"The Manx Countryside in Danger"


Lecture given in the Manx Museum [1951] by Mr. William Hoggatt, R.I.

The preservation of the Island's beauty is the duty of each in his generation, so that he may hand on a heritage of natural charm and beauty as unspoiled and unimpared as possible to the generation to come. Time and progress must inevitably take its toll in each generation, but the natural beauty of the Island is, and always will be, one of the biggest assets to the visiting industry. A cult of ugliness has begun its invasion, which is alarming, and may very soon become an incurable disease if its progress is not arrested. Much of the danger is clue to thoughtless disregard of existing amenities. Man has not realised that though he destroys beauty he can also create beauty. That much has been destroyed is evident, and that he has created little new beauty is also evident; and that much that has been done to replace the destruction may remain a monument to man's stupidity, for waste of beauty is surely stupid.

Many of us have been aware of this waste and depredation of our countryside for some time, and have looked on helplessly, knowing we could do nothing about it. We had not the voice of authority, and were even thought a nuisance. We should all know what is happening in England in this matter of preservation, and the deep concern felt by all lovers of the countryside there. Also that legislation is to be introduced to deal more widely with the problem, The Island's problem soon may become as acute as that of England.

In my view the principal offences are ribbon development, linked up with road making, hoardings, unsightly poles, lettering on roofs and gable ends, petrol pumps, Dutch barns in prominent positions, corrugated iron, unsightly tips and derelict mines, the disregard of trees as a decoration to the landscape, and the lavish use of cement.

This ribbon development is deplorable, and unless greater discretion is exercised, the country districts will soon be one long continuous streets of little houses struggling to join the town. There will be an ill-assorted collection of buildings having no relationship to the surrounding landscape, either in design or colour. It is equally important for a house to take its place naturally in the landscape as it is for it to be the "ideal up-to-date modern house" within, as I believe the modern small house is. But in this ribbon development careful planning in relationship to the existing amenities has been sadly lacking. No house need be out of keeping with its surroundings if intelligently supervised, and it will cost no more, probably less. The use of imported bricks and tiles of a bad colour I deplore. They fight and shout with the natural greys of our landscape. Mass production of windows and doors, in many cases badly seasoned wood, and cheap imported material is used, and as a result the skilled craftsman is disappearing. How I would like to see a revival of building in the Island with its natural materials- stone and slate and homely whitewash. What remains of our villages might well repay an investigation into the splendid craftsmanship of a past generation.

But to return to ribbon development, the South seems in the greatest danger to me. Where the development has taken place on one side of the road, a saving grace may be that the land on the opposite side is not likely to fall into the hands of a speculative builder, Nearer Douglas this development is taking place on both sides of the road, and taking on a suburban atmosphere--a most unfitting frame for that vista of patterned upland and hills beyond. Hemmed in by these small houses and with our once country lanes becoming roads for traffic, I am wondering where the country will begin to be country soon. Prof. Stapledon stated at the recent meeting of the "Council for the Preservation of Rural England," in Chester, that road making was being carried out in almost every parish, much of it, as even many motorists admitted, ill-conceived and overdone. The modern mode of travel by car and bus I appre- ciate as a sign of the age we live in, and I do not deplore them, but what I cannot accept is a view prevailing among some people that the first consideration of the roads should be for the motorist. Made safe for the motorist certainly, but with due regard to saving as much of their natural attributes as possible-such as the sod hedges, drystone walls, bridges and water splashes. But most of these have been sacrificed, and to me quite unnecessarily. I admit the splendid surface of the Island's roads, but you could have had beautiful roads everywhere had more discretion been used in the earlier days of development. A winding lane has more beauty than a black band of tarmac. Practically all our lanes have disappeared ; with them the sod hedges, and with them, too, the watersplashes or fords-a thing of indescribable charm. Authority has seen fit to either fill them in or bridge them over with hideous concrete. When this craze for wholesale road widening first took shape, I have in mind what happened in the early stages, and Richmond Hill was the victim. Nature is still so ashamed of what man had done with her that she is still trying hard to cover up the eyesore, The people responsible for the making of the road to the Sound I congratulate in having borne in mind the existing beauty of the old road and adapting the whole to the needs of the increased traffic. When in that vicinity the other day I saw a little sign by Harry Kelly's cottage in Cregneash, a model of what a sign should be, doing its job without obstructing in any way upon the landscape.

The roofs and poles I will not dwell on, as I understand there is a movement on foot to deal with them, but I make a suggestion Could the Development Board consult with a works chemist of paint manufacturers to find out if it is not possible to get some suitable stain to darken down some of the existing roofs.

Another matter, in my view, which threatens the beauty of our countryside, is the unsightly advertisement matter. We find huge lettering on rocks, roofs, and the gable ends of all sorts of buildings. The importance of advertising I know , but it should be done with due regard to the surrounding amenities. The cinema screen, the press and the post could be made more use of.

Now for one of the greatest offenders-the petrol pumps. Most of them are a hideous conglomeration of screaming coloured advertisements. Only one have I seen that is doing its job in the right way, and that is the one at the Brown Bobby on the Peel Road. It is good, and serves both art and the public at the same time. It would also be a great advantage if Dutch barns were painted green to harmonise with the fields and trees, and corrugated iron should be treated in the same way, but wherever possible, abolished entirely. The unsightly mine tips-surely the isolated ones could be removed and a use found for the waste material. One local authority on the mainland has turned them into hard courts for tennis, and another, in Wales, after a lead had been given them by the Quakers, into rock gardens, and this work was done by the unemployed. Another has ideas of conversion into a summer school for the study of what that particular district offers, be it ornithology or agriculture. Yet another has made air raid shelters for the school children near by. I will quote from a cutting from a recent newspaper- "Dumps of rubbish near lead, zinc, iron and coal mines in West Cumberland and near the old mine workings in Barrowdale are to be planted with gorse and beech trees. The scheme has been sponsored by the Cumberland Development Council, and yesterday the Cockermouth Rural Council, which originally rejected the idea, decided to co-operate with the Development Council in carrying it out." These are ideas that are already taking root elsewhere, and if voiced here may bring forth other ideas as a solution for these blots on our landscape. This may fall upon the ears of people who regard all appeals for natural beauty as silly because there is no money in it, but to them I reply, beauty is without price.

Another threat to our beauty is the misuse of concrete in our harbours and fishing villages. I recognise that it has become a building material, but I cannot reconcile myself with its glaring misuses in our country districts, and this misuse, I can assure you, is one of the most adversely discussed subjects by the Island's visitors. No matter what improvement is contemplated, round comes the concrete mixer, and the devilish work begins. Soon we shall be presented with concrete trees, and concrete palm trees at that, placed at intervals on our concrete promenades just to give the place a continental air. I noticed the other day an advertisement for a holiday on Arran. It ran something like this-"Come to Arran, no concrete, no railings, no notices `trespassers will be prosecuted,' miles of beautiful ramblage over moors and coast." Arran is alive to her natural assets. Has she more beauty to offer than the Island ?" Three things are closely interwoven in my view with our countryside-trees, open spaces and natural parks. You need not go a mile out of Douglas to know what I mean by trees. Contemplate those in the Nunnery grounds and at Kirby for a moment.

They make for grandeur in the landscape. I very much doubt if this grandeur would have been intact in this age if it was not for private ownership. Douglas should feel grateful for such a frame of beautiful trees. They are trees natural to our landscape, as rows and rows of pines and firs are not. They are not natural to our landscape any more than they are to the Lake District, where the planting of them is admitted to be a mistake. Speaking of trees, why is a piece of land generally denuded of its trees entirely when it is to be built upon ? Why could not judicious thinning be tried out?

You may wonder what I mean by natural parks in the Island. I do not mean the kind deliberately laid down on a drawing board with a tee square. The Island's natural parks are its beautiful moorlands and valleys, its glens and agricultural land, accidentally patterned with the fields and their very necessary produce, and bejewelled with whitewashed farms and cottages. These are our natural parks and heritage-ours to safeguard for generations of Manxmen to come. A united body of lovers of the Island could do much for the preservation of its beauty.

*I would suggest that there should come into being a Manx National Trust, backed by Tynwald, who could appoint a board or director, solely for "protection" of the beauty of our Island before it is too late, and the beauty defaced. I said for the "protection," and not "development," which already has its board. And last, but not least, I would suggest that lectures be given in all our schools on "The beauty and care of the countryside," "Architecture in relation to the surrounding landscape," etc. This done, and done properly, would go a long way to making the rising generation more aware of their heritage and fit them to become wise custodians as future Commissioners, Councillors and members of Tvnwald.

Although we artists have our dreams, we do also come to grips with the practical things in life, only too grimly enough at times, and I can assure you that it is because we are aware only too vividly of the trend of things in our age that we make our plea for the safeguarding of beauty.

Finally, I would make an appeal for a closer co-operation between the owner, the builder, the architect and the artist, who, each in their separate sphere, can contribute to make a perfect whole. And I must pay a tribute to the splendid work being done by the trustees and staff of the Manx Museum in this matter of preservation, Particularly have I in mind the historic village of Cregneash, which but for their timely intervention would have suffered the same fate as much else of beauty and simple dignity and character has done. We owe them a debt of gratitude.

*A Manx National Trust was created 1952.

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© F.Coakley , 2005