[From Douglas by N Mathieson in draft.1961]


The Historic Background

There can be little doubt that a village of some sort existed from long before recorded times on the spot where Douglas stands but no trace of such a place now remain.

Indications of a prehistoric settlement were found in [] on the small hillock ( now in the grounds of the Villa Marina) at the junction of Broadway and Derby Road, while the ruins of an ancient chapel, probably of the third or fourth century, lie buried beneath the Garden Suburb near St. Ninian's Church.

But prior to the Manorial Roll of 1511 there is almost nothing - scarcely a line of manuscript, a deed or a Charter. one gleam only illuminated the mediaeval murk. Benedictine monks of Rushen Abbey penning in their cloister the 'Chronicle of Man' - that most precious of Manx relics, now safely housed in the British Museum - tell us that in May 1313 the Lord Robert, King of Scotland, put in at Ramsey with a number of ships, and on the following Sunday rode south to the Nunnery at Douglas ('ad Moniales de Dufglas') where he spent the night, going on next day to attacks and in due course capture, the castle of Rushen 1.

The Bruce passed - what a flutter he must have caused amongst the gentle nuns - but the record of his visit gives us one thing at least, the earliest known spelling of the town's name. 'Dufglas' is the manner in which the scribe set it down amongst his monkish Latin. Where did it come from ? In the Manx language it was 'Doolish', thought by most Celtic scholars to be the equivalent of the Gaelic 'Dulahghlass' or 'black stream'. Others question this derivation, but without suggesting a more plausible one, and until this is forthcoming we may accept it as more than a coincidence that the two streams which mingling their distinctive waters near the Quarterbridge (just outside the town boundary) and flowing into its harbour as the Douglas river, should be the Dhoo from the brown and peaty valley to the west and the clear, sparkling Glass from the mountain slopes to the north.

Did the Viking raiders, who first visited the Island in the eighth century, land here ? There are no records of them-having done so, but a horde of Saxon coins and silver ornaments (probably buried between A.D 960 and A.D. 980)2 which were dug up near the top of Derby Road in 1894 would seem to indicate some of them possibly did so. But these were not necessarily the result of some long forgotten piratical raid but rather the trading capital of some relatively peaceful Scandinavian trader who buried it hurriedly owing to some emergency during a casual landing when on one of the extensive voyages undertaken by such merchants during that period.

The curving sandy bay would offer an attractive spot at which to beach their long-ships, though a dangerous one in an easterly wind 3. But should such a wind arise there was good harbourage in the mouth of the river, snugly sheltered beneath the towering bulk of the Howe.

Within the sweep of this splendid bay a settlement grew up on the triangular piece of level, sandy ground where the river entered the sea. This was part of the estate of Ballaquayle which, together with the adjoining one of Ballakermeen, in 1511 formed the Treen of Douglas. The borders of this treen, one of the eight included in the Parish of Kirk Onchan) were the River Glass - a line parallel to (but slightly north of) Bray Hill as far as Ballanard Road - along Ballanard Road to St. Ninians - and from that point left to where the T.T. Grandstand now is, and thence down to the shore just north of Castle Mona. Almost the whole of the modern town lies within the ancient boundaries of these two estates of Ballaquayle and Ballakermeen, though in the eighteenth century that of the Hills was carved out of the latter.

Small at first, and unable to boast of a name other than that of the treen in which it stood, the village, with its harbour, gradually developed; and though Castletown and Peel with their castles, were the only place the Island of any importance, Douglas began to be heard of as the port and main trading centre of the little kingdom.: Three main routes converged in upon it, That from Castletown came in along the south bank of the river, passed the Nunnery and, crossing the Bridge and traversing the North Quay at length reached the Market Place, which was the focal point of the town. The one from Peel and the west followed the line of the present Peel Road until it likewise reached the Market Place. Travellers from Ramsey and the north either came down the west coast to Ballacraine, where they joined the Peel route or else by way of Laxey to Onchan and thence by various roads at different periods, but in the main down Burnt Mill Hill (now Summer Hill) along the line of the beach and in to the town by way of Strand Street :and Duke Street

Trade figures for the second half of the sixteenth century show that through Douglas there passed some sixty per-cent of the total imports and exports of the Island. In small boats of twenty to twenty five feet in length were shipped live-stock, tallow, wool, hides and fells, together with herrings and grain, butter, cheese and honey. Small though these vessels were, the waves of the Baltic, the Mediterranean and other distant seas were not unknown to them. Their return cargoes were mainly of salt, pitch (for the building of boats) coal, iron, hops and wine. The spices, 'indigo, mastic, raisins of the sun and. other rich goods' as Waldron describes them often came in larger vessels from English or Continental ports. Thirty nine such came to Douglas in 1582, to delight the hearts of the local merchants.

What was the place like in those days ? No one has left a description of it, though it is known from the Manorial Roll that in 1511 it contains only about fifty houses, while Blundell, writing in 1648, makes the statement that 'if the skin of a cat were cut into strips it would three times encircle the town,' Allowing for a picturesque exaggeration this was not so far from the truth ,for the whole place was bounded from east to west by Parade Street and the Market Place, and from north to south by the Quay and (approximately) what is now Lord street.

Blundell - a Lancashire gentleman seeeking peace from the turmoil ofthe Civil War in England - found the town to consist of "Houses all of one fashion, built low and not contiguous - much less contiguous - -observing no order either of uniformity or proportion. built of small stones and lime, those in Douglas were covered with tiles. (He probably meant the thick Manx slates) They had, however, no inside stairs, so that access: to the upper floor could only be obtained by the use of stone steps on the outside. This statement agrees with that of Robertson (another visitor from England, who says that a hundred years before he wrote (i. e. circa 1693) the place was little more than a group of clay-built cottages.

But the place grew. Train asserts that as early as the year, 1670 a Company of Adventurers from Liverpool(as he calls them) settled at Douglas for the avowed purpose of carrying on a contraband trade, and by 1726 it is said to have had a population of eight hundred and ten. And it continued to grow, for it was a place in which there was money to be made. And as the years passed into the eighteenth century there came still more traders eager to take advantage or the peculiar circumstances which had gained for the island a reputation as a place from which to smuggle into Britain goods which had been legally imported into the Island at the very low duties which prevailed there 4.

These merchants who, as has been said, had begun to settle in Douglas in the seventeenth century, were not welcomed by the local traders, and before they could do any business they had to become Manx subjects - paying a naturalization fee and swearing allegiance to the Lord of Man 5. But even when they had done this, life cannot have been very pleasant for them. They were still strangers in a none too friendly land, and times were rough. Some of them were Jews - and the Jew, with his mercantile ability, was in those days nowhere a favourite amongst his Aryan neighbour So it is not surprising to read in the: records the sad story of Jacob Oserio David,who states that 'On the 12th July 1761 as your petitioner was walking in company with an eminent merchant from Amsterdam he was assaulted by a man who, with dreadful curses and imprecations, swore he would kill your petitioner and all the Jews ...... so that he is new afraid to venture but of his house, being very apprehensive that constant attempts will be made to take away his life.' 6

In 1765 the Island was re-vested in the English Crown, and the Athol Lordship ceased. When this took place Douglas - of which the population was about 1,800 became the only port through which dutiable goods might be imported, and this naturally increased its trade 7

And about this period there came vistors whose written accounts of what they saw increase our knowledge of what this piece was like; while later still the artist with his brush or pencil came to leave pictures which bring it vividly to the eye. The main impression of an English visitor named Richard Townley, who spent several weeks there In the summer of 1789, were of the bustle and activity which prevailed in the town at the time of the herring fishery, and of the filthy condition of the streets. He found the harbour 'chock full' of fishing boats, smacks and wherries; and when to the crews of these there were added the large number of women and girls employed in the herring-houses he estimated that soma five thousand people might fairly be added to the normal population.

For them. he says, the butchers slaughtered [ ] of and mutton every day; huckster's stalls abounded, and the hawkers and peddlers who swarmed in every place did their best to entice the men and their wives to get rid of their hard-earned money.

He found the streets to be incredibly filthy, and the hogs which were allowed to team freely through the heaps of garbage of the most disgusting kind With which they were littered did nothing to improve matters. Another thing which attracted his attention was the number of dogs. 'There never was a place' he observed more infested and plagued with little, yelping, mischievous, useless dogs. A horse cannot go down the street but there are four or five at his heals, and were the Manx horses not remarkably sober and steady many accidents would certainly happen.' The local people, however, did not object to them because they drove the hogs - a much greater nuisance - off the streets.

It is but fair, however, to say that Feltham, who visited the place eight years later (i.e. in 1797) found it to be 'a neat, pleasant town' which contained about nine hundred houses. but even he found the streets 'narrow and close', though he was too polite to mention their condition. This complaint about the streets was one which persisted until well into the nineteenth century, and though all visitors speak of its pleasant surroundings the town itself cannot - even when judged by the standards of the time - have been an attractive one.

Prior to about 1800 records such as these are all we have, for except for Fannin's rather inadequate plan of 1789, the earliest one of the town is dated 1834, and of actual buildings almost none remain. This is because in 1874,and again between 1932 and 1935 great clearance schemes were undertaken which swept away large parts or the old town, and modern roads were carved through what had seen a maze of narrow, crooked and incomprehensible lanes and a huddle of buildings of all shapes and sizes. It is indeed fortunate that Mr. J.J. Prowde (1868-1946), a local chemist who was both a keen antiquarian and a good photographer, has left us a series of views which depict the place as it was Just before the last lot of these demolitions took place, and so help us to trace where the old streets ran; to identify at least the sites of some of the places of which we read and to point out the few relics which remain.

The first large influx of strangers was towards the end of the eighteenth century, when a number of officers finding themselves out of employment after the Peace of Versailles (1783),and learning of the cheapness of living in the Island, made their way there, For was it not said that in that happy land a person could live setter on 60 or 70 a year than in England on 150. This was good news, and they flocked across to make it the paradise as a local news-paper said, of

'The puny Ensign who puffed with punch and beer,
Struts and starves on forty pounds a year

but who, as soon as he lands in Douglas became enobled, and lived on the best of every thing. Ten years later their number was swollen by many English gentlemen of small fortune who had resided in France until forced to leave by the Revolution and the war with their native land. As a consequence of this the wardens of St. Matthews, who took a census in 1817, found that the town had 800 dwelling houses and 5,800 inhabitants 8.

These people gave the town life and gaiety, and helped to widen the outlook of the untravelled natives. but many of them were not of a type which improved the tone of society. They were haughty and supercilious; despised the people among whom they had come to reside, and did not hesitate to show it. Nor were matters improved when their numbers were increased by numerous debtors who, absconding from the grip of the Law in England fled to Douglas, where debts contracted in England could not be sued for under Manx law.

It is not surprising that, as a class, these new residents soon got themselves heartily disliked. The natives did not wish to be smartened up. Why should they ?. They had a history and a culture of their own; a parliament and a code of laws which antedated those of their visitors; and an upper class who, though their estates might me small, could at least count (in many cases) of having; received a good Classical education. But intermarriage, the use of a common language and more facilities for travel have dulled this antagonism, and nowadays only a faint whisper of it shows, on occasion, that of once existed

Early 19th Century developments.

But at the beginning of the nineteenth century there occurred something which opened a new era for Douglas, and changed the whole pattern of its existence. With the Industrial Revolution in England the merchants and the men of the new 'trading classes' became conscious of the need for holidays, and the coming of the steamboat gave them and their families the chance to spend these holidays in the Isle of Man. Douglas rose to its opportunity and began its career as a holiday resort.

The IVth Duke of Athol, who was the Governor at that period 9, went to great lengths in his enthusiasm for the new industry, seeing clearly - perhaps the first man in the Island to do so- the benefits which it would provide. In Douglas he built and furnished for the use of visitors a row of cottages at the northern end of the Bay, and an hotel 10 which was opened in 1824. The cottages were advertised in the English press, and before long the Duke's agent was reporting to him that 'the influx of strangers is quite extraordinary. It is calculated that their expenditure in the Island is about 100 per day.' A special bathing-machine was imported from England - where the Prince of Wales had set the seal of fashion on the new pastime - together with a woman attendant guaranteed as being used to bathing ladies' while the new hotel actually had two machines - one for ladies and one for gentlemen.

By 1821 the population had increased to 6,054 and the town had outgrown its village character. The old type of house which Blundell had noted had given place to erections of brick or stone, and it could boast of quite a busy social life. In addition to the churches of St Matthew and St. George there was the Roman Catholic one dedicated to St. Bridge, a large Methodist chapel ire Factory Lane (now Wellington Street) and an Independent (Congregational) one in Athol Street. The Catholic church was a long, low grey stone building with six windows - now a dwelling house - on, the opposite side of the Castletown road, a few hundred yards south of the entrance to the Nunnery grounds. Opened in 1814 its congregation moved circa 1830 to a building on the lower corner of Athol Street and Prospect Hill, where it remained until 1859,when the present church of St. Mary of the Isle was opened in Bucks Road.

To supply education not only was there the Grammar School in New Bond Street but also several schools for both keys and girls - or Young Ladies and Young Gentlemen, as their proprietors were always careful to designate them [ ] of the poorer classes some hundred and fifty of each sex received a free education at the Lancasterian School, first located in Mucklesgate 11 and later in Athol Street, where, in the building which once housed it, is the works of the Central Knitting Co. Here, where the machine-driven needles of a modern industry chatter and hum were once heard the strident voices of small children, for this was the Douglas Daily and Sunday School, or, as it was called at various times, the Lancasterian, National, or St. Geerge's School.

As early as 1809 a number of benevolent people had formed themselves after into a Society, whose object was the education of poor children after the method advocated by Mr. Joseph Lancaster 12,a well known educational reformer of the times. The room in Mucklesgate in which they commenced operations soon proved to be toe small, and they decided to obtain a building of their own. While plans for this were being arranged they engaged a room in Athol Street, to which is January 1811 they transferred the boys from the Mucklesgate room, in which they started classes for girls. Within a few weeks they were promised a plot of land 'on the new street begun on the estate of the Hills called Athol Street' and by a deed dated 23rd. May 1811 they became possessed of it. The donor was John Moore Esq.,of the Hills, and all he asked in return was two things. The first was permission for him and his heirs 'from this time for ever' to be allowed to send twelve children to the school for instruction without any charge. The second was 'the contents of such dung-hills or midden-steads as shall be made upon the premises to be erected.' This request was not so strange as it may sound, for the school was to have a stable built beneath it, and Mr.Moore had many fields which had to be manured.

So far so good. The site was obtained, but how about paying for the building which, it was estimated, would cost about 500? By a happy chance the Methodist Friendly Society had over 600 - accumulated for the payment of benefits - which they wished to invest. It was arranged that they should erect the building and then rent it to the School Trustees. Then, if we are to relieve a local writer of the time the officers of the Friendly Society proved to be unworthy of the trust placed in them . Extra work costing 150 was undertaken, though the agreed rent was not raised; work done by themselves was charged for at dishonestly high rates; the accounts were manipulated in various ways, and finally the uncompleted building was mortgaged for 866. So when an angry body of members made an investigation they found a mortgage on their property, and nothing but a pair of old snuffers in. the chest where their money was supposed to be. It was a Friendly Society in name but it is doubtful if the members felt that was 13. All this, however, did not affect the school, the foundation stone of which had been laid in January 1811,in the presence of two hundred of the scholars and a large number of ladies and gentlemen. In 1863 it was sold by the Trustees to the Vicar and Wardens of St. George's, and became generally known as the National, or St. George's Day and Sunday Schools. In 1894 its use as a Day School ceased, and in April 1932 the Wardens transferred the building to Mr. A.M.Karran, who established the Central Knitting Co. Ltd., in it.

Douglas, in fact - perhaps because, of its exclusion from the main stream of English life; appears to have been unusually fortunate in the opportunities for a good education which were available to its children. Among the various well educated women who set up schools there at various times the best known were the Misses Dutton who, coming from :England, started a girls School in Athol Street in and then after a brief spell. at Villa Marina between 1834 and 1838 returned to Athol Street, where they remained until [].

Men with degrees from English Universities were numerous, the best known , perhaps being Mr. J. N. Garvin, Mr. May and Mr. Steele at the Crescent. With the advent of State education the old private schools dropped out of place, but the modern town is well equipped with s s, the two recently built being the High School for, boys at the top of Ballaquayle Road, which was opened in May 1927,and the big; combined one at Ballakermeen. This was designed to accommodate 460 boys and a like number of girls, and was nearly completed when war broke out in 1939. Its proper occupants not yet having arrived however it was at once taken over for boy entrants to the Royal Navy From H.M.S."St.George". These lads entered into occupation in February; 1940,and during the next six years 8,677 continuous service seamen boys received their instruction in it. When the war ended and H.M.S."St.George" closed down on .31st.December 1945, the school was put in order for its original use and opened on the 25th October 1946.

Of hotels the oldest in the town was one known as "Clague's", of which the site -though somewhat uncertain - was probably in Moore's Court 14, But this inn closed in 1813. During the years 1800/1810 the principal ones were - in addition to Clague's - the Liverpool Coffee House15, the British, in the Market Place, and the Globe and White Lion on the Parade. The White Lion - described as 'already well-established' in 1776 - became the White Lion and York in 1818,and after 1834 is referred to simply as the York. In addition to these there were numerous smaller ones so that including ale-houses there were no less than a hundred and eighteen licences issued in 1808.

And when the visitors started to arrive a few years later the number of places ready to welcome them increased by leaps and bounds. There were also some half-dozen so-called coffee houses. Three of these dated from between 1786 and 1793, but few, if any, of them restricted the refreshments they sold to that harmless beverage coffee.

In the sporting field the town supported a hunt, though (there being no foxes in the Island) the quarry they pursued was the lively hare. The Kennels, known to local people as the 'Dog House', were on the Castletown road opposite to the Nunnery.

Race Meetings were held, though they were mostly in the nature of contests between the horses of individual owners. Held on the Sands, they entertainment provided a few hours entertainment at which the ladies could attend and display their new frocks, and they were likewise much enjoyed by the visitors, particularly when, as in 1837 16 there had been a somewhat unusual one . At this, in addition to there being six horses in the race there had been a trotting match, a hurdle race and a donkey race. The last of these, we are told, afforded particular amusement to the lower classes, many of them running behind their long-eared entries and encouraging them in various unorthodox ways in addition to the use of the normal broom-sticks and whips. These races, however, were the last ones held an the Sands, for in the same year a course was constructed in Onchan on land which is now a field beside the road at Signpost Corner.

A Cricket Club was already in existence in 1832,and probably earlier, while a fowling Club is mentioned as early as 1810. but the eldest local sport of which we find records is that of Archery, and the Douglas men shot matches with those of Castletown and Peel from at least as early as 1793 until as late as 1824.

In 1830 the first Regatta was held in the Bay, inaugurating a sporting fixture in which both local and visiting yachtsmen have found enjoyment over since.

Three newspapers, published weekly, disseminated the news, though only a small proportion of their space was devoted to local and Insular items, while much of it was filled up with the quarrels of their editors one with another. There were Theatrical shows and Concerts, at both of which local amateurs and visiting professionals were frequently to be found.

The earliest mention of a theatre in Douglas (or, at least, the earliest which the writer has come across) is in 1759,when the Commander of one of the King's Cutters wrote to the Governor complaining of an attack made upon his Pilot as he was 'coming from the playhouse.' 17

This of course contradicts the statement in Col. Townley's Journal that 'the first theatre in Douglas was started in 1788 by Capt.M. Barton Tenison,a member of an Irish family who had settled in the Island. ' Where the Pilot had been (was it in fact a theatre or, perhaps a gaming-house) is unknown, as is also the site of Capt.Tenison's theatre, though this may well have been the 'Bank's Dancing Room or Playhouse ' which was sometimes called 'Downward's Long Room'. This is said to have stood at the junction of Queen Street and the North Quay - generally known as 'Lawrence's Corner' - and to have been used as a theatre at odd times until as late as June 1824. It has been claimed by others, however, that it was where the Railway Station now is ) Three statements which add weight to this conjecture are those of an actor named M Ryley, who relates in his Memoirs how in 1795 he staged a play in Douglas at a pretty little theatre belonging to a charming widow named Mrs.Tenisen Secondly there is that of the Duke of Rutland - in his account of a visit to the Island in 1797 - that while in Douglas he went to the theatre 'which was formed from an Assembly Room at the expense of Capt.Tenison.' It may be added that he found the actors, who came from Whitehaven for the Summer, to be a most drunken, miseralble and incompetent lot. The third statement is that of George Wood who, writing in 1811, calls it 'Downward's Assembly Room, late Theatre.' And if his Grace of Rutland thought but little of Douglas performances Ryley thought even less.The theatre was pretty and the little widow charming. but he found that the only professional musician from whom he might expect assistance had gone to Ireland, so in desperation he had to persuade a local ;medical man, who played the violin, to deputise for him.

Between 1807 and 1819 there are various advertisements in the local press for performances at 'The Theatre', 'The Theatre Royal (Assembly Room) and 'The Theatre, Fort Street'. Whether these were all one and the same place cannot now be determined,but it is probable that they were, and there is good reason to believe that during these years some part of the Assembly Room in Fort Street was used as a theatre. .

In 1819 we read of plays being presented by a Mr. Munro in the Waterloo Theatre, Wellington Buildings18. A year later the name Waterloo was changed to Royal, and here, in the May of that year, the Douglas Amateurs presented the tragedy of 'Douglas.' It does nor appear to have lasted for very long however, for in June 1821 the name 'Theatre Royal' is found applied to one on the Pier while in February 1823 the Amateurs were performing in Dixon's Assembly Room at the British Hotel. Mr.Wm. Cubbon was of the opinion that the place on the Pier was the building which later became the Club Room of the Mona United Services Club, and was on a site now covered by the cargo sheds of the I. O. M. S. P. Co. The Amateurs did not take long to find a new home for in Sept. 1823 they fitted up as a theatre a large Billiard Room in a building owned by the Methodist Friendly Society at the corner of Athol Street and Prospect Hill, now known as St. George's Chambers) and this they called the New Theatre. More they and visiting professionals played regularly until 9.1830 when it had to be closed down on the building being taken over by the Roman Catholic congregation from St. Bridgets'

The next attempt to brighten up the life of the town was in May 1836, when a Mr.Banks,of Whitehaven,came across with a talented Company which included his wife and children and,having converted a large room at Mr. Dixon's livery Yard. on the Parade into a neat theatre, made a bid for popular support, though it was unfortunate that with the new illuminent, gas, having just become available in the town he neglected to make use or it on his stage, At the end of the summer, however, he and his Company departed, for with the visitors gone, the local people alone did not furnish sufficient support although prices - Boxes 3/-,Pit ;2/- and Galley 1/-; were net exorbitant. . Nor were the plays presented lacking in punch. Who, one would think, could resist such thrillers as 'The Foundling of the Forest' or- 'The Idiot Witness, a Tale of Blood' which occupied the boards err the 17th Aug. 1836 , They did, however. But despite this between 1849 and 1853 another theatre, called the Prince of Wales, is found in being. This also was in Athol Street - in the Odd-fellows' Hall now the Court House) and, though there is confusion about this, the name appears to have been used also for both the one in the Wellington Building and another one.

If the number of teachers of it is anything to go by it would appear that among many people at least the principal amusement (or the need for its cultivation as a social grace) was dancing, and Balls were numerous at both the Assembly Room in Fort Street and the one attached to the British Hotel. The earlier teachers, at least, were mostly Frenchmen - the aftermath, perhaps, of the Revolution - who stayed in Douglas for a few months and then crossing to England or Scotland in order to learn the latest fashionable craze, returned to Douglas for another spell of teaching.

In 1855 John Massey (or Mosely) started a theatre in the Wellington Market, but after occupying it for three seasons he purchased the sail-cloth factory of the Moore family ,which was higher up Wellington Street and on the other side. In this building (or an its site) he built the Theatre Royal, which he opened on the 26th June 1868 with Goldsmith's play 'She stoops to Conquer'. Built to hold an audience of a thousand, this was a real theatre, with Boxes, Pit and Gallery, to all of which there were separate entrances, and until the Grand was opened in Victoria Street in 1882 it held pride of place as the principal theatre in the town. But after that its decline was rapid, and in about 1890 it was closed. After that it served various purposes, and now ,in its most recent incarnation it is an Amusement Centre known as the Manx Cat.

As the Grand became a Cinema in 1935 the only live theatre now remaining in the town is that splendid old Victorian veteran the Gaiety. The genesis of this appears to have been a Dance hall named the Pavilion which had been built by a syndicate of local gentlemen. Opened in the early 1890s it was c.1897 turned into a Variety Theatre and renamed the marina. In 1898 it joined with the newly amalgamated Palace, Derby Castle and Falcon Cliff Cos to form the Palace and Derby Castle Co.Ltd. When this happened the Marina - the name changed to the Gaiety - was altered and rebuilt by a London architect who, while he retained the old roof made extensive alterations to the frontage and the interior Arrangements, and the Gaiety - to all effects a new theatre - started its life on the 16th. July 1900 as a unit of the Palace and Derby Castle Co.

Behind the Castle Mona Hotel was an Opera House called the Palace, which had a Dance Hall attached. This Dance Hall was partly destroyed by fire in 1902, and when it was rebuilt in 1912 the Opera House portion became a Cinema while the Ball Room - now tagged the Palace was renovated, and a Theatre named the Coliseum was erected in a new building slightly below and to the north of, but attached to it.This Coliseum was opened by the famous variety actress and male impoersonater Vera Tilley, on the 2lst July 1913.

On the 13th July 1920 fire again destroyed the Palace, but by a great effort a new and larger ballroom was erected within a year, and on the 18th July 1921 there was opened the magnificent room which is one of the largest of its type in the world, and certainly the most, popular of those in the Island,

Social Organisations

The town boasted three Clubs and six or seven friendly Societies. The Clubs were the Bucks 19, the Mona United Services and the Finish. The first of these - the Most Noble,Ancient and Honourable Order of Bucks, to give it its full title - was a social Society the members of which were drawn (in the main) from leading men in the merchantile and trading classes, and there were branches of it in London, Liverpool, Cambridge and elsewhere. The Douglas Lodge, founded in 1764 met - at least between 1804 and 1816 - in the Liverpool Cofffee House, but it ceased to exist in 1818. Decked in their elaborate self-bestowed regalia its members doubtless regarded with true Georgian hauteur their follow-townsmen in the Friendly Societies whose Anniversary meetings, usually held on Whit Monday, were gay affairs at which the members, wearing regalia and carrying staffs decorated with coloured ribbons, marched to church behind a band, and after the service dined together and spent the evening in jollity and good fellowship. When the Mona United Services Club was founded is not known, but it was certainly in existence in 1819 and until [ ]. Its members were half-pay Officers of the Army and Navy, of whom there were quite a number living in Douglas to the period. Their Club Room was to the west of the present I. O. M. S. P. Co 's offices , on what is now the King Edward Pier. Of the Finish Club, which met at the York Hotel, nothins is known beyond the facts that it was started in 1821 and ceased to exist five years later.

In 1804 the Freemasons in the town had celebrated the Feast of St. John the Evangelist by dining together at the Liverpool Coffee House, but the first Lodge was probably formed in 1825, when a Meeting to consider the establishment of one was called at the Butcher's Arms in James' St, In 1830 the formation of a Rechabite Society was proposed, and in 1833 a Lodge of the Independent Order of Oddfellors was established. Although no National Societies were formed in the town until a later date Scotsmen were dining together on St.Andrew's Day as early as 1793, and Irishmen honouring St.Patrick in a similar manner in 1804.

In addition to the above there were a number of religious and charitable Societies, and others of various sorts. Of these the two which excite the most curiosity were the Court of Apollo, founded in 1794; and the Platonic Society, which came into being in 1806. Both, apparently were but short lived however.


In 1807 a Circulating Library was formed (the moving spirit being the Rev. Mr. Haining), and a room in the house of a joiner in Drumgold Street was fitted up as a Library and Reading Room. Two years later a move was made to a house in Duke Street, and there was probably yet another move about 1824,at which time also the name seems to have been changed from the Douglas Library to that of the Isle of Man Library, under which title it is last heard of in 1829. In 1831, however, the Douglas Mechanics` Library was established in Athol Street for the use of Mechanics and members of the labouring classes. There were several subscription Libraries and Newsrooms run as commercial enterprises.


The town was not ill-supplied with doctors, but dentists, like the dancing-masters, were non-resident. There was no hospital of any sort, and (as one would-expect at that date-} no official provision of any description for the relief of the poor. It is true that in 1814 a Poor House (or House of Industry had been established as a private charity, in a large house in what is now Wellington Square, but was then known as the Big Garden. Here the male occupants were expected to contribute to their keep by the picking of oakum and the women by spinning etc. by 1817, however, funds for the support of this house ceased to come in and and it had to be sold.

By good fortune, however, there was available in Fort street a house which had been left to the Wardens of St. Matthew's by a Douglas shopkeeper named Francis Lasnon. This he had done by a will dated 1788, in which he bequeathed to them "my new-built house and yard in Douglas, the rent for the same to be distributed amongst the poor"20. The Wardens, very sensibly, now abandoned the rents but took over the house itself, and in it placed the aged and infirm paupers from the house in Wellington Square; And it served its purpose until the building of the House of Industry in Harris Terrace in 1837. The old building (or rather the shell of it, now used as a garage) is still to be found at the end of what was the northern end of Fort Street but is now a small cue-de-sac behind the poultry shop of Mr. Clucas in Duke Street, and next door to the furniture department of Messrs. R. C. Cain & Co.

In its present form it is not at all noticeable but its weather-beaten old walls and the 'bullnose' about seven feet up on the northern wall, designed to -break the waves driving against it when the house stood exposed upon the sea shore are still eloquent of its age.21

There was, moreover, a Dispensary for the Sick Poor (opened in 1819) and an Infirmary (erected in 1828) together with a Charity for the Relief of Poor Lying-in Women. This, founded in 1824, provided midwives and financial aid, while the Ladies' Soup Dispensary, which had been started in 1819 and is still doing a noble work, did much to alleviate the poverty which was so very prevalent and defied all the efforts made by the Churches and by private individuals to relieve it.

By 1831 the population of the town had increased to 6,776,and it was about this time that it came to be realised by many of the residents that living conditions in it were such as to call urgently for improvement.

The streets, surfaced with cobbles from the shore, and without footpaths, were uneven, and so narrow that in many of them a man by stretching out his arms could touch the buildings on both sides, while scarcely any were wide enough for two vehicles to pass in. And they were filthy. Ashpits and privies were emptied into them, while sewage ran down an open drain in the middle, and what the houses were like may be judged from the fact that even as recently as 1905 cows were kept in some of the dwellings in Big well Street, being taken through the front door, along the lobby, and bedded down in the back yard. That well-known Methodist preacher the Rev. Hugh Stowell Brown (1823-1866) - who was born within a stone's throw of it - states in his Memoirs that the undrained harbour, except when swept out by the tides, stank abominably, and had it not been for these tides and the fresh breezes from the sea the town, which was full of dirt and bad smells, would indeed have been a pestilent spot.

The small police force of old and inefficient men was practically useless. Except for a few feeble oil-lamps here and there street lighting was non-existant, and the only drinking water available was drawn from private wells or hawked round the streets in water-carts which obtained it from the river at a point just below the Nunnery Mills.

Many or these conditions were no worse than what had been recorded as normal in English towns, even in London itself, in the previous century. but while in the English towns there had been great improvements around the turn or the century this had not happened in Douglas - still feeling to some extent the stagnating influence of the feudal rule under which it had so long existed.

The local Press was not slow to draw attention to these matters, and in their their columns letters from visitors expressed amazement at what they found


In 1832 the epidemic of cholera which was raging in England reached the Island,and in the face of this menace the frightened citzens of Douglas, under the leadership of their High Bailiff, formed numerous Committees to take such steps as the medical knowledge of the day could suggest, and to assist the labours of the Board of Health which had been formed when the threat first arose at the end of 1831. A temporary hospital was erected outside the town, but sufferers who were sent there arrived convinced that they would never emerge alive. This is not surprising. for there was no real knowledge of the cause of the disease or of how it was spread. The board of Health passed a resolution that in the hope of dispelling the 'deadly vapours' cannon should be fired in the more infected parts of the town and tar barrells burnt. But though some of the drains were cleared and a certain amount of lime-washing done, drinking water was still drawn from the river a few yards below the spot where the clothing of people who had died from the disease was being washed, while people who, out of curiosity, attended the funerals of victims got so drunk that they were brought back from Church to town in the same corpses hearse (or cart) as had carried the bodies away from it. It is not surprising that in such conditions many perished. And this despite the efforts of many brave men and women who, led by the doctors and clergymen, did everything that could be done.

Between the date when the first case was noted in July and the middle of August 120 cases and sixty deaths were recorded.22- The part of the town most affected was Cattle Market Street (now Market street) just behind Strand Street, and Strand Street itself. Here in several cases whole families perished within a day or two of each other. The victims were interred in mass graves at Kirk Braddan and St. George's, where small headstones inscribed with the single word 'Cholera' show where they rest.

With the coming of the colder weather in September the fell disease died out. The carts which had carried coffins and mourners alike to Kirk Braddan ceased to rumble through the streets, and life in the town returned to normal.

But not quite to normal, for there had been born a desire far improved conditions, in January 1834 the inhabitants presented a petition to the Governor praying for the right to levy rates for the lighting, cleansing and protecting of their town.

Police Force

Two months earlier a meeting of citizens had already decided that the existing police force of three men should be increased to four men and two officers, and as a first step two ex-army Officers - Capt. Muter of the 7th Fusileers and Capt. Tenison - were at once appointed. What success these officers had with the training of their men is somewhat doubtful, for even thirty years later, by which time the numbers had been doubled (Thwaites History p 152) they are said by old residents of a much later date to have been described to them (in a manner possibly neither true nor kind as slow-moving elderly men - mostly inflated lumps of meat - whose belts sank deep into the rotundity of their equators. A Force was in being, however, and in 1834 it was reported to another Meeting that the scheme had been a great success, and it was decided to continue with it until one controlled by some sort of Authority should come into being. Voluntary subscriptions had raised 118;and after paying 91 in wages, and purchasing coats, hats and lantherns for the four men a small balance of 5 remained. But this soon became exhausted, and in March 1835, and again in January 1836 the High Bailiff found it necessary to call yet further meetings. Owing to the number of robberies which were taking place the formation of a Night Watch was felt to be very necessary, and in the in November 1836 a Volunteer Force of about a hundred tradesmen was formed to do duty from 6.00 p.m. to 6.00 a.m. daily. At the 1836 Meeting it had been decided to raise yet further funds, while explaining to the Legislature the impossibility of continuing a Police Force by voluntary subscriptions, and the need for power to levy the rates for which they had petitioned in 1834 It was not, however, until 1863 that continuous pressure on the Government had effect, and. the formation of the Manx Police Force, later to 'become the Isle of Man Constabulary amalgamated under Government control the Douglas Force with those of the remainder of the Island, and removed all civic responsibility for it.


Two further matters put in hand were the provision of water and gas. The cholera epidemic had shown clearly the need for a supply of pure water piped into the town on lines similar to those prevailing in England, and in 1833 a Company with a capital of 6,000 was formed to do this. After examining various schemes this company decided to tap the small stream which ran though Summer Hill glen, and work was started without delay on the building of a small dam and the laying of pipes. This dam, beside the road half way up Summer Hill, having served its purpose and been treated with the hand of an artist has now become the centre of a most charming little park.

Gas lighting had. first been seen in the town in 1822,when a plant was started by Mr.Thos. Gelling, whose ironmonger's shop in the Market Place was the first building to be lit by it. In 1836 a private Company was formed which erected a gas-works on the South quay. By November of that year St. George's Chapel was boasting of its new lighting, and eleven months later there were gas lamps in Duke Street and. King Street and in a few shops, and before 1836 was out they were on the quay - where previously a few guttering oil lamps had given all the help the pedestrian might look for to keep him from toppling over the unfenced edge into the dark water or the filthy mud of the harbour beneath. By 1838 the new Market Hall in Duke Street had been fitted with them but it was not until two years later that they appeared in the dark and crowded lanes and alleys, though a local newspaper of February 1838 had claimed that so congested were these that sixty to eighty lamps would be sufficient for the purpose, and it was with such reverence that they were regarded that it was on, moonless nights only that persons hurrying through the streets might expect to receive any aid from them.

The growth of a town is a continuous process, and the development of exact areas of any size cannot be said to start at any particular date, but by the middle of the eighteenth century St.Matthew's - the only anglican church in the town - was found to be too small for the growing population, and plans were made to build an additional one. A plot of land well out of the built-up area was bought from Mr. Philip Moore of Pulrose; funds were collected, and in 1761 building commenced. But from one cause and another, mainly financial, it was not consecrated until September 1781, while various alterations (including a new chancel added in 1909/10) have since been made to the original building.

St George's Church

It is an indication of how the town has grown to recall how from a window of this church - now shut in by buildings - Challoner on a Sunday in September 1789 watched the frigate "Perseus" come round the Head under full sail and drop her anchor in the bay. A glorious sight, which one is not surprised to read took away some of his attention from the preacher. The parish church was still, of course, Kirk Braddan, to which both St. Matthew's and the new church - dedicated to St. George, and not having a parish of its own until January 1878 - were merely Chapels-of-Ease. The churchyard remained unenclosed for many years, no legal title to the land having been established, and it was not until 1809 that John Moore of the Hills - who had married into the family of the Philip Moore who had originally sold the site - granted a title in exchange for two pews rented at 9.3.0 per annum and a plot in the graveyard - while the cost of enclosing it was obtained by borrowing 250 flrom the Academic Student Fund.

Among interesting memorials in this graveyard arc an obelisk, near, the chancel window, to P M J. Baume and the large vault near the main gate in which Sir Wm. Hillary is interred. On the north side a small cross with the simple inscription 'Cholera 1832/3' marks the spot where many of the victims of that epidemic were hastily interred.

Castle Mona

To the northward of the town and at the edge of the sea in lonely splendour stood Castle Mona. The Dukes of Athol when Lords of Man never resided on the Island, though they occasionally paid it short visits and their Governors lived in Castletown. In 1765 the Island was revested in the English Crown but in 1793 John, the IVth Duke, was appointed governor.

As the Lt.-Governor was living in Castle Rushen and refused to vacate his Quarters there the Duke in 1802 had a residence built for himself outside Douglas. The architect was George Stewart, a Scottish client of the Athol family, .already well known as an architect for various buildings he had designed in Shropshire - Brought to Douglas by the Duke, to complete the building of the Red Pier, he placed in his hands the design and erection of his new mansion, which the Duke occupied it until he left the Island for the last time in 1826 (though he remained Governor,in name, until his death in 1830) built at a cost of £40,000 with stone brought from Corrie in the Isle of Arran (Firth of Clyde) it was at first called Caertiorn,a name later changed to the more English-sounding one of Castle Mona.

The most exciting time experienced at the Castle which, despite its name had no fortifications, was in 1825 when Bishop Murray (the Duke's nephew) with his family sought refuge in it when driven from Bishopscourt by a mob angered by his insistance on the collection of certain tithes. The mob threatened the Castle - the Duke was off the Island at the time - but friends from the Crescent and elsewhere, reinforced by armed landing parties from the Revenue Cutter "Cheerful" and the pacquet boat ''City of Glasgow'', formed a hurriedly collected garrison . As it happened no attack was made, and when some troops arrived from Liverpool three weeks later the rioting died down and the Castle's brief spell as a fortress was over.

When built the Castle, which fronted the open sea, was backed by about 38 acres of ornamental gardens and pleasure grounds, while the level stretch of land which lay to the southward of it, extended extended as far as Broadway. The gardens and shrubberies, with their ornamental walks, ran up to the foot of a high and rocky crag known - from the hawks which it as a nesting place - as the Falcon Cliff.

There was a Lodge and stables which later became an inn known as Castle Tap -the site is now occupied by the Central Hotel - but when the Athol estates were sold in 1832 these grounds were built over and the long drive from the Castle to the Lodge became the present Castle Mona Avenue.

In 1826 it was suggested that the Government should purchase it as an official residence for the Governor, Military Headquarters and barracks. But the Treasury could not be persuaded to agree to this and in the long run it was sold to four enterprising Gentlemen who, on the 24th April 1832 opened it as an Hotel under the management of Mr. W. Mallett. Four years later, however, it passed into the hands of a Mr. George Heron of Dublin, and an hotel it has remained to this day.

Villa Marina

Along the shore level, from the Castle lodge at the foot of Broadway to where the town ended at what is now Marina Road, there ran a narrow strip of land which had become the property of Mr. George Steuart 23(or Stuart ,as it was sometimes spelt) the Castle architect. When he died in December 1780, he left this land to his son Robert, an officer ir the Fencibles. In December 1807 Robert married, and it was probably at or about this date that he built on his newly acquired land a charming country house which he named Marina Lodge. It was, as a writer of the day said of it 'an elegant house, but being so near Castle Mona caused its beauty and elegance to diminish on a comparative view,' 24 In November 1832, Col, Robt. Steuart, who having been an English barrister had held various official posts, including that of Receiver-General in the Island, died and the house was bought by the Misses Dutton who, in Jan.1834 moved into it their Ladies' Seminary but four years later (Jan 1838) returned to Atholl Street as they found Villa Marina (as its name had by then become) to be too far from Douglas for convenience. In the Spring of 1861 the house was taken as a residence by the newly arrived Governor F. S. C. Pigott, but he did not enjoy it for long as he died suddenly while spending Christmas 1862 at his home in Hampshire. His successor did not require the house, as he had taken up residence at Bemahague, and it (appears to have stood empty until) was bought by the Douglas merchant and property-owner Mr. Henry Bloom Noble, who resided here until, following his death in [] the property was purchased by the Douglas Corporation. who, in 1911 demolished the old house to make way for the present building, which was opened on the 17th July 1913.

Falcon Cliff

At the sale of Castle Mona in 1832 part of the grounds but not the Castle were purchased by a Liverpool company who, under the name of the Isle of Man Building Co, in 1838 disposed of 21 acres of them by means of a Tontine 25, the principal prize in which was the Falcon Cliff and the land surrounding it. (This was won by a Manchester gentleman who promptly offered it for sale)

The first building on the site appears to have been erected about this time by a Mr. Stanway Jackson of the Bank of Mona, while later on a Dr.Gough kept a boarding school in the house. After numerous changes it was bought by the Derby Castle Co. who, in 1882 sold it to a syndicate of local gentlemen. This Syndicate offered it on extremely reasonable terms to the Douglas Corporation but when this offer was refused the house was turned into a residential hotel and as this it continued until the outbreak of the 1939 war when it was taken as a hospital for interned aliens. In 1946 it became the property of Okell's brewery Co,. who altered and reconditioned the whole building and, doing away with the bedrooms-turned the whole of the interior into a drinking and amusement place for summer visitors. At the same time the exterior balcony was renovated and now affords a most magnificent view of the town and its bay; a view which, whether the sea be sparkling in the sunshine of summer or, lashed into great waves by an easterly on a winter's day, extends in an unbroken sweep seaward to the extreme extent of the spectator's vision.26

In 1889 the syndicate which them owned the house built, for the convenience of their guests, a trim-lift on the north-east side of the cliff, which was the more sloping of the two . This started at sea-level beneath an ornamental gateway, which stood Around now occupied by Rutland Hotel. But in 1934[sic ? 1894] this was sold for, use at Port Soderick, where it was used to transport visitors between the road level and the end of the short beach, it 'was replaced by the one - still in use - which, running up the much steeper south-east side starts a few yards from the Promenade at the head of Palace View Terrace.

Along the seaward side of the extensive Villa Marina grounds Col Steuart had had built a rough road which soon came to be known as the ' Colonel's Road' and was, before many years had passed, to prove very useful when incorporated into the great Promenade which encircled the bay.

Tower of Refuge

Between 1832 and 1833 the Tower of Refuge was built in Douglas Bay. This building, now but a picturesque addition to the scene, had when built a strictly utilitarian purpose. It owes its being to the efforts of Sir Wm.. Hillary an English baronet who resided at Fort Anne on Douglas Head. Distressed at the number of wrecks which occurred on the Manx coast, his growing determination to do something to lessen the loss of life and property which these wrecks caused was brought to a climax when on [ ] the steamer St. George was driven on to St. Mary's Rock, a tragedy plainly to be seen from the windows if his own house. When she broke up he, with some other brave men, managed to get a boat alongside her and by strenuous exertions saved all upon her. But he determined that should such a thing happen again - and to sailing vessels , or the low powered steamers of the day the Rock was a constant menace - a building in which the crew could find shelter should be within reach. He raised a fund, to which he contributed generously himself ,and the Tower was built, at a cost of 254 12 0. The architect was Mr John Welch.

This however, was but. the first step towards the founding of that noble work the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, which will for ever be his memorial. The first R.L N I lifeboat, to be stationed at Douglas arrived in 1826.27 It was launched from a slip which stood opposite to where the Sefton Hotel now is, but in c.1911 this was demolished and the boat transferred to its present home below Fort Anne.

Footnotes + References

1: The reason for this attack on Castle Rushen was that the English at that time fighting the Scots were using the Island as a base for the fleet employed to protect their convoys of stores and men being brought from Ireland to help in the waging of this Scottish campaign.
2: B. R. S, Megaw, The Douglas Treasure Trove Journal Manx Museum Vol IV #57pp77-80 1938;.
3: [FPC] - Mathieson would seem to forget that today's beach is somewhat different due to the construction and subsequent widening of the Loch Promenade and more especially by the construction of the long piers and breakwaters which altered the currents around the bay - also there is a line of rocks along much of the bay that are still partially submerged at low tide.
4: A trade which, as the Manx author David Craine has said 'enriched a few, impoverished many, and corrupted the State'. Its most flourishing period was between 1715 and 1765, though it continued to a lesser extent, until about 1815.
5: The Earls of Derby prior to 1736 and the Dukes of Athol from 1736 to 1765
6: P. W. Craine The Isle of Man in the mid18th Century, Proc. IoM.N.H.& A.Soc.IV #3 pp293/304 - ref is on p301)
7: though other ports could be used for export.
8 :The Manks Advertiser 13.Feb.1817.
9: 1793 to 1826,when he left the Island, but nominally to 1830,when he died.
10: The forerunner of the present Crescent, but then called the Mona.
11: Founded in 1700,? 1706) closed in 1838 and demolished c.1930.
12: Joseph Lancaster (1778-1838) was the founder of the system named after him, the main point of which was the division of a school into small classes each under the care of a monitor. He was a pioneer in the work of training teachers for their profession and in the use of prefect-teachers.
13: Letters to the Inhabitants of the I.O.M. Kermotte Stowell, 1813.
14: This Court, earlier known as Cumberland Court, was on the north side of James' Street, near the Market Place.
15: Described in 1784 as being near St. Matthews' but removed in 1803 to a house on the parade. Though called a Coffee-house this was in reality an ordinary inn, and should not be confused with the Coffee Palace which was to be found on the North Quay later in the century. [for further details see N Mathieson Old Inns and Coffee-Houses of the Isle of Man ]
16: Advertiser 7.Mar.1837
17: P. W. Craine The Isle of Man in the mid18th Century, Proc. IoM.N.H.& A.Soc.IV #3 pp293/304 - ref is on p296)
18 Not to be confused with the Wellington Market, which wss not erected until 1836. Taggart's plan of 1833 shows Wellington Buildings to have been a small cul-de-sac which covered gound, now built over, between the then unplanned Victoria Street and Wellington Street. This cul-de-Sac ran in from Duke Street opposite the entrance to Fort Street which is beside the drapery shop of Messrs. R. C. Cain. In a large building on the south side of it was Holme's tobacco factory, and opposite to this were two or three small cottages with Gardens and stables. Over the stables was a large room which later housed the first Douglas Board School.
19: W. Cubbon The Antient and Noble Order of Bucks Proc. IoM.N.H.& A.Soc.V #1 pp63/69 1946
20: Advertiser. 6.1.1818
21: It had 15 inmates (11 adults and 4 orphan children), while 69 persons were given weekly pensions of from 6d to 1/6 each, and 42 monthly help to the extent of 1/6 to each. This entailed a yearly expenditure, of 392 while the total income had fallen to 537. And in addition to this there still remained a further 150 persons who were found to require relief owing to age etc.
22: (Sun 21.2.1833)
23 [?]
24 Thomas Callister An Accurate, interesting, and peculiarly entertaining Description of that lucrative Branch of Business The Herring Fishery of the Isle of Man of the superior quality of the Red Herrings manufactured as well as that of the Pickled Herrings A particular and very pleasing Account of the Flourishing Town of Douglas... 1815 - Pamphlet held by Manx Museum
25: Tontine - OED "A finanncial scheme by which the subscribers to loan or a common fund receive each an annuity during his life, which increases as their number is diminished by death, til the last survivor enjoys the whole income" - first introduced in France as a method of raising government funds. Afterwards tontines were formed for building houses, hotels etc.
26: for much information about this building the author is indebted to Mr, L. Craine,a member of Messrs. Okell's Staff.
27: An earlier boat, given by the Duke of Athol in 1803, had been wrecked in 1814.




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