[C.E. Watterson - Old Castletown - part 1]
I was born in the house in which I at present reside, alongside of the Quay and in the shadow of Castle Rushen, in the year 1869, and I have listened to the Manx Poet T.E. Brown, lecture in the Town Hall, Arbory Street, on two occasions - one of his lectures being on Manx idioms, and the other on "Castletown 100 Years Ago", in which he stated that there were as many social classes in Castletown when he was young as rings round a Portugal onion. It was said when I was young that you either had to hold a commission in the Navy, Army or Church or a reference from the Vicar of the Parish where you had resided before you could be accepted by the "Inner Circles".Being in the outer-ring class, I will endeavour to give you my recollections of Castletown as a child and young man, and also relate some of the stories I have been told by my parents and others, which I have every reason to believe.
The Castle was used as a prison in my young days, and about twice a week some of the male prisoners under the care of a jailer would be seen sweeping the roadway in front of the Castle entrance and the Police Station. The Head Jailers house was on the north side of the present drawbridge in the inner moat, with a stone stairway at the gable leading to the ramparts as access to the Court House. One of the jailers lived in the rooms underneath the Court House at the inner gate, and others in houses along the south ramparts. The Rolls Office was in the building now occupied by the present Custodian, with access thereto by a stone stairway from the main entrance to the ramparts; the Chief Clerk, James Kewley resided in a portion of this building.
Along the Western ramparts in the inner moat was a building used as prison cells, and also a stone-breaking yard with a stone crusher worked by hand- better known as 'Armstrong's Patent'. All these have now been removed, the major portion of the work being carried out during the Governorship of the late Lord Raglan.
On the outside, on the grass plot north of the main entrance gate stood the Police Station and on the north side of the Court House building was the Lifeboat House, which housed the first Lifeboat of Castletown, called the 'Commercial Traveller No. 1'. Adjoining the Boat House in the outer moat was the Commissariat Stores for the troops in the Barracks.
On a portion of the outer moat, opposite Malew Street and the Market Place, were several buildings used as stores and stabling for James Mylchreest, a large-scale importer who carried on a wholesale and retail grocery and spirit business in a shop in Malew Street. The remaining portion of the outer moat was a garden for the Head Jailer. There were iron spikes on a horizontal iron bar, supported by iron brackets, just underneath the clock face, possibly to prevent escapes from the prison. The Court of General Gaol Delivery was held in the Court House when I was a child, and all the Governors with the exception of one, Governor Hill, have taken the Oath of Office therein; owing to a state of emergency at that time, was sworn in at Douglas. There is a house in Arbory Street which was known as 'Old Lodge' and there is a built-up entrance to what was supposed to be the Castle garden in a lane adjoining thereto. There is also a road at Scarlett leading to Mr. J.T. Watterson's farm, which was known as the Castle Lawn.
Friday was the recognised Market Day. The butchers' stalls were in the building now occupied by Martins Bank and the butcher's shop at present adjoining. There were no windows in the openings ns nt present, they being then open down to the ground. (I have likewise seen a butcher's stall at the Monument). The Customs House was in the floor above the open butchers' market. On the space adjoining, where the War Memorial has been erected, was the Butter and Egg Market, there being a raised bench of Spanish Head lintels at the back and south side, on which the farmers'! wives placed their baskets of wares. There would be several farmers' carts on the side nearest to Castle Rushen, with their shafts on the ground, displaying potatoes and other vegetables, and there would generally be a box of young pigs on the ground under the back of the cart. There would also be tables displaying home-made sweets and alleged gingerbread human figures and horses. The advent of the trains a few years later put an end to the Market at Castletown, the farmers and farmers' wives finding a better source of sale in Douglas. The fishermen sold their fish on the flags in front of the Sun-Dial, then known as the 'Babby House', and I have seen fishermen within the last 20years selling their fish there. The glacis; which is now covered with grass, was faced with large flat stones, and we children could run on them almost as easy as the children of today run along the grass.
Castletown was a Garrison town until about 52 years ago. The troops were housed in the building now occupied by the Castletown Commissioners. The present Custom House and Weights and Measures offices were used as married quarters. The Rifle Range was at Langness on the present Golf Links, with the target butts near the shore on the south side, with measured distances and prepared sites for firing, almost back to the building that was known as the Big Cellar. The soldiers wore scarlet tunics, with bright buttons ,a belt well pipe-clayed, blue trousers with n red stripe on each leg, and glengarry caps, and carried n short cane when off duty. They looked very smart and as a rule were very popular with the natives - especially with the females. A number of the soldiers married Castletown girls and came here to reside after their discharge. At one time they performed sentry duty across the Market Square, but latterly only to inside the Barrack Gates, which came out to a line of the front of the building.
It was a grand day for the children of the town on the celebration of Queen Victoria's birthday. A firing party would be lined across the Market Square, and when the firing was over, what a rush there would be to collect the spent cartridge cases!
The entrance to the inner Harbour of Castletown was narrower than it is at present, and was spanned by a wooden bridge which was built by Thomas Boyd, Boat Builder and Blacksmith, having its base on the east side. The new iron bridge, having its base on the west side, spans the widened opening. The original opening wns so narrow that a schooner called the 'Wallachia' belonging to Castletown could hardly get through the gap. There were 16schooners and 8 smacks belonging to Castletown in those days. At the top end of the lower Harbour was a stone bridge, the only entrance from the east, to Castletown for vehicular traffic. This bridge was demolished 63years ago, and the present iron swing-bridge was erected in place thereof.
The Quay on the Castle side was known as the Castle Quay, and the Quay on the other side as the Irish Quay. There were three warehouses on this quay, two of them having been demolished The remaining building is known as the Umber House, for the following reason. It was used by a Mr. Torrance, a ship's chandler and provision dealer, who carried on his business at the Fleetwood Corner on the North Quay at Douglas, as a store for umber. Mr.Torrance had his works near Ballasalla, at a water-mill near Silverburn, which has now been altered and with additions thereto is used as a residence by Dr. Quine. The umber was periodically shipped in barrels to an English port in Mr. Torrance's schooners - the 'Christianna' and the 'Bessy' - the latter schooner making the journey once a year to Lisbon to load cork for the fishing nets.
Several of the Castletown schooners were plying as far as the Baltic and Mediterranean, one of them, the 'Mona', laden with barley, being lost with all hands on the return journey one winter.
The Billown and Ballahot Lime Kilns had coal stores for their requirements. The Billown store was at the base of the Pier, and that for Ballahot in a yard in Arbory Street, now used as a motor repair shop. There were yards for the storage of coal for the Lime Kilns in Derbyhaven before they commenced to store in Castletown, there being deeper water in Derbyhaven harbour than in Castletown at that time. I have heard my father say that Castletown Harbour had been deepened twice in his lifetime, and it certainly wants deepening again to suit the draft of water of the present-day coasting steamboats. Derbyhaven had a Customs House, and the corner on the west side as you turn to the Fort Island was known as the Customs House corner. I have seen a Cargo Book of a smack called the 'Laurel' (of which my father was the Master)cleared out in the Derbyhaven Customs House.
The public was supplied with home coal from the ship's side, and there were several schooners and smacks in that trade, which method of distribution was very inconvenient if the weather was bad and there was no coal in the town. The first coal store for house coal was commenced by a Mr. Kewley in approximately 1880. The coal at that time was 16/- per ton for English, and 12/- for Scotch and Welsh household coal, at the ship's side.
There were men known as 'Coal Porters' who carried the bags of coal weighing1cwt., to almost any house in the town for a copper or two. They were not young men, and must have been exceptionally strong, as they could carry a bag of coal to Arbory Road from the quayside, almost without a rest. There was one porter, David McGill, a discharged soldier, who was likewise the Official Town Crier appointed by the High Bailiff. This man possessed a good musical voice, and would be heard going his rounds in the early morning for about three weeks before Xmas calling the people as follows: 'Good morning Mr. Good morning Mrs Good morning Master Good morning Miss . . ' and all the household, giving in his salutation the state of the weather and the wind and the time. He would conclude by wishing them a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. He would be accompanied by a person playing either a melodion or a concertina. It was well worth being wakened out of your sleep to hear him. This custom has long died out.
C.E. WATTERSON(Memoirs written circa 1930)