwaite, James John Kelly, Wm. Kinna, John Coole, two Thos. Kellys, Henry Fellett, Henry McIver, Edward Radcliffe, John Moore, Jas Kaneen, J.T. Cannell, John Canell, who was killed by an explosion in Baldwin Mines, Harry Cubbon, Thos. Goldsmith, John Douglas and several others, besides many ministerial preachers from the Rev. Wm. Faulkner down to our present esteemed pastors - men of varied gifts and styles of proclaiming the word.
Among them were ram's horns, silver trumpets, sons of thunder and the gentle persuasive kind but of the latter there were not so many then as we have today. With the exception of dear old Peter Grave we children looked in vain to the preacher for a little talk to ourselves such as the children of today are favoured with.
There was so much of doctrine, doctrine, doctrine, that the children were altogether ignored.
The terrors of the law were very much in evidence and while today appeal is made on the ground of Christ's claim on our lives and service for the uplifting of humanity, the purifying of national life and the bringing about of Christ's Kingdom on earth the preachers of my younger days used to draw a very vivid pictures of death, the Judgment Day and the doom of the unrepentant.
One was led to think that the Christian religion was based on rewards and punishments rather than on a power that enables us to live the noblest manhood according to the pattern of Jesus Christ.
As the ministry of music both vocal and instrumental is now looked upon as an essential part of public worship my young friends will perhaps expect to hear something about the singing of those days.
I am old enough to remember the time when there was no instrument, either pipe organ or harmonium in the chapel. The tunes were raised by Mr. John Curphey, of Eyreton, father of the late Mr. Robert Curphey, and as there were many who could not read, the preacher used to give out the whole of the hymn, two lines at a time, and had to be careful to announce the metre or the preceptor would be in a fix. In fact if that was overlooked Mr. Curphey had to ask for it.
During my earlier life the membership at the chapel was very small in numbers and consisted almost exclusively of middle-aged and elderly people, but in the year 1880 there came into the circuit as junior minister, the Rev. J.A.B. Malvern. His first Sunday appointment to Crosby was a memorable time.
The word was with power and the demonstration of the Spirit, and one after another the young people came forward as seekers after the light on that Sunday night.
Mr. Malvern came up every night during the week following and when he could no longer be spared from his ministerial work in other parts of the Circuit, arrangements were made, for that grand old man of Manx Methodism, Harry Cubbon, to continue the work until some 40 or 50 young men and women had surrendered themselves to Christ, and very few of them turned back.
Taken from the I.O.M.Weekly Times.
Crosby village is in the centre of Marown parish, on the main road from Douglas to Peel.
[Robert Sim was born 1861, his mother remarried and in 1881 census he is recorded as a joiner living with his mother, brother, sister and step-father John Cooper, railway porter, at Eyreton Terrace No 1 Crosby.]