This aptly-named excursion in July, with Frank's deep and intimate
knowledge of every stick and stone, nook and cranny of this Village,
was a guarantee of an excellent and instructive evening. The
intention was to look at the Methodist buildings ands ee how they had
developed in this particular society.
A very large attendance of members and visitors gathered on the Promenade and we were given a comprehensive history of that area, from which zinc was shipped from the near-by mines. In the 1850's, Mr. Rowe, Captain of the Mines, sought to improve matters on the shore, and as well as building a large warehouse, which in the intervening years has undergone many uses, the present one being a Pipe factory, Mr. Rowe had also been responsible for building the harbour.
Methodism came to the Island in the1750's, but it is not clear when precisely it came to Laxey. A Chapel is listed at Lonan, but none at Laxey, and records are not clear when it started there. The Wesleyans certainly had a chapel, which, in the fullness of time, was in need of repair and was demolished and re-built in 1850. That Sunday and Day Schools flourished, can be deduced by the number of Teachers recorded - ie. 30.
Primitive Methodism gained ground quickly on the Island, there being 18 places of worship within two years. An early stronghold was established in Laxey in 1825 two years after the first mission, largely as a result of an in-coming mining community, mainly from Cumberland, who became the great strength of the religious life. The chapel was near to the present car-park, and is now used by the Salvation Army.
A great deal of practical assistance was given to the churches by the Mining Company. While the Wesleyan Chapel was being re-built, immediately prior to 1850, the Company allowed their lead store, on the Promenade, to be used - (this is now a Cafe) - and they loaned the timber for the Anniversary Stages. There are records of a big missionary meeting held in the Village, chaired by Mr. Jim Collister (?) of Ramsey.
The road system in and around Laxey, developed mainly as a result of the increased mining industry. In the 1790'sthere was a spate of road building, which took into account the contours and steep hills of the village, which for Horse-drawn carriages were particularly dangerous. There were other industries developing as well as fishing and mining. In the 1790'sthese included the woollen trade, as well as linen, for which flax was bleached by the river, and there was also a corn mill.
Noting a small fig-tree growing out of the stone-work of the bridge, the walk continued up the Glen Road, where there were warehouses and terraced houses, to the Glen Road chapel, built in 1850, and closed 25 years ago. The Primitive Methodist chapel was also closed at that time, but both halls were retained, and the PM hall was converted into the present chapel. Nearby were Cumberland Lodge and Cumberland Terrace, the only group of houses in the Village favoured with names, and reflecting the origin of the miners, as, indeed, did their surnames - eg the blacksmith John Snoggles became John Senogles'.
Ore was transported down the glen from the mines by means of a horse-drawn railway, then stored near the shore for shipment. Since this railway ran in front of the houses, large slate stones were laid over the lines each evening to give access to the houses. Each morning it was the job of one man to walk down the road, lifting the stones ready for the day's work to begin. By 1895, imported coal was being taken back up the glen to the turbine house across the river to produce electricity. A little tram-gauge railway carried coal up to the turbine-house and another disposed of the ashes. Across the road, behind the cottages, was a Brewery, inappropriately adjacent to the Wesleyan Chapel!
A path on the hill-side opposite led to a small glade, with a waterfall, which provided power for a water-mill and sawmill, etc. There was also a slaughter house in this vicinity. There was a saying in Laxey at that time, that "as a village there were more bridges and public houses than anywhere else on the Island." While the bridges were a necessity, the public houses were responsible for much poverty and drunkenness in the village. To counteract this, strong Temperance Societies were formed together with Friendly Societies -now almost forgotten.
The Laxey Fair was held on the shore, and was regenerated in the Valley Gardens when the wheel was restored and restarted. The Primitive Chapel on Minora Hill was founded in 1870 when the Society moved up from the harbour, and was of a sophisticated style similar to the PM town chapels in Malew Street, Castletown, Loch Parade, Douglas, and Parliament Street, Ramsey, with steps mounting up to the front, allowing for a basement underneath and displaying a distinctive style suggestive of the work of one architect.
Finally, we repaired to the present chapel, finding it was
well-maintained, modern in appearance and with excellent ancilliary
rooms and vestries. Rev. John Lusty welcomed us on behalf of his
congregation, asked a blessing on the supper they had generously
prepared, and to which we all did full justice. Our appreciation was
expressed in a vote of thanks to the ladies, and a gentleman, for
their hospitality, and to Mr. Cowin for a most informative and
Prepared by Thelma Wilson.
In and around Port Erin there are seven Christian communities worshipping -Methodist, two Anglican (Rusher Parish and St. Catherine's), Roman Catholic, Independent Methodist, Free Evangelical and Greek Orthodox. There is also a chapel at Ballafesson, and in former days there were three further establishments -the Wesleyan church in Victoria Square, a Primitive chapel at Dandy Hill, and the Zion chapel at Bradda. It was not possible on this occasion to visit all the existing churches, but an excellent start was made at the Methodist church in Station Road, where we were welcomed by Mr. Jack Lewis who was associated with Dandy Hill and is now a member at Station Road.
Mr. Lewis gave us a graphic picture of Port Erin village in the days before the coming of Methodism - how in the early 19th century the extent of the village was based on the area of St. Catherine's Terrace, the 'Brew' below Dandy Hill, there being no shore road at first. There was no gas, no electric, no sewers, no running water. Men's wages were about 12 - 15 shillings a week, with next to nothing by way of material possessions. It was from such unlikely beginnings that Primitive Methodism was born in Port Erin, and when Dandy Hill was first built it was by far the biggest building in the village - quite a land-mark.
In 1823 on January 22nd, John Butcher preached his first sermon in Port Erin in the open air (!) (Where was he standing?) His visit was the result of the decision of the Bolton Quarterly meeting, with 6d in credit balance, to send a man to the Isle of Man.
The result of Butcher's endeavours was that in 1828 land was
bought to build a chapel, and there followed five years' hard work by
folk who had not a lot of money, but plenty of skills that could be
offered for the building of the new chapel at Dandy Hill. This was
the first church in Port Erin until St.
Catherine's was built.
As Port Erin grew with the development of the holiday trade, the old chapel became too small, and in 1901 a plot of land was purchased for 5/-. In October of that year the foundation stone was laid, and in 1903 the new chapel opened in Station Road.
Mr. Lewis also spoke briefly of the chapel in Victoria Square, which was built at the beginning of the century, with the Sunday School hall being built in 1931. This building was closed in 1970, and the organ was transferred to the Station Road church. Dandy Hill church was demolished in 1966,and the new Sunday School Hall at Station Road was built in 1972 on landed gifted by the same family who had made the original site available. (One does wonder where the Wesleyans were before 1900?)
Mr. Lewis was thanked for his very interesting insights into the history of Methodism in Port Erin, and the company proceeded on its way to the Parish Church at Rushen, passing on the way the Roman Catholic church which is in the process of alteration.
At Kirk Christ we were met by the Vicar, Canon Dr. Hinton Bird, who outlined the history of the parish system from the twelfth century, and described the poverty that existed on the Island 300 years ago, which left the churches in a bad state of repair. In 1775, this church was refurbished under the guidance of Rev. Nicholas Christian, when the west gallery was added. The east end was extended, and at one time doors at each side gave a view of Kentraugh. It was in the 1860's that the apse was added in memory of Edward Gawne, Captain of the Parish, by his wife, and wall tablets remember members of both the Clucas and the Gawne family. In 1848 Isabella Gawne gifted a silver communion set to the church, and we were grateful to Rev.Bird that the church silver was on display for us to see. In the churchyard, there is the communal grave of those who died in the 'Brig Lily' disaster.
Time was not in our favour, and we thanked Rev. Bird for his fine contribution to our afternoon's education, and hurried quickly on our way calling briefly at St. Catherine's and then in to Victoria Square. This church is now the Port Erin Arts Centre, and Mr. John Bethell showed us round the building, indicating how the church had been transformed into a small theatre, and an important centre for the arts on the Island. Again, thanks were expressed to Mr. Bethell for the time he had taken to receive us, and again we hurried on our way to our final destination, passing Zion chapel at Bradda on the way.
We are keen to discover the history of this chapel, which appears to have been Methodist originally, but was soon taken over by an evangelical group.
On arrival at Ballafesson, we first had to extend apologies to all those who had been waiting for us for some considerable time, and were then enthralled by Mr. Bobbie Bridson's account of the chapel and its history, for this year it celebrates 200 years of witness. There have been several changes to the original building, as for instance when the choir seats from Ballasalla Bridge chapel were brought in, and when in 1951 - 52 the new Sunday School was built. A Wesley Guild was started here in 1914 by the late Rev. Evan Sutton, which only ceased to meet a few years ago.
A rather exhausting afternoon concluded with very welcome refreshments provided by Miss Jean Wilkinson and helpers, and Mrs. Kelly thanked those who had contributed to the enjoyment of the outing.