THE MOST POPULAR RESORT FOR VISITORS
LAXEY GLEN GARDENS LAXEY,
Comprising the most romantic and
thickly-wooded portion of the celebrated Laxey Glen, abounding with
unsurpassed natural beauties,
is now replete with all the requirements of
A FIRST-CLASS PLEASURE GARDEN,
Containing, among other attractions and amusements, pleasant and secluded Walks, Bowers, and Rustic Seats, Swings, Quoits, and Hobby Horses, Croquet, Lawn Tennis, Bowling Green, American Bowling Saloon, and everything needful to enable Visitors to spend a most enjoyable day.
REFRESHMENTS, DINNERS, TEAS, CONFECTIONERY, FRUITS, &c.,
Excellent in Quality, and Reasonable Charges. Printed Price Lists obtainable at the Gates.
As a select Pleasure Grounds and Pleasure Resort for Visitors it is undoubtedly the Gem of the Island, and all lovers of beauty should not fail to visit many times " the most charming retreat in Mona's Isle.
ADMISSION THREEPENCE. CLOSED ON SUNDAYS
Established by Robert Williamson around 1880, the above block and description are taken from Brown's 1881 directory Jenkinson writing of his visit in 1873 comments on the attractive glen but makes no mention of any commercial development though Faragher dates the development from 1868 when Williamson leased the site from Richard Rowe, mines captain and founder of Laxey Glen flour mills.
Brown's Guide of 1876 however includes a description:
For this latest improvement to an already picturesque and delightful locality the public are indebted to Mr R. Williamson, merchant, of Laxey, the proprietor, who, at a great expense, has planted and beautified the grounds which form the entrance to Glen Roy, and has so laid out the glen itself, in quiet shaded walks and sequestered nooks and corners, that there are few spots in all lovely Mona's sea-girt isle surpassing the Victoria Park for picturesque beauty. Passing through the gates, our attention is immediately attracted by the ornamental flower beds of varied design which border the bifurcating paths leading to the right and left. Following one of these paths, which are all well gravelled with crushed Laxey stone, we gain a long open verandah formed of green trellis work for the most part, but divided in front into seven arches of rustic woodwork, surmounted by a frieze of pinnacles of similar construction. A little beyond this, we reach the refreshment-room, a neat Swiss-like building, constructed chiefly of wood and glass. The interior is open to the roof, and is stained and varnished in a similar manner to that of the railway station at Douglas. Attached to the refreshment-room is a large hall, suitable for concerts, &c., which will accommodate 600 persons. Proceeding still further, we reach the curve of the road; and, seeing a light rustic arch a short distance away, on our right, we cross over the green sward, and enter the more secluded and romantic portion of the grounds, of which we may almost say (quoting Beaumont and Fletcher) :-Here be woods as green
As any; air, likewise, as fresh and sweet
As when smooth Zephyrus plays on the fleet
Force of the curled streams with flowers as many
As the young spring gives, and as choice as any;
Here be all her delights, cold streams and wells,
Arbours overgrown with woodbines, caves and dells
Choose where then wilt.
Here we find the most picturesque walks, the most sequestered seats, the most charming scenery, and, taken collectively, the most attractive portions of the grounds. Descending by a winding path, sheltered and o'erhung by luxuriant foliage of every shade of green, we reach the banks of the river in the very bottom of the glen, and here we find the "cursus" for the foot races, bowling alleys, unsurpassed swings for children, quoits, and other innocent attractions, all collected in a capacious level piece of ground, of which an excellent view can be had from the heights on either hand, thus affording the spectator every opportunity of seeing the sports. Crossing one of two bridges over the stream we enter a more rugged piece of land, in which ferns, and most of the wild shrubs of Mona abound, for here little has been done to add to the charms of Nature's beauties. A few turf-covered seats formed from the hollow of the bill of Grawe ; a rippling swift-flowing " race " which supplies the neighbouring mill, and a thickly wooded plantation of firs in our rear, all add peculiar charms to this extreme end of Laxey Park. But beyond those there are beauties untold. There to our left rises the majestic peak of Cairn Gharjohl, with the Runic cross, and the old old graves of Glen Roy at its base. Yonder away is the estate of Ballaquine, with its old treen oratory, of which it is said, when a man would have removed it, " wheels of fire" rolled before his eyes and made him desist. And then if we rest ourselves on one of the grassy seats just alluded to, and look around, we have the extensive and well wooded slopes rising up towards Baldhoon before us, a group of old thatched Manx cottages, with their little gardens and rustic outbuildings on our right, and behind us a noble plantation of flourishing pines bend their boughs to the wind and whistle with the passing breeze. Then retracing our steps to the "cursus," and following the path near the bank of the river, we re-enter the artificial portion of the grounds, and reach an admirable croquet lawn of oval form, hollowed out from the side of the hill, and as level as a billiard table, to say nothing of its green being more purely vernal. The slope of the hill rising from this ground has been well laid down with fresh sods, and the spectator, taking his seat here, can watch the players without the slightest obstruction. Then, beyond the croquet ground, we have more flower beds, more shrubs, more seats, more picturesque views for the delighted eye to look upon in Laxey Park, but when we have said this we have by no means said all that may be said in its praise.
James Williamson snr (c.1806-) would appear to have come to the Island c.1840 with his young family from Scotland and is noted, in 1863, as a farmer as well as a shopkeeper (and spirit merchant) in Laxey - his shop was in Old Laxey (for many years the Old Laxey Post Office). He would also appear to have been involved with the tourist trade as he was also a car (ie horse drawn carriage) proprietor. His sons, James and Robert, noted as strong supporters of Primitive Methodism in Laxey, also entered trade after the early death of their father. James junior remained in Old Laxey but Robert, (1841-1927), born in Laxey and an enterprising entrepreneur, moved up to the newly created New Road in 1866 with his Liverpool born wife Agnes, opened his shop and shortly afterwards established the gardens. His entry in Brown's 1881 directory reads: "fancy bread and biscuit baker, grocer, provision dealer, wine and spirit merchant, ginger beer and soda water manufacturer, agent for The Isle of Man Times, &c., New-road ; farms Ballakerrow and Ballabeg" - the 1881 census states employs 11 men. The '&c' included running a slaughterhouse and a coal business. Williamson was elected MHK for Garff from 1891 to 1897 - by his death he also owned a large retail and wholesale grocery business in Athol Street Douglas. He was a generous supporter of Minorca Chapel and became its treasurer but was a member of St Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Douglas. .
Williamson acquired the Laxey Glen Hotel at the entrance to the Glen in 1888 which provided the essential alcohol licence. The architect for the subsequent extension was W.J. Rennison but Williamson personally supervised the construction and furnishing.
Porter's Directory of 1889 has:
The Laxey Glen gardens, the property of Mr. Williamson, but now in the occupation of Mr. Morris Forrester, who has arranged the flower beds, tennis and croquet ground, billiard saloons, bowling-greens and bowling alleys, play grounds for children, swings, hobby-horses, and every conceivable form of healthy recreation, so as to be one of the most popular places of resort in the Island. We can only say if the Garden of Eden was anything like Laxey Glen gardens, our first ancestors must have had a pleasant time of it.
It was the opening of the Douglas-Laxey Electric Railway in 1894 that brought the mass tripper to Laxey. Williamson opened the 100 feet long Victoria Hall pavilion in 1895, it could seat some 200; a roof platform provided panoramic views.
The view dates from c.1910 and shows part of the garden as well as a section of the large cafe etc.
The pavilion, built of pitch pine, was destroyed by fire in 1913, the damage accounting to some £4000. A replacement, supposedly 'of even greater splendour', (though photographs show a two storey central block with single storey veranda'ed restaurant) burnt down in the 1980's.
Laxey Glen Pavillion in 1920's
The gardens boasted two bandstands - one in front of the Pavilion cafe overlooked the maple floored dance table. The second, shown right overlooked a boating pool which could be boarded over to provide a second dancing floor.
The view shows the hotel and glen entrance in the late 1920's with the many charabancs waiting outside.
Following WW1 the Great Laxey Mining company could no longer afford to pay its workers and closed down, Williamson bought the assets, including the Lady Isabella wheel, and helped by a Tynwald grant of £4000 he and his son (a qualified mines engineer) attempted to continue the company, but a major fire in the washing floor buildings in 1922 finally put an end to any hopes and the Mining company was wound up within a year or so after his death.
The family formed Williamsons Ltd (a private company) to run Laxey Glen and the other concerns following his death, but in 1947 this was forced into liquidation.
George E Kermode Laxey as I Remember it Douglas: Manx Experience  (ISBN 1-873120-095)
M. Faragher Laxey's Eminent Victorian IoM Vic Soc Newsletter #51 Sept 1998 (draws heavily on Kermode)