[C.E. Watterson - Old Castletown - part 3]
There is a house on the Market Square known as Balcony House, at present in the occupation of Miss Corrin. Capt. Quilliam, of 'Victory' fame, resided there until he removed to Ballakaighen, where he died, his remains being buried in Arbory Parish Churchyard. A short religious service and laying of wreaths on his grave on Trafalgar Day in each year is still continued.
The Processions of the various Friendly Societies were great days for us children. Sometimes, if we had done an errand for an adult, we would be promised a penny for the Club Day, and you can rest assured we took good care that the promise was redeemed. The majority of the members of these Clubs wore silk hats and dress coats, known in those days as long-sleeved hats and claw-hammered coats. Each member wore a sash and a rosette, and carried a stick surmounted with a shepherd's crook, a javelin, or other design. They were regular swells for the day.
The Artificers held their Procession on Holy Thursday, assembling one year at the Flat Gate in Queen Street, and the next year opposite Beach House,where the late Cal. Carey (the owner of the Calf of Man) resided. This Club would be headed by a Brass Bank, and would march through the town, thence to a Service in St. Mary's after that to a dinner in the George Hotel. This Friendly Society has ceased to exist.
The Hope and Anchor Lodge of Oddfellows, and the Mona Daniel Tent of the Rechabites would have their respective processions on dates selected by themselves. Each of the Tents would have two Brass Bands. Each Tent, on the date selected, would assemble at the Town Hall, Arbory Street (now known as the Oddfellows' Hall), and march through the town, sometimes going to King William's College and other times to Lorne House, where General Dixon resided; then to a Service in St. Mary's and afterwards to a Dinner in the Town Hall. Both these Clubs are in existence at the moment, but I am afraid their days are numbered, as young men wishing to join will think twice about paying their contributions in addition to the compulsory payments under the Social Services Act.
Castletown Regatta was another grand day for us children. Sailing and rowing boats came from Ramsey and Douglas to compete. A smack or schooner dressed with bunting, would be anchored outside the Pier Head as a Commodore ship,with plenty of liquid and other refreshment about. I can well remember the firing of a cannon to commence the proceedings, and to give the yachtsmen the time so as to correct their watches. The powder was poured in out of a bag, and a sod well pounded in after it. After a great deal of preparation, it was eventually fired by the Town Bellman Davie McGill. The sport in the harbour that most held my interest was the greasy pole projected over the quayside, with a young pig in a basket. The basket had to be opened,and the pig released and captured in the water. This sport was stopped, as it was considered cruel. The following year, a pair of ducks were placed in the basket instead of the pig and these likewise had to be released and captured in the water. The promoters of the event forgot to clip the wings of the ducks, and I don't think they were ever captured! This sport was likewise considered as cruelty and had to stop.
The Athletic Sports were held on the Racecourse, now part of the Golf Links. For one of the vents a pole was erected, and coated with soft soap. Attached to the top was a ham to be climbed for as a prize. This was great fun for the spectators but not for the unsuccessful competitors.
Flaxney Stowell, a builder and great temperance advocate, started a Band of Hope, which met in the Wesleyan School-room monthly. This organisation would also have its annual picnic, the members generally being brought by boat to Langness and back. On one occasion a strong wind sprang up, preventing the return journey by boat, and the company had eventually to walk back. After that, they joined the Sunday Schools for their picnic, and it indeed looked odd to see 'John Taggart, Wine and Spirit Merchant', on front of the cart, and above it a banner 'Wine is a Mocker, strong drink is raging'. Mr. Stowell, by his will, left a sum of money to carry on the work he had commenced.
Both Flaxney Stowell, and his brother Quayley Stowell (a painter) were interested in temperance work, and went annually to Peel on a specific date to hold a Temperance Meeting, which was advertised in Peel 'The Stowells are coming'. A tale is told that when Flaxney was carrying out some alterations to Arbory Church, the Vicar complained about the amount of sap in the timber being used, and the answer he received was: 'My brother Quayley will make it all the one colour.' Flaxney Stowell lived to 96 years, and I hear him say, not many years before he died, that he would not like to live to be an old man.
He was a very far-seeing man, could see a future for Port Erin, and was one of the first to build boarding-houses there as a speculation.
There was no Board of Guardians of the Poor, and the poor people of the town were cared for by a committee composed of the leisured wealthy residents and others. There were many beggars at that time travelling the Island, which of course ceased when the Board of Guardians of the Poor were appointed.
There was also a Dorcas Society, which functioned until recently, and performed very good work. Whatever sum of money that they had in hand has, I understand, been handed to the Board of Guardians of the Poor.
These Societies had an Annual Tea and Concert, the ladies providing the tea gratis, and competing with each other as to who would have the best display. After the tea was over, the tables were removed and a Concert by local artistes would follow.
There were thirteen cow-keepers in Castletown - no farmers' milkcarts in those days. The milk was 2'd a quart in the summer period, and 3d a quart in the winter. Some of the cow-keepers had their cow-sheds at the rear of their houses, with no back entrances, and you could see the cows walking in a procession down the street. Suddenly the leader would turn right or left, as the case may be, and go through the front door of a house, and along the passage (which would be of stone flags), and then to the shed at the rear.
The cow-keepers would be renting fields in the immediate neighbourhood of the town for grazing during the summer, and all the food for the cattle during the winter had to be brought through the house either in baskets or wheelbarrows.
The Castletown Water Company was in existence even before I can remember, but few of the working-class people obtained their supply from the mains for a long time afterwards. They were supplied with washing water from the river when their reserve of rain-water was exhausted, and their drinking water from wells. The residents along the Quay obtained their drinking water from a well at the Little Bank, and their washing water from the river. During the excavations for a warehouse on the Bank the spring supplying the well was cut, with the result that a supply had to be obtained from the mains, for which I personally was not sorry, as it saved me getting the water in buckets, and gave me more time for play.
As the time went on, supply pipes were placed on the walls in some of the streets, and the wells closed, the householders paying a small fee for the right to get their supply from the taps. Today, every household has its own supply from the mains.
I can well remember a well at the west end of Queen Street, almost at the gable of the End House in a grass plot which is still in existence. Some of the inhabitants had pig-styes near the shore on this spot.
There were a number of rather remarkable characters in the town in the old days, largely attributable to drink and lack of education.
John Smith, the Town Bellman prior to Davie McGill had an exceptional thirst, and a temperance advocate persuaded him to sign the total abstinence pledge, which document Smith was showing to all and sundry. Some of the wags decided they would have some fun out of this and got Smith to give a call in front of the public-houses and grocers' shops, and a last call - in front of the Temperance advocates - as follows: 'To all whom it may concern. Take notice that I, John Smith, Bellman for the Town of Castletown, have this day signed the Total Abstinence Pledge. Any person serving me with intoxicating liquor does so at their own risk and peril'. The first call made was in front of a grocer's shop in Arbory Street, the proprietor coming to the door to hear what the Bellman had to say. When he had finished, the grocer remarked: 'Very nice, John, very nice and well done. Come in and have a drop on the strength of it.' This was repeated at all the calls, until when he arrived before the Temperance advocate's house he had to lean against the wall before he could ring the bell. His wife was the only person in Castletown to my knowledge, who wore hoops in her frock, and continued to do so as long as she was able to get about.
Memoirs written circa 1930