[C.E. Watterson - Old Castletown - part 2]
There were also two licensed importers of dutiable goods, John Taggart and James Mylchreest, who owned their own vessels, the 'Ida' and the 'Crest'. These importers carried on a wholesale and retail grocery and spirit business, and supplied most of the shops in the south of the island, and also Foxdale which was a busy place in those days, the lead mines providing a great deal of employment. The soft sugar then came in hogsheads, and the lump sugar in pyramids about 2ft 6ins high, which had to be cut up, in cubes in the shop before sale. There was a crane at the Castle Quay, near the old wooden bridge, for unloading the hogsheads, and all dutiable articles were then brought to where the present Motor Car Park is, in front of the Custom House, for weighing and testing before delivery. This site was known as the Quarter Deck. There was a small building on this site known as the Watch House, which housed a small mercury barometer. Sailors and others generally congregated there and discussed the weather, which as known as taking an almanack'. General topics and daily occurrences were also greatly discussed here.
The Upper Harbour, known as the Duck Pond, has been made for over 60 years, the lower harbour being considered to be too small for the trade of the town. The advent of steam altered the conditions. All general cargo was being carried by a wooden steamship called the 'St. Mary' built in Port St. Mary and owned by the importers and others, but it was not long before steamships carried all the cargoes, and the sailing ships were doomed.
I have seen Castletown Harbour during a Saturday and Sunday in the herring fishing season so full of schooners, smacks and fishing boats, that you could walk from one side to the other of the Harbour on them. They came mostly from St. Ives and Penzance, and some from Arklow. I have seen herrings sold from the boats at 1/- per long hundred (i.e. 124). mostly every person in those days, rich and poor alike (provided they were Manx). were buying herrings to salt. This was known as 'getting your stock'. During one of the Sundays, a Camp Meeting would be held in a field, the pulpit being a cart, and almost without exception, one of the visiting fishermen would take the service.
A number of the Port St. Mary fishing boats, along with the Castletown boats, were laid tip for the winter on the Claddagh, where the 'Duck Pond' is, and the portion above it. These boats had to get under the stone bridge and sometimes this was very difficult. The school children would get on board the boats from the bridge, and go to the bow to sink the vessel, and that done, creep aft and do the same thing, lying on their backs on the deck and using their feet against the bridge to propel the boat along.
Quite a number of people along Hope Street and along the Quay kept ducks, which spent most of the day in the harbour. I fancy that in the reason the upper harbour to known as the Duck Pond, on the same principle that the Apostles' bridge gets its name because it is supported by twelve pillars.
During the excavations for the Duck Pond, a powerful spring of fresh water was discovered. This spring is under salt water every tide. it was piped and carried underneath the river to the Brewery, and is used in place of a well that was in the Brewery Yard. The using of this water may well be one of the reasons why Castletown Ales win so many prizes!
There is a story told which I firmly believe to be true. John Taggart, one of the licensed importers buying his requirements in bulk in Liverpool, bid for a cargo of cheese which was in short supply, there being only one cargo in Liverpool at that precise time. The other buyers present thought he would not require a great deal - is he was 'some little fellow from the Isle of Man' - and did not compete with him, thinking they would be able to obtain the remainder at their own price. When the Auctioneer enquired the amount he required, he replied 'The whole cargo'. After enquiries as to his ability to pay for the consignment was. found satisfactory, the other dealers found themselves in the position of having to purchase from him - at his own price. I have been told that he never got the opportunity again.
There was no Lighthouse on Langness when,, I was a child, and I can remember my father coming into the house one stormy night, after being out looking after his schooner, saying there bad been four shipwrecks during the night.
Strange to say, it was a Scotsman by the name of John McMekin, a Banker, who was the principal agitator to have the light installed. He kept writing to the Northern Lights Commissioners, pointing out the dire necessity for a light, and was for a long time unsuccessful in his efforts.
It must have been both difficult and hazardous for shipping in those days,, with no light on Langness, as when the street lighting of the town was extinguished, one might as well look into a sack as look into Castletown Bay from the sea.
Castletown Pier and Lighthouse were built 99 year.; ago, the Quay known as the old Quay being then the only protection to the harbour from the Southwest gales.
The people of Castletown must have been very ambitious ill those days for they had a paddle steamer called the 'Ellan Vannin' built for passengers and general cargo, her berth being on the West side of the Old Quay ill the harbour then formed by the building of the New Pier, the face of the Quay being lined with wood sheeting to receive her paddle boxes. The enterprise was not a success, and the ship as sold, eventually going to Sicily. i have been told by a sailor who had seen her in Sicily over 60 years; ago that the Three Legs of Man were on her paddle boxes at that time. i have likewise seen some of the scrip that was issued by the Company.
Before the advent of the Railway, a coach ran from the Market Square to Douglas, and returned daily. i was acquainted with the owner, Tom Cowell, and also John, his son, who was the driver. A carrier's cart ran daily to and from Douglas, and continued to do so for ,over 20 years after the Railway had commenced. There was likewise a coach, daily from Port St. Mary, carrying passengers and parcels. This continued for several years after the Railway had started. i have been for a ride in the Port St. Mary coach.
Victoria Road was constructed the same time as the Railway. I have been told that there was barely room for a cart between the Brewery and the river. I don't remember that, of course, but i do remember Alexander Road and the Bridge being built, which work was carried out at the completion of Victoria Road. A timber yard stood where the Brewery now have their coal stores, and on an open space adjoining them, known as the Woods, imported timber in long baulks was stored. This was a favourite playground for us children. A portion next to the enclosed timber yard was ,used for boat building, and several fishing boats were built there by Messrs. Cooil and Qualtrough, and brought across the road on rollers and launched down the existing slipway. The timber was carried in Norwegian sailing ships, mostly brigs and brigantines, and a large portion of their cargo was baulks (that is, the trees rough squared by axe, the cargoes being discharged through a porthole in the bows. The baulks were then made into rafts and floated as near as possible to their destination. The heavy timber, if required to be cut lengthways, was cut by two men over a saw-pit, with a double handed rip-saw; one man in the pit, and the other on top of the log.
The plastering lathes were at that time all split by bind, by a man known as 'Nailer' though his correct name was Clague. This man had an exceptional thirst, which was not uncommon in those days, with rum at 1 1/2d a glass; with sugar and hot water added 2d; and common ale 1d a pint.
Ships were also built in J. Qualtrough and Co.'s new Timber-yard, and on the Claddagh in front of the yard, the site of the present timberyard, was a rope factory in my young days. This was roofed in from the junction with Rope Street and ran parallel with the tailrace from the Water Mill almost to Alexander Road and the Railway approximately to the hedge of the field adjoining.
James Boyd carried on the business of manufacturing rope. he had a brother, Thomas Boyd, who carried on a ship-building business in a yard adjoining the Quay, which in no. the site of Thomas Moore's Bakery business. This ship-building business had ceased Just before my time, but i can remember the pit for the cutting of the heavy timber, in which I have played many a time. The last vessel to be built was the 'Aid', a smack of about 80 tons burden, which was brought on rollers across the roadway and launched side-on over the Quay. i have seen two other schooners that were built in that yard - the 'Ocean Gem' and the 'Kate' and they were a credit to any builder. The schooner 'Progress' was built by Cooil and Qualtrough in a yard in Hope Street, alongside the Railway inn. I can well remember the launch, which failed on the first day, but was successful on the second. To get the ship under the old stone bridge, an amount of rock at the side and bottom had to be quarried away.
This vessel has been broken up this year in port St. Mary Harbour. and it took mechanical appliances at last to break her up.
Although the owners of some of the of the vessels went to various English and Scotch ports to get their vessels built, I am satisfied they would have done better to have them built at home.
There were two open-decked loggers, manned and owned by small crofters from Arbory. The loggers were called the 'Arbory' and the 'Wesley'. These, I am given to understand, were built in Boyds' shipyard. The crews carried on their conversations mostly in Manx and broken English, and always counted the herring in Manx, in threes, known as 'warps'. When they reached 40 in Manx they said in English 'here's a warp', and then there was an odd one thrown in, and they said 'tally'. This meant to put a mark on a board with a chalk, or cut a notch, in a board. I enquired, one day, why they were counting the herrings in Manx, and I was told by a wag they would not take the salt properly otherwise.
These boats had a small deck forward for a cover for the forecastle and for the raising and lowering of the mast and working the anchor, a small deck aft for the helmsman, and a narrow side-deck for the shooting and hauling of the nets on each side.
There was very little difficulty for any lad leaving school to get to sea, and they were nearly all sea-minded, as they could start as a cook in the fishing boats, which went to Kinsale and Crookhaven about April and came back for the local herring season. After that, some of the boats went to the Shetlands, and others followed the fishing down the cast coast of Scotland, returning through either the Caledonian or Bowling Canals
It was a fine training ground for lads, as they soon learned to steer, and the rule of the road. The man who would be steering would ask the lad to light his pipe for him at the fire in the cabin, but it would not be long before the lad would be asked to hold the tiller while the steersman lit his pipe. When it would be well alight, he would put his bend through the cabin scuttle to see how the lad was faring, and if he was satisfied, the boy would be left to it. The cook was not short of work; besides doing the cooking, he had to coil the rope to which the nets were secured when being hauled. There would be about three-quarters of a mile of rope for him to coil. The fishing boots used to have a capstan turned by hand for hauling the rope attached to the nets. Steam was latterly used for this purpose, with the boiler in the cabin, which made the atmosphere anything but pleasant. with seven men and a boy making their temporary home there.
A schooner called the 'Enigma' , which was built in India, was purchased by a Mr. Karran, who carried on a saddlers business in Arbory Street, and who eventually resided at Sea Mount, Scarlett. Mr. Karran had six sons, three of whom went to sea and learned their first rudiments of navigation at a school on the Green (now used as a Nurse's home), a Mr. Watterson being the Master, a one armed man. This is the school referred to in 'Captain Tom and Captain Hugh' in Tom Brown's Fo'c'sle Yarns.
The purchase of this schooner was the beginning of the Karran family's owning and sailing several fine ships, which were registered in Castletown namely, the 'Rio Grande', 'The Hope', 'Manx Queen', 'Manx King', 'Lady Elizabeth', 'Mac Dermaid' and 'Imberhorn'. Their House Flag was a red Three Legs of Man on a white panel, with a blue surround. Of course, these ships were never seen in Castletown, but numbers of young men from Castletown went to sail in them, and some eventually became Masters themselves. Models of some of these ships are in Castle Rushen and photographs of others in the Manx Museum.
The family of the late George Christian Karran were all born at sea, although none of the sons have followed in their father's footsteps. Their mother had rounded Cape Horn in one of these ships before she was 18 years of age.
Mostly all the Masters of the vessels ere known by their own names, with the name of the vessel for identification. There, was a Master in Port St. Mary of a smack called the 'Spy'. Edward Gale was his correct name, and he was a very decent man and highly respected, but he was known as 'Ned the Spy', so you can see how ridiculous this could be sometimes. Nicknames were very prevalent, and the most of those so called would not be identified by their right names. There were 'Famous', 'Drigs', 'Toby', 'Harkney', 'Bobbins', 'Snucky', 'Gallows', 'Henya' etc. Others were called by their own Christian names, with the name of their father (and sometimes grandfather) attached. 'Juan Dan', 'Harry Juan Bob', 'Thomas Billum-Bill', 'Joe Andy', 'Billa Hall' and others.
I can remember six thatched houses in Malew Street, five in Mill Street, three in Queen Street, and two on the Promenade. These have either been demolished, or the thatch replaced by slates.
There was an old man by the name of Thomas Vondy ('Tommy Vondy) who died in 1877. I have seen this old man along the Quay many a time. According to a headstone erected by his friends, he was a Porter and Public Messenger. I have been given to understand that he would travel over the whole island posting and delivering official notices. It is said that when he reached the boundaries of the town, he took off his shoes and stockings and walked barefoot, and if he saw any person coming on the road, he would shout 'It is I, Thomas Vondy, be not afraid'. As he was not making any noise when walking, he thought he might possibly frighten some person. He had two daughters who strongly resented the poetry on the headstone which commenced: 'Has there not been a tear for Vondy shed?' The stone fell down or was blown down, on more than one occasion, and was eventually covered with soil and disinterred at the death of his daughters, and is there today on the right hand side of the pathway to the Church from Castletown, and close to the Church. Strange to say, there have not been any strong winds since to blow it down.
St. Mary's Church had an octagonal bell tower on top of the existing tower, which gave the Church a fine appearance from the Market Square. This tower was removed about 40 years ago for reasons of safety. in front of the Governor' seat in the gallery is the Royal Coat of Arms of the time of George III, which has the Fleur-de-lys inserted. According to a tablet on the west wall, a Governor, John Wood, who took the Royalties of the isle of Man and the isle for his Majesty George III, was buried in the neighbourhood of that tablet in 1776 and a stone stating that Governor Cornelius Smelt (who died on the 28th November, 1832) had been buried in front of the Communion Rail, is at present covered by a mat.
The seating for the troops was at the rear of the Governor's seat at the west wall.
I have heard it said that it was proposed at the time to have a doorway into the Church from Queen Street, as an entrance for the poor, which work was never carried out.
The streets of Castletown, up to 1884, were under the control of the Highway Board. Hope Street, Mill Street, Quay ,are and a portion of Malew Street were laid with paving stones from the shore and the footpaths, where in existence, were treated likewise. Some of the inhabitants in the inner social class were very annoyed by the removal of the paved footpaths by the Town Commissioners in front of their property and the substitution of concrete footpaths in place thereof, and would step over the new footpath for a long time, when getting in and out of their carriages.
The streets were repaired by coating them. with gravel from the shore, and sometimes band-broken limestone, bound with mud and consolidated by the horses and carts being compelled to pass over the repaired portion, and large lumps of shipwreck or old railway sleepers would be placed on the road for that purpose, and removed each night, being put out again in the morning
The streets would periodically be scraped by two men putting a scraper about 3ft 6ins wide across the road, where it remained until dry enough for removal, and pity help any person who stepped into it in the dark.
The public did some sweeping in front of their own houses before the advent of the Commissioners, and the females with their long sweeping skirts would do some more. Of course there were no road rollers, tarred macadam or tar spraying in those days.
I can well remember when the horse-round-abouts wagonettes were coming to Castletown. To prevent the dust blowing into the shops in Arbory Street and the Market Square the water cart had to be used, as the mud, binding with dry weather, would be a source of great annoyance as it blew into the shops .
I have seen Castletown Market Place, and the yards and lanes of both the Union and George hotels, absolutely full of these horse-round-abouts during an afternoon, and there would also be a good few in the mornings, making Castletown their dinner centre.
What a change there is today with the motor charabanc! They barely slow down sufficiently for their passengers to glimpse the historic Castle.