[Taken from the Ramsey Courier 10 Jan 1930]
We are commencing this week a series of articles dealing with life in Ramsey over half a century ago. These are in the form of the reminiscences of Mr William Hardie Kneale, of Regaby, Andreas, a gentleman whose knowledge of the locality in these far off days is probably unequalled by any other living person. Mr Kneale is now over eighty years of age and in excellent health for his years, but for the fact that his eyesight has failed. Moreover, he is blessed with a wonderfully retentive memory, which enables him to recall clearly events in the history of the town from his earliest boyhood days. He recounts many interesting happenings in the articles, the first of which begins below.
My first recollections of Ramsey go back to 1852 when we lived in Albert Row, in a house with railings in front, the land opposite, now occupied by the Manx Electric Railway Station, being laid out as a garden. I distinctly remember my aunt Miss Hardie, who was very ill, being visited by my uncle Mr William Kneale, prior to his sailing for Australia, at the time of the gold rush to seek his fortune in the Antipodes, as many other Manxmen did about the same time. Incidentally, a mischievous attempt to administer some of my aunt's medicine to the cat in the innocent belief that if it was good for my aunt it could do the cat no harm, has left its mark on me to this day, the feline taking a piece out of my hand near the wrist, in a vicious bite. I gathered from my father that in those days Ramsey was a bright and busy town, smaller in population, of course, than now, but he used to tell us of as many as twenty carriages, most of which had pairs of horses, being in Parliament Street on a Saturday. My father later lived in Cardle Road (now Waterloo Road) and after that in Auckland Terrace. A that time, opposite Auckland Terrace were green fields and there were no shops or buildings of any kind on that side of Parliament Street, until Goldsmith's timber yards, which adjoined the premises of Mr P. Teare, draper (now those of Messrs Clague and Sons, ironmongers), were reached. Parliament Street was made of cobble stones and the drainage of the town was of the most primitive character - it being before the days of the present sewerage system.
There were no railway trains and the means of travel between Ramsey and Douglas and other parts was the four-in-hand coach. Two coaches belonging to Jim Crowe and Joe Hayes, ran between the two towns by way of Laxey and there was also the Peel coach. The coaches used to leave Ramsey at 10 o'clock in the morning, and return from Douglas at 4 o'clock in the afternoon. It was in the fifties that the steamer 'Manx Fairy' was acquired by a local company and put on the Liverpool and Ramsey station, providing a weekly service. The "Manx Fairy" was built at Laird's for the service and bonfires were lighted at Maughold Head and on Barrule to welcome her on arrival on the occasion of her first run. Terrific excitement was aroused by her racing the Douglas Packet and "Robbie" Henderson - coming in from Douglas on his tandem, was the first to bring the news that the "Fairy" had won the race. The master of the Ramsey steamer was Captain Dixon and my first trip across the water I remember, was on this vessel when an excursion was run to Whitehaven one Easter Monday. Later the "Manx Fairy" was put on the Whitehaven service as that port was rapidly becoming the best market for the North of the Island. The Post Office in Ramsey was first of all carried on by Mr Ed Corlett. grandfather of the late Mr Alfred Corlett (of Messrs Allen & Taubman's) who had a grocery business on the premises, now occupied by Martin's Bank. Following this the Post Office was in turn, at that part of the street where Mr Bottomley's shop now stands, in Water Street again in Parliament Street on the site of the present "Courier" Office, and later in the premises now occupied by Lloyd's Bank. No newspaper was produced in Ramsey, and English newspapers arrived about once weekly. The "Mona's Herald" published in Douglas was on sale in the town each week.
The first school I attended was one really for girls kept by the Misses Dodd. After an experience there which led to my being locked in a coal cellar, from which I emerged an indescribable sight, due to vain endeavours to escape, my grandfather took me off to Regaby. Later I went to Mr Richard Mark's School, held in the old Court House which was situate immediately behind Lough House Approach Road, where Vicar-General Corlett then lived. Among my school-fellows at "Daddy" Mark's, were James McWhannel, J.C. LaMothe (afterwards High-Bailiff) and Wm Clarke of Jurby. An escapade, in which I had to go through the window into the private garden adjoining and gather gooseberries to pass into the other boys led to a sanguinary affair when the schoolmaster arrived unexpectedly on the scene. Catching young LaMothe in the act of taking delivery of a supply of the forbidden fruit, he proceeded to administer chastisement Corporal punishment, as administered by "Daddy" Mark's, took the form of spread-eagling the offending boy on a desk and belabouring him with Scotch "taws", something after the style of a "cat-o'nine-tails," Johnnie LaMothe was the victim on this occasion, while I had to stand alongside to witness the thrashing. Johnnie declared that he was not able to sit down for a week after that punishment, and for my part the incident made an impression on my mind, that I promptly left Ramsey for Regaby directly we got out of school at 4 o'clock.
The Ramsey Police Force in those days consisted of Capt. Bennett, Constables Cowin, Preston, Burns and Leece Clucas. Their uniform consisted of tall hats, with glazed tops and long coats with large and imposing horn buttons. The police station stood where it does now but was surrounded by a wall 4 ft high. The force took things fairly easy in those days. When the shipyard, which I shall refer to presently, was in full swing, there were so many fights on the Quayside, after the paying out on Saturday. The members of the force were usually good natured and accommodating enough to allow the fights to go the full distance before locking the contestants up. Stalwarts of the force in those days were never known to look for trouble. Some of us youngsters were rather given to worrying them in the vicinity of the lane alongside Messrs Corkill and Kneale's (my father's and partner's) shop, where Mr J. H. Cleator now carries on business. It was occasionally our practice to fix up pieces of cord extending across the lane about the height of a man, then to raise a noise of some sort at the other end of the lane, while ourselves and others enjoyed the spectacle of the policemen chasing their tall hats as they were caught in the cords and carried away - until the psychological moment, when we deemed it wise to show a few clean pairs of heels.
In Auckland Terrace, the houses alongside our own were occupied by Mr Thos Arthur Corlett, son of the Vicar-General and grandfather of Mr T.A. Corlett, at present of Loughen-e-yeigh, Dr Teare, the elder, James Kaighen, Dr Boulby, Mrs Young, widow of Dr Young, Mrs Peacock and her daughter, Mr Brown, father of the late Captain Robert, and Messrs Wm and Allan Brown, Mr & Mrs Paton, and their daughter, Mrs Cruikshank, and Rev W. Kermode, Chaplain of St Pauls. The Bank of Mona was situate at the house where Dr Kitchen now lives. Other banks in the town were Dumbell Son and Howard's on the site of the present Westminster branch and the Isle of Man Bank was opening its branch in the shop alongside the present "Courier" Office, under the management of Mr Daniel Joughin.
Prior to the opening of the Shipyard, farming and fishing were the chief supports of the inhabitants. There was no visiting industry on the lines of the present day. It was the shipbuilding yard that really converted the town into a busy and thriving centre. Mr T. C. Gibson purchased the property and started the shipyard and in the early fifties it was employing hundreds of men in the town. Mr Gibson built the seawall from Teare's property to the present Salt Works; he built Marsden Terrace, called after his eldest son, and for the men employed in the shipyard, the terrace of houses leading to the Gas Works, was erected to a design, it is said, of the late Prince Consort, the houses being built with entrances both upstairs and down. Mr Gibson had two steamers, the "Outram," and the "Havelock," carrying materials to the shipyard. Several ships were built in the yard. The first vessel launched was one made from a schooner which he had bought and cut down, and the "Emma", as the new craft was called, was used in the Whitehaven coal trade. His first iron vessel was the famous full-rigged ship "Euterpe," now a show vessel in San Diego. The "Evelyn," also an iron boat and the "Ramsey," which was later in the Australian trade, were then built. The biggest ship constructed in the yard was "The Delaware". Some idea of her tremendous size may be gained when I say that alongside the Quay she extended from the corner of the harbour, opposite the Union Hotel to the back of the Mitre. There was a slight hitch at the launch of the "Delaware", a circumstance which was regarded as an unlucky omen. At all events, she was lost off the Western Isles on her second voyage. Mr Gibson also built at the shipyard, two yachts, for himself, the "Eagle" (about 40 tons) and the "Wren" (about 10 tons) also the schooner "Jane," which was fitted with tanks for carrying petroleum from America. In conjunction with the Shipyard chemical works were carried on by Mr Gibson who himself, lived at one time at the top of Waterloo Road, and later at Orry's mount, which he enlarged, by adding a ballroom and tower to the house. A subsequent owner removed the tower. Miss Gibson, sister of the owner of the Shipyard, started the home for children off North Shore Road, denoted to this day by the figure of a child on the frontispiece, this being the origin of the National Children's Home. Mr Macdonald was Mr Gibson's manager at the Shipyard, where there was a workmen's hall and newsroom provided for the men, as well as other facilities.