A talk given by Mrs. Fenella Bazin, at Sulby Methodist Church, on
April, 9th, 1994.
There is no written history of music in the Isle of Man, and people think, therefore, that there is little documentary evidence, but this is not true. Mrs. Bazin stressed that there is a great deal, and she is finding it, especially in the south of the Island. 80% comes from a 5-mile radius around Castletown, - e.g. Malew, Kerrowkeil. She has about 24 19th century copies of music.
The picture changes, about 1860, with the advent of organs in churches. Prior to that date, i.e. pre-Methodist, the music was mainly of the Anglican tradition, which the Methodists continued and preserved with their hearty, congregational singing. By contrast, the Anglicans, with their "new" organs, now had organists, and choirs especially with boys' voices, and choirmasters, so congregations took an increasingly inactive part.
It is difficult to know how long the Manx Language persisted in Manx Churches, but it is almost certain that, up to the end of the 18th century, little English would be spoken. However, the parsons could speak very little Manx, only able to pronounce the Blessing in the Manx tongue, and could not preach a sermon in Manx.
In 1768, the Metrical Psalms were published in Manx, the words by Tate and Brady were translated into Manx. Bishop Hildesley required that these were to be sung in churches, but only one was to be sung in English, so that the vicar could understand that part of the service. In Towns, especially Castletown and Douglas, where there were many English people (their names were English), their tongue was used and understood to a greater extent.
When John Wesley came, recording that he had 'not heard such good singing except in Bolton and London', this presupposes that it was the sort of music he was accustomed to hearing in England.
How did the Manx know this music?
In Scotland, (and possibly the influence was felt in the Isle of Man), in the mid- 18th century, English teachers were very successful at teaching the English style of singing, and stayed on especially in Aberdeen, where hymns, psalms and anthems were introduced, with new tunes. Prior to this, only 12 tunes were used for psalms. In the late 18th century a collection of new tunes was published and were immediately popular.
The old style of Gaelic psalm singing which is still practised in the Hebrides, especially Lewis, sounds strange to our ears - and here Mrs. Brazin played a recording of this music to make her point. This has its roots in the early Christian church, and in some ways is reflected in the architecture of the old chapels there and here - i.e. plain rectangle. The system for these psalms was that the Precentor sang a line, and before he had concluded it, the congregation repeated it, by which time, the Precentor began the next, and thus there was a continuous line, echoed by the congregation. Hall Caine described this sort of singing as "wild discord", and had Wesley heard it, probably would have felt the same. By the 19th century firmer ground is reached, and is described by Canon Quine and Hall Caine.
Between 1805 and 1833 hand written early Psalms and Hymns were produced and used in the Isle of Man, as well as in Yorkshire, Lancashire and Wessex. Music Masters held classes for singing, for which they made a charge per quarter, plus one shilling for the music book, which was also handwritten. The Music master would write and compose the music, but not the words. Braddan, for instance, was well educated in music, and people were trained in chapels, as were bands. (Bands had been used prior to the installation of organs - usually made up of violins, violas, cello, clarinet (pronounced 'clarionet') and serpent - as described by Thomas Hardy. In St. Paul's in Ramsey, before the organ was installed, all these instruments were used, the band sitting in the West Gallery.)
Where Vicars were musical, choirs and congregations benefitted by his interest as well as by the Choir Master. Hymns, Psalms (metrical setting) and anthems were being locally composed, and there are examples of three-part settings which, between 1825 and 1860, usually had an interlude for instruments only.
A recording was heard of Melstock Choir, with rather piercing women's voices, and men's voices dominating - all singing different parts, all of which had been taught separately, and not known by other sections, which led to some competition between the parts, making the words very difficult to detect. This was entirely for choir use, not for congregations. Thomas Hardy, remembering it from his father's time, describes it in his books. It was always bright and cheerful, very decorative and repetitive in words.
Valuable collections of Manx music are found in Kerrowkeil chapel, and from Mr. Quayle (Maude Davidson's grandfather). Famous among the Manx Music Masters and composers was a man called Shepherd, whose biography Mrs. Bazin is following.
Speaking briefly of Sulby organ, Mrs. Bazin said it was the oldest in the Isle of Man, but some bits of it were modern. The keyboard dates from 1778 (the year Beethoven was 8!), and parts of it have come from St George's in Douglas. The wood and joinery in the middle section, (i.e. the manual, pipes, etc.) all match, while the wings are different and of a poorer quality. Mrs. Bazin considers that perhaps there are three different organs 'married', but there were no pedals in the original organ, so these have been added at a later date.
A Vote of Thanks to Mrs. Bazin was proposed by Mr. Ian Whittaker ,
and Mrs. M. Kelly thanked the ladies of Sulby who provided
refreshments, congratulating them also on the lovely flower
arrangements on the Communion Table, and around the chapel.
Sunday School Picnics have long been part of our Methodist
Heritage; an annual event eagerly anticipated by the children and
none more so than those children attending Glen Rushen Sunday School
in the 1880's. One memorable picnic occurred for those children in
August 1888 when scholars, teachers and friends walked from Ballavale
Chapel, Glen Rushen to Foxdale. On their arrival the Glen Rushen
contingent joined up with the Foxdale Wesleyan Sunday School at the
Railway Station, and they setoff on the 10.30 morning train for
The recently opened Manx Northern Railway provided their transport and one can imagine the awe, excitement and wonder this journey generated with marvellous views of the coastline and the viaducts at Glen Mooar and Glen Wyllin en route.
After an excellent dinner in the large hall at Ramsey Railway Station, the party 'did the town' visiting shops and places of interest before returning, spent up no doubt, for their tea and the return journey. The train arrived in Foxdale at 9.0pm and the Glen Rushen group began the climb back to their mining community in the hills. It was a safe return after a lovely day, and one which the children must have re-lived on numerous future occasions.
It has come to our notice that the Kerrowgarrow Chapel has closed mainly because there is now no local community which it can serve effectively. The following notes were acquired by Mr. F. Cowin from Miss Pat Newton at the Planning Office, and we are pleased to be able to "It is possible that the seed of Methodism was sown by John Murlin during his stay in Ramsey in July 1758, or by John Crook during his preaching tours in 1775 - 76. Or more probably by John Ellison from Peel (known as old Jack Ellison) who was the first Manx local preacher. Mr Crook sent him to the north of the island to preach, and we have good authority in saying that Mrs. Radcliffe, Ballachurry was converted under his preaching, and joined the Society in 1779 until she passed on to her reward in December 1820.
"Methodism must have had a hold here when John Wesley visited in 1781, and was entertained by John Crebbin (near Ballacrebbin House, long since gone) where he held service.
We are informed that public services were held here for many years, also Sunday School. On further reference to the biography of the Rev. William Radcliffe as given in the Methodist Magazine for April 1838 (he was born in 1775), it states that his parents were among the first Methodists in this part of the Island. A Society Class met in their house for many years . Reference is also made to Richard Radciffe (old Richard) as an aged disciple in 1793.
"As the work spread, other houses were opened in the district for the holding of Methodist meetings. W. Kneale, Ballabeg, (Billie Belfast) who lived near where St. Jude's Church now stands, and Richard Radcliffe, Ballacross Workshop, were among those who gathered many of the young for instruction.
"This state of things continued up to 1819 when a plot of land, part of the Kerrowgarrow Quarter land was purchased from Thomas Sayle, The Craige, for the purpose of erecting a Schoolroom, with the proviso of it being used for the holding of religious services and Sunday School therein, when not encroaching on Day School hours. The present School was erected in 1819 and was enlarged about five years later. It was used as a Day School for about 50 years.
"The public services formerly held in private houses, were now held in the School, and continued regularly until the erection of the new Chapel in 1859. Sunday School continued in the School room and has carried on until recently. The oldest register of teachers goes back to 1830 when there were five Superintendents and thirty six teachers. These were divided into five sets, each of which were due one Sunday in five.
This continued until 1867, for a period of 37 years, when the teachers had been considerably reduced. From 1863 they were divided into three sets, each of which were due one Sunday in three.
"In 1874, the officers and teachers took an active part in the formation and the working of the Sunday School Union. The ladies had the honour and pleasure of entertaining the members of the Union on seven occasions, when they met in Annual Aggregate Meetings."