[From The Methodist Recorder 19 Feb 1903 pp13/15]
BY H. MUDIE DRAPER..
"Ramsey town, Ramsey town;
Shining by the sea
Here's a health to my true love,
Wheresoe'er she be." Manx Ballad.
Sixteen miles due north of Douglas, stands the rapidly-rising and fashionable watering-place of Ramsey, the metropolis of the northern district, and second only to Douglas, in point of energy and enterprise. Ramsey presents to the traveller a peculiarly attractive appearance, with its yellow sands, its fine streets, and handsome buildings. But the chief glory of Ramsey is its delightful scenery, its sapphire sea, its green hills, its beautiful bay,, with the weather-worn cliffs of Maughold Head and Slieu Lewaigue on the south, and. the warm, sandy " broughs" of Bride stretching away to the north. From whatever point it is seen, Ramsey and its surroundings are equally attractive. Approaching from the south, and looking down upon it from the hillside of Ballure, the prospect is very beautiful, the thickly-wooded hillside sinking steeply into the great northern plain on the right, and rising, on the left, in green craggy masses, until it merges into the rugged mountains of the interior; the prettily laid-out town with its brown sandy shore, the low-lying country of Ayre beyond, and across the sea the blue mountains of Cumberland and Galloway visible on a fine day, all combine to add to the beauty of this northern Manx town. A [missing text] view is equally picturesque is the new town on the Mooragh, with its lake and ornamental grounds, close by which stands Dr. Stephenson's Home; the old town of Ramsey beyond the harbour ; the sheltering hills upon one of which stands the Albert; Tower, erected to commemorate the visit of Her Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort in 1847; and in the distant south the giant bulk of grim Maughold Head, form a scene of beauty not soon to be forgotten.
Ramsey just now is. proudly erecting its head, for did not His Majesty King Edward land there but a few months ago ? For the first time in its history did the Isle of Man entertain a reigning British Sovereign; for on the Queen's visit referred to above Her Late Majesty did not set foot on shore; so to Ramsey belongs the proud distinction of being the first to receive on the soil of Ellan Vannin its reigning Monarch. Right royally did Ramsey receive the august visitor, and very shortly another memorial will be added to the tower to mark the auspicious event. Moreover, Ramsey further enjoys the proud, distinction of having Hall Caine to sit in the House of Keys as its member and who shall say which is the greater Honour? .
But our purpose in this article is to write of Ramsey. from a Methodist standpoint, and to find the beginnings of Methodism in the town we must go back to: the year 1758, when John Murlin " the Weeping Prophet," then stationed at Whitehaven, spent a week in this town. It was quite by accident, or rather shall we say by the Providence of God, that John Murlin came to Ramsey. He embarked at Whitehaven intending to go to Liverpool, "but," writes he in his Journal, "the captain deceived us, and carried us to the Isle of Man." There were no steamboats in those days to do the journey in three and, a half hours, and the wind may, have had something to do with this deception ; at any rate, the Captain may be pardoned for the deceit, if deceit it were, for John Murlin, during his week's stay laid the foundations upon which the Methodist Church only in Ramsey, but in the Isle of Man, was built.
On the second evening of his stay John Murlin preached in a large barn, but on Sunday so numerous was the congregation that the barn was not large enough to contain the people, and so the service was held in God's own temple, beneath the blue of God's own sky. Such were the circumstances under which the first Methodist services were held in Mona's Isle, and Ramsey enjoys the proud honour of being the first to hear the Gospel from the lips of a Methodist preacher.
It was not until 1775, seventeen years after John Murlin's visit, that, another Methodist preacher set foot in Ramsey In that year John Crook, the Apostle of the Isle of Man, then a local preacher, but ordained at the Conference of the same year, came to the Island, and under the date of June 16, he thus describes his first visit to Ramsey: "Having come to Ramsey, I called at the first inn I found there, and 'sent a bell-man about to inform the inhabitants of my intention respecting, preaching.; At the time appointed; I. went to a square place near our, quarters. Our landlord, a Scotchman, knows the truth well; that he practises it, I will not say. However he made in attempt to get me his brew-house yard to preach in which he takes from a gentlewoman; but she having the privilege of putting her swine therein, desired to be excused from giving any permission, fearing, she said, lest the swine should disturb us :: but the truth, I believe, was otherwise.
So I got upon a piece of earth which I found, and faced a considerable number of people, who came to what was to be done. But when I wanted them to help me to sing they all stood gaping and looking one at another. most people ever saw. It is lifeless work to worship among such professors of religion as they are; as dead respecting spiritual religion as most people I ever saw. It is in the power of God, I know, to make these dry bones live; but there must be a particular exertion of Divine power, I think, before it can be effected. However, I spoke very plainly to them, and it seemed as if the Word had alarmed them a little. They began to look at me seriously, and when we had to sing, the tongue of the dumb seemed to be loosened. I dismissed them, having first given out preaching for five o'clock in the morning.
" June 17. After a good night's rest, I rose and went to my chapel, and there I found one old Scotchman; but that was all. So I waited some time, and when about half-a-dozen had come together, I began to sing, and they helped me pretty well:, However by and bye, we had a congregation nearly as large as that of last evening. A middle of the discourse there came a few grand ladies: but whilst they stayed, they behaved so indecently, I was under. the necessity of reproving them, after which they soon walked off. The poor people all over the Island, behave generally speaking, much better than the rich. After a very toilsome journey, having had to dismount and walk up one of. the most steep hills I ever saw a road upon, and one nearly a mile in length, I arrived, safe in Douglas, but. much fatigued
We have no means of ascertaining the direct remits of John Crook's vigorous preaching at Ramsey, but we do know that in this year. the number of Methodist members throughout the Island numbered 53, and that the Isle of Man became part of the Whitehaven Circuit, and was regularly visited by the preachers stationed there, John Mason and, Joseph Saunderson being the first Methodist ministers to take the Island under their pastoral care. In 1781, on,-the occasion of John Wesley's second visit to the Island the membership had risen to 1,597, but how many of there belonged to Ramsey we have no. means of finding out. It was on his second visit to the Island, that John Wesley first preached at Ramsey, from the steps of the old Cross Hall, shown in the left of our photograph. The Hall has since been rebuilt, but upon the same site: Wesley records this event in his diary as follows:
"Tuesday, June 5: In the forenoon we rode through a pleasant and fruitful country to Ramsey, about as large as Peel; and more regularly built. The rain was again suspended while I preached to well nigh all the town; but I saw no inattentive bearers: We had many of them again at five the next morning, and they were all attention : This was the place where the preachers had little hope of doing good. I trust they will be happily disappointed:
In 1778, three years before Mr. Wesley's visit described above, the Isle of Man became a separate Circuit with two ministers, one of whom was John Crook. In 1798 the Island was divided into two circuits, Douglas and Castletown. forming one, Ramsey and Peel the other. It's instructive to note that at the June Quarterly Meeting in 1798, which was, the, last before the Island was divided, the contributions from Ramsey amounted to 11s. 6d, whereas those from Douglas amounted to £3 14s. 6d., and from Peel £1 11s 10d.
This may 'perhaps explain, or at least, illustrate, the remark of John Wesley. to, the effect that in Ramsey the preachers had little hope of doing good. True it is that when John Crook first preached he had to encounter some violent opposition from turbulent spirits, but by the time of Wesley's visit to Ramsey, many Societies had been established, and the opposition gradually died away. The first Methodist chapel to be erected in Ramsey was built somewhere about; the year 1775. It was a neat stone-building, with a hard-mud floor, and seats without backs. It was erected on. the site where Miss Cain's Burlington House now stands; on the Promenade. It continued to be used as a: Methodist chapel until 1810, from which time, until it was pulled down, it was in gloriously used as a stable and warehouse. To Daniel Cowley, who lived at Kirk Michael, in the Ramsey Circuit, Manx Methodists are indebted for the translation of the Wesleyan Hymn Book into their mother tongue about this time. Peel was then the head of the circuit, although the married minister lived at Ramsey. His house was immediately at the back of Mrs. Doran's cottage. In our photograph the horse block can be seen at the corner, probably placed there for the use of the preachers.
In 1805, the Island became a separate District; and in the following year Ramsey became the head of the second circuit. It was now felt that Methodism had outgrown the capacities of its first chapel, and in 1810 a new and more commodious chapel was erected in Queen's Street. It was opened on Christmas Day, and marked an advance step in the Methodist history of the town. Some people said it was far too large, and would never be filled, but their faith was small, and they proved to be but false prophets, as later events showed. Much assistance to erect this structure, be it said to their praise, came from the country members, and the trustees were chiefly country local preachers and office bearers. Several noted men at various times preached from its pulpit, among others Dr. Newton, Dr. Adam Clarke, the Rev. Robert Young, and the redoubtable Yorkshireman, Billy Bray. In spite of the evil prognostications of certain people, the new chapel soon proved too small for the congregations, and it became necessary to erect another and larger chapel in the place of the old one in 1846. In that year the present handsome and roomy chapel was erected in Waterloo Place, at that time the largest chapel, from the point of view of seating accommodation, in the Island.
The story goes, that the Ramsey Methodists were determined to have a larger chapel than that possessed by the Douglas Methodists in Victoria Street, and in that for the time they were successful, but when Victoria Street was renovated the seating accommodation was increased. The increase in the population of Ramsey at this time meant the opening out of new thoroughfares in the town. The Methodists took advantage of this step to purchase land for the erection of this new chapel in Waterloo Place. Mr. Callister, of Thornhill, was the leading spirit in the movement, and gave the site for the building. Subscription lists were opened, and gifts large and small were received. Few of the Methodists were wealthy, but what they had they gave cheerfully for this work. The building cost £1,425, and to raise that sum, or the greater part of it, was no trifling matter. There was no organ to be provided. This did not come until about ten years after. The musical arrangements consisted of first and second violins, the double basso, flute, and clarionet. There was, in addition, an excellent choir of well-trained voices, and each part was well supported.
The Rev. Daniel McAfee, at that time in the fullness of his strength, had the honour of preaching the opening sermons. The second minister was the Rev. J. Samuel Jones, and tradition has it that he procured the design for the chapel ceiling.
The Sunday School at this time had from 100 to 150 scholars. in attendance. The secretaries had rather a quaint way, of entering the numbers, first the number of boys present, then the number of girls, then the number of both absent, the total always corresponding to the number on the register. The quarterly lovefeasts were always, held on the Sunday afternoon, and the Sunday School anniversary was held the first Sunday in September, when the new ministers came, the collections amounting to some £10 or £12. For these particulars I am much indebted to Mr. J. C. Looney.
In 1842, a great revival took place in Ramsey, and the membership was very greatly increased. This gracious work took place during the ministerial term of Peter Prescott, John Cannell, and David Edgar, and it produced a most beneficent effect upon Methodism in the town at large.
Soon after this the, town spread rapidly, in a northerly direction. At that time Ramsey was engaged in the shipbuilding trade, and a large number of fine ships were launched from its slips. The largest shipbuilding concern was owned by Mr Gibson. Early in the sixties he planned out and opened a new shipbuilding yard, which kept in constant employment some 250 men. To meet the needs of Methodism in North Ramsey, which in that quarter of the town was quite unrepresented, Mr. Gibson very generously lent part of his building for Methodist services. For some time the work prospered and the needs of Methodism were met, at least to some extent. But a period of trade depression set in, and the yard being closed, the Methodist cause there was given up.
It was not until 1892 that the Methodist people of North Ramsey had a chapel of their own. Int hat year North Shore Road Chapel was opened. The building cost £800, and was opened for Methodist services free of debt. The initiative was taken: by Mr. Edward Creer, who on his death left £200 towards the erection of a Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in North Ramsey. A clause in the will provided that the new chapel should be commenced within a year and a day from the proving of the will, otherwise the money was to be forfeited, and was to be given to the Castletown Circuit. Mr. Creer was very anxious that a place of worship should be erected near the Children's Home, so that the children should not have to walk as far as Waterloo Road Chapel On the Sunday. 'Taking advantage of the proviso in Mr Creer's will, and also of the gift of a suitable piece of ground by the trustees of the Children's Home, the Methodists of Ramsey erected the present North Shore Road Chapel. The Society there now numbers some 52 members, and has a Sunday School containing nearly 100 children. The chapel itself seats some 300 people.
Sister Grigg, Matron, Children's Home.
Speaking of the Children's Home, it is interesting to notice that the branch at Ramsey owes its origin to Miss Gibson, the daughter of Mr. Gibson, of shipbuilding fame. She was a Christian lady of great earnestness and much breadth of sympathy. Commencing as a Ragged School, her work developed into a Home for orphan and destitute children. In the year 1880, Miss Gibson, who, with her sister, was chiefly instrumental, we believe, in the founding of Queenswood School, handed over her Home at Ramsey to Dr. Stephenson. The old and inefficient premises in which her work had been conducted were superseded by the present beautiful building, which was purchased by her aunt, Mrs. Gibson, of Newcastle, who also bore the cost of considerable alterations and enlargements. The entire estate, containing five acres of land, and charmingly placed with a noble outlook over Ramsey Bay, is one of the pleasantest and. most comfortable Children's Homes' in the United Kingdom. It bears the name of "Ballacloan," which is the Manx for Children's Refuge. The additional burden to the Methodist Church involved in accepting this gift amounts to about £200 a year. But it is well worth the money. The children cost considerably less per head than in any other Branch of that Home. The comparative cheapness of living in the Isle of Man, and the quiet family methods which are possible in a comparatively small town, and with a small number of children, may account for this. Much, also, is owing to the careful and. excellent management of the lady in charge, Sister Grigg.
In connection with Ramsey Methodism there is a flourishing Branch of the Young Leaguers' Union,. which was one of the first Branches of this beneficent Society to be started in the United Kingdom. Under the able and efficient Secretaryship of Miss Joughin,. who is one of Ramsey's most untiring workers, this Branch of the Young Leaguers' Union has about 50 members, and raises some £25 a year for Dr. Stephenson's Homes. Most of its members are girls; "We, won't have boys," said Miss Joughin, "because they're such a nuisance !"
In the year 1888 the hall of Strand Street Mission was opened, at a cost of £1,000, largely through the instrumentality of Mr. Thomas Cowley. The building seats 400, and, situated in the centre of' the old part of Ramsey, is doing an excellent work among the poorer people of the town. The story of the Strand Street Mission, for which we are indebted to Mr. Thomas Cowley, is intensely interesting. In the year 1872, a few Christian men and women in Ramsey were impressed with the necessity of doing, something for the boys and girls of the town who were untouched by the Churches, and in April, 1872, just . thirty years ago, the Ramsey "Ragged School " began its existence. Mr. J. R. Cowell, afterwards one of ...