[Taken from the Ramsey Courier 1891]
In the early part of the century the most popular open air pastime of the Ramsey gentry and well-to-do tradesmen was archery, and the place they generally resorted to was the Mooragh, on the level part covered by the Lake. In mild weather a score or two of men would assemble here, accompanied by their attendants, who generally came with a well-stocked basket of victuals. After placing the butts with the outer and inner rings and the well-marked bull's eye and selecting their bows and partners, would commence a real contest for the best shooting. There were some splendid marksmen about the town at this time, and those who elected to score the highest number of bull's eyes and inner circle points had to acquit themselves with as much skill as the English heroes who won the battle of Poitiers and Agincourt. Need it be said that the refreshment basket only retained empty glasses at the close of the contest.
The Philanthropic Benefit Society, established in 1796, was now becoming a powerful organisation and, as the leaders were men of position, they were able to induce most of their friends to join their ranks. On the anniversary day the members turned out in their best style. Each one had his beautiful sash and the club stick, with the orange head and blue ribbon attached. Then at intervals in the long procession, splendid silk banners, each borne by two strong men, were displayed, and the best band in the town or neighbourhood discoursed sweet music. Then followed the splendid repast in the Courthouse, and the long list of toasts, and then the music and dancing closed the day's proceedings. This was Ramsey's first benefit society and, after a long career of 60 years during which it rendered good service, it was found necessary to divide the funds among the few surviving members of this once strong society.
The present Amicable Society was partly occasioned by a split from the Philanthropic Society into the details of which it is not my purpose to enter, but the tide of feeling ran very high, and the members of the new society were branded as the "fallen angels". The numbers, however, increased to such an extent that the new society soon became a powerful rival to the elder brother, and ultimately led the way. It has had a career over 70 years. It is still rich in funds, but as no new members join and old ones are ever dropping out of line, the end of its useful career (regretfully let it be said) is rapidly approaching. The Oddfellows, Rechabites and Foresters are still full of vigour and, owing to their maintaining Juvenile departments and having a connection with parent societies in the adjacent islands, they are likely to have a much longer career than local societies, without any recruiting from the ranks of the young.
It would be vain to attempt to describe the ladies of the period; enough to say they were neat in their dress and beautiful in appearance and fond of attending the public entertainments of their husbands and friends. Elderly ladies wore the long coal scuttle bonnets and the heavy dark well made cloak fastened with peculiar brass, bronze or silver hooks, etc. The gentlemen wore hats made by the native hatters, and though they had not the gloss and finish of the best English hats of today, they stood the weather better. Shoes with silver buckles were very fashionable, and trousers fitting nearly and buttoned round the knees, the stockings were generally homespun. A blue or bottle green coat with brass buttons, and a well fitting vest, gave the wearer a pleasing appearance.
Among the young men, white trousers and vests were very fashionable and the short tailed coat completed the dandy. Our present style of dress is much graver than that worn by Manxmen at the opening of the century.
At this time all letters for the Isle of Man were brought from Whitehaven to Douglas by a sailing packet, which was supposed to leave the former port every Monday night, but owing to bad weather and the difficulty of getting out of harbour, the mails in the winter season were sometimes delayed two or three weeks. This vessel also provided for passengers, the charge being 9s for the voyage, the charge from Liverpool to Douglas in the Duke and Duchess of Athol being 10s 6d. The letter carrier left Douglas after the sorting of the mails for Ramsey, where his coming invariably caused a great stir, as people were eager to hear from their friends as well as to get the latest English and foreign news. Everybody expecting letters applied for them at the Post Office, and such letters as were not immediately sent for were stuck up in the window of the postmaster's shop, ready to be taken down and delivered to anyone who claimed them and would pay the postage - a heavy item sometimes. The penny post was not then in operation. Ramsey very often had direct communication with Liverpool and Whitehaven by her smart fleet of traders and captains, for there belonged to the port the Peggy, Captain Ince; the Ann and Mary, Captain Crower Success, Captain Kneale; Marquis of Buckingham, Captain Kermode; Martin, Captain W Kermode; the Eliza, Captain Ince, then later on came the Christians and Sprainger and Kenyons and Callisters, "real sea dogs", who gloried in quick passages. They frequently carried letters and passengers to and from Ramsey before paddle wheels and screws did duty on the briny deep. The Success rendered service up to about 30 years ago, while the Gratitude and Douglas and Bridget and Fanny and Duke of Athol are still remembered before the later race of smart vessels headed perhaps by the Marion rendered useful services to this port. Entering Ramsey Harbour 60 or 70 years ago, required skillful management for the north pier was very short or did not exist, and sand banks gathered at the harbour mouth, but old Mr Brayden kept a good light in the old lighthouse, and this gave encouragement to the tars to do and dare, and Harbour Master Charlie Vaust always shouted full directions.
About 60 years ago a gentleman named Taggart came over from England and, seeing the special facilities Ramsey upper harbour offered for shipbuilding either purchased or took on lease, the greater part of the land know as the shipyard. After a good deal of levelling and shaping, he commenced building some very large wooden vessels, some of them being three massed ships for home and foreign trade. As a great many Scotch and English workmen came over, and a number of young Manxmen commenced to learn the art of shipbuilding, Ramsey became a busy thriving port, but eventually the work was found unremunerative, and other circumstances transpired which led to the closing of the industry, and many men had to leave the town and seek employment elsewhere. Some of the young Manxmen entered the government service in the dockyards, and duly became entitled to pensions. The town was now under the control of High Bailiff Tellet and John Douglas was chief of the Police force, and Preston one of the sharpest officers. The next turn of trade was caused in part by the opening of Waterloo Road. Previous to 1835, all the Maughold, Lonan and Douglas trading to Ramsey by road had to pass down Maughold Street, but as this street was narrow and no proper inlet or outlet to the growing town, an effort was made to open Waterloo Road, long afterwards known as Cardle Road because of the active part taken by Mr Kerruish of Cardle-Voar, in promoting it.
Within the next fifteen years, there were built the two terraces on either side of Waterloo Road, from the Wesleyan Chapel to the Water Company's yard, and from D Clucas's to Alexandra Terrace, Mona Terrace, Albion Terrace, Lezayre Terrace, the enlargement of St Paul's, the new Wesleyan chapel, the Mitre Hotel, Thornhill and several other private residences and, last but not least, Albert Tower, to commemorate the visit of the Queen and Prince Consort to Ramsey bay and town. The year 1853 will not easily drop out of the memory of people who are now being called middle aged or even old, for Ramsey was all astir about the coming of the new steamer, Manx Fairy, which the sanguine, to use a then popular phrase, said would "beat Creation". The North Pier wall had been lengthened towards the Mooragh, and the new mud-hopper had been at work for several weeks deepening the harbour, so that the new boat of rather deep draught, might wind easily round the old crooked corner at the old lighthouse. The Douglas Company had recently obtained their clipper ship (Mona's Queen) and it was an open secret that the Lairds were going to build a steamer to beat her easily. On an eventful September day the race took place, and as there was not telegraph in these days, nor till 1869, a staff of signallers occupied the crest of North Barrule, and towards the evening it became generally known that the Manx Fairy had fairly beaten her rival, and was, as the poet wrote and sung -
She's a swift as a swallow
She'll pass them all by
Who can catch a Manx Fairy
I am sure it's not I - SHIMMIN
Shortly before dusk, the Fairy rounded Maughold head, and commenced booming with her beautiful brass guns; these were replied to from the shore, until the vessel had almost reached the harbour. Crowds of people line the piers and the beach, for there was no promenade at that early period. To add to the interest of the day, Mr David Sheard, a well known player on the cornet, was out in a small boat playing "See the conquering hero comes". Need I say the Fairy was beautifully built and fitted, and a credit to the firm that had provided her, and had their earliest wishes been carried into effect, she would not have had to be lengthened later on. I will not enter into the details of her after career, her mishaps, her change of officers, the last Capt R Brown being the best of all,
Her career hardly numbered seven summers, and then Ramsey again became entirely dependent on the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company for a service of steamers. This is not the time to discuss the various questions connected with her history, but only to say it was unfortunate. Just at this time a new feature was inaugurated in Ramsey, the first step being the providing of a patent slip, which for so many years has proved such a boon to the port; but Mr Gibson, its promoter, expected far greater results from it than he even reaped. Then followed the building of the small steamers under Mr Patterson, the General Outram and General Havelock, called after distinguished men in the Crimean War, and especially in the Indian Mutiny, A few years later the Shipyard was in full swing, and splendid ships were built. Boys talked wisely of the Tovell principle, and commented freely about the pilot boat No 9, the yacht Eagle, and the iron ship Ramsey. Then came others, the Erato, Euterpe and Delaware, all ships worthy of the Clyde, or Belfast or Laird's. Boys were in great request as rivet trotters, as they were generally called. Workmen from England, Ireland and especially Scotland crowded our streets, and the clatter of hammers was heard from morn to night; probably 600 or 700 men were employed on these premises, for besides shipbuilding there were chemical works, limekilns, petroleum stores and what not.
Among the shipbuilders he had Mr McDonald, McNidder, Bennett, Arnold, and a host of others. At the chemical works the present leading chemist, Norman Tate, held a foremost place. In the shipyard might be seen in full operation the steam-hammer, steam lathe, angle iron bender and platerolling, etc. In a few years, through the difficulty of competing with firms across the water, through changes and embarrassments, this splendid industry was lost to Ramsey. The wee boys might still be seen sitting on an old trunk of a tree plying their busy hammers in imitation of the riveters, and calling upon the trotters to be sharp with the rivets, but even this ceased as the years went their round, and to the present generations of youths the go, and whirl, and lavish expenditure of money is a matter of history. Up to the year 1857 the only town on the Island lighted with gas was Douglas, but on 5 July of that year, three Acts were promulgated authorising Castletown, Peel and Ramsey to escape from the gloom and night of darkness. Before this we had lamps round Ramsey Quay at very respectable distances, and "Jacky the Lantern" did his best to keep them burning brightly, but lamps did smoke, and glasses became dim, and gloom prevailed. The chapel, Waterloo Road, has then four or more pendant lamps, hanging from the ceiling, and each lamp had brass bowls, and pipes of peculiar pattern, which with the glasses all bore trace of patient, careful cleaning, for you could not offend "Jimmy Cain" more than by saying the lamps were not clean, and the lights bright, for the little man thought that even in London there was nothing to surpass the lighting of the Ramsey Wesleyan Chapel. Imagine yourself leaving the chapel after hearing a rousing sermon and the music and singing of a well trained orchestra and choir - for in these remote years No 1 organ had not been purchased - and trying to find your way to Maughold Street or Ballure Road on a dark winter's night without a lamp of any sort to guide you. We generally went down Market Lane to see some dear friends there, and then up Church Street because we knew there was a good light in the porch of our High Bailiff's father's on the Old Cross, and if we reached there we could easily find our way up Maughold Street by the lights in the dwelling house windows. Of course, open drains and dangerous holes had to be guarded against, for these were plentiful enough in this direction.
On 6 July 1859, an Act was promulgated - an Act for supplying with water the town of Ramsey. Previous to this time there were at least three means of obtaining the needful supply. No 1 method was to get a pump - but as everyone did not see their way, you might do the best thing -get a daily supply from your neighbour's well. No 2 method, to keep on good terms with Jack Corlett, the water carrier who never failed to come round winter or summer, wet or dry he was no featherbed man, for many a time have I seen his outer garment covered with frost and small icicles, especially during the severe winters of 1854 and 1855. Boys did roguish things with him, such as knocking out the bung from the back of his cart, or unhooking the can in which he measured the halfpenny-worth of water. If the culprit was caught he would not repeat the offence. No 3 method, and the one in most general use, was to fetch two cans or a pair of buckets and a hoop, and often a line over the shoulders, and then go to the brewery well and draw, or better still to Chibber-e-Worray, the well on the meadow under the Parsonage, or to Pool-e-Churry or the Bogs. The Sandy road people as they were called, had also their favourite places and means of supply . On Saturday morning the boys of the household had to see that the supply of water was got in, to carry the family over Sunday. Frequently they had to go to the shore to get sand for the floor, it being the custom to sand the boarded floor, or the flags. In those times the luxuries of oil cloths and carpets were not so general as now for the journeymen joiner and mason got from 12s to 14s and rarely 13s for a full six days work, and the labourer 8s or 9s and rarely 10s for the same service, and although these wages, owing to the cheapness of the articles of food, enabled working people to get the necessaries of life, the comforts and luxuries were quite beyond their reach.
In closing I have to admit my paper exceeds your time limit, but my apology is that it is difficult to free oneself from the thoughts and interests of old Ramsey. I will not make many comparisons between the past and present, yet I think in many respects the present is better than the past. The tone of morality is higher, and the faction fights between the young men and boys of the Sandy Road, Market Place and Old Cross districts, linger only in memory. The town is healthier, the open drains, cesspools and piggeries have been removed with great advantage. We have better facilities for getting information. English papers daily, daily mail and excellent local newspapers. Young people have better ways of spending their evenings. Literary and Improvement Associations, etc. The raffling in private and public houses, and the widespread drinking facilities are changed for the better. The Sabbath is better observed, the cammag playing in the fields, pitch and toss and card playing in quiet nooks have given way to a healthier moral tone, and so far as I can see the future is still more hopeful.