[From Manx Quarterly, #16,1916]

Reminiscences of the Victoria Hotel, Douglas.

The sale by auction recently of the furniture and fittings of the Victoria Hotel, Prospect-hill, Douglas, may possibly mark the closing of one of the finest buildings in Douglas, so far as the use of the building as licensed premises is concerned. Built by the late Mr Joseph Evarard (father of Mr John S. Evarard) nearly sixty years ago, the Victoria was the pioneer as it were, of modern hotels in Douglas. At that time the principal hostelries in the town were Castle Mona Hotel, the Imperial Hotel (now the head offices of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company), the Royal Hotel (also converted to the uses of the Steam Packet Company), the Adelphi, the York (now the Criterion on the Parade), Redfern's (in old James'-street), the Old British. (the site of which is now occupied by the Butchers' Market), and Fort Anne Hotel. These were the days when the licensed boarding-house was not, and most of the hotels proper did a remunerative business in catering for the excellent class of visitors which resorted to Douglas in the mid-Victorian period. Several of these houses of public entertainment, too, served the purposes of clubs so far as residents were concerned — notably the British, the York, and the Adelphi. Practically, the smoke-rooms of these establishments were reserved for coteries, of select customers, who in the semi-privacy of the comfortable chambers refreshed themselves with the high quality brandy and rum,. the choice wines, and the fragrant cigars which in those pleasant and easy-going days could be obtained so cheaply in the Isle of Man, owing to the nominal amount of the then existing Customs Duties. Of course it was open to the stranger to enter the smoke-rooms and be supplied with cheering and stimulating liquids, but he was greeted with such stony stares by the habitues, and with such scant civility by the Hebes who served the grateful potations that one visit generally sufficed. Many of the regular frequenters were hard drinkers, and they were wont to continue their symposia long after the prescribed hours of closing, rosy dawn often finding them still engaged in revelry. The police were few and tolerant in Douglas, and never for a moment thought of interfering with the prolonged conviviality of the " remittance men," who were then abundant in the town, and the business men of standing who metaphorically entwined vine leaves in their hair and worshipped Bacchus so assiduously and so jovially until the wee small hours. For some years after erection the Victoria was not a pronounced success. Visitors and residents were conservative in their habits; they could not be readily wooed from their accustomed haunts; and the now hotel, notwithstanding its magnificent rooms, its splendid appointments, and its admirable accommodation for commercial men and families, lacked patronage. The first tenant was the late Mr William C. Johnson, but after a brief experience he abandoned his holding, subsequently taking out a. license; in respect of the Villa Marina Hotel, which stood on ground now occupied in part by the Hotel Sefton. After Mr Johnson's regime at the Victoria, the late Mr Evarard became landlord for some years, but eventually removed with 'his family to England, returning to the Island in the 'seventies. For a period the 'hotel was untenanted, but was eventually rented by a Mr Martin, whose term of occupation was not a fortunate one. Yet during Mr Martin's regime the Victoria attained a considerable amount of celebrity in that it was the headquarters of Douglas sportsmen, who in the late 'sixties and early 'seventies were both numerous and enterprising. Coursing then had a great vogue in the Island, and during the winter several meetings were held on Douglas Head. Some of these extended over four days. and as elusion of each day's sport — the men dined together at the Victoria with zest begotten of several hours spent in the bracing atmosphere of the glorious headland. These dinners were famous functions, and there yet survives in Douglas at least once gentleman: whose memories of the festivities are plentiful and agreeable. At one dinner held immediately after the deciding course of an important stake had been won by a dog owned by a Douglas gentleman, the celebrated coursing judge, Mr Pearson, was present, and he, in delivering himself of some post-prandial observations upon the performances of the dogs which had been in evidence at the meeting, suggested that he should present the captain of the beaters (the late Mr William Dumbell) with a sapling of good blood, though, as Mr Pearson thought, deficient in speed and cleverness, with a. view to improving the quality, of the Manx greyhounds. The offer was gladly accepted, and in due course the sapling arrived, and was for a period kennelled with the late Mr Gelling, of Bawshen — a very keen coursing man. Such excellent form did the dog develop in trials over the lower slopes of Greeba; that Mr Dumbell entered him in a sixty-four dog stake at Lurgan, Ireland. Among the other dogs entered was Master McGrath, who shares with Fullerton the reputation of being the greatest greyhound ever slipped, and who thrice won the blue riband of the coursing world — the Waterloo-Cup. Mr Dumbell's dog got into the final, in which he met Master McGrath, and extended that fleet and cunning animal over his own ground as he had never previously been extended. In the end, Mr Dumbell's greyhound divided with Master McGrath after two " no-goes," thus demonstrating that even famous coursing judges are not always infallible in gauging the possibilities of a sapling. Certain it is that if Mr Pearson ,could have foreseen that the " reject" he handed over to Mr Dumbell for breeding purposes would one day come within an ace of beating the finest greyhound of his day,.that presentation in the Victoria. would never have come off. The dinners of the Isle of Man Agricultural Society were also held in the Victoria while Mr Martin was host. and were much better attended and much more lively of character than. the society's dinners in these days — Manx farmers of a generation or more ago were partial to the flowing bowl, and as the evening progressed their joviality frequently assumed — a somewhat boisterous foarm. — Mr Martin, too, departed the Isle, and in connection with his departure he caused something of a sensation by chartering one of the Steam Packet Company's vessels to convey his furniture to Barrow-in-Furness, he having taken a lease of the Duke of Edinburgh Hotel then recently erected in that busy town: After his abandonment of the Victoria., the hotel again lay empty for a term, but it was at last taken by the late Miss Barnes and the late Mrs Weldon, under whose shrewd and liberal control it for the first time in its history achieved pecuniary success. These ladies retired from business. and the Victoria next passed into the hands of the late Mrs Smailes, who, too, conducted it in fashion which was remunerative to her. Mrs Smailes also retired. and the Victoria was taken by the late Mr Jeremiah Murphy, who did fairly well in it. After he gave up business a company acquired the hotel, which came under the management of a most estimable lady — Miss Pick — who left no stone unturned to make the concern a paying one. By this time, however, the licensed boarding-houses had multiplied enormously in Douglas, and in face of their competition the Victoria's popularity dwindled and the company did not turn out a success. Since Miss Pick's days the hotel has had vicissitudes. A number of people have striven hard to make, it pay, but have dropped money in the endeavour; and now the fine caravanserai is once more empty, with not much likelihood of being again devoted to the purposes for which it was originally built. In its declining days. and as if to heap upon it a, final and lasting indignity, an order was issued by the Government authorities to remove the Royal Arms which had surmounted the portico for so many years.


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