Manx Electric Railway

The initial section from Douglas Derby Castle to Groudle saw the first trial running in August 1893 and opened to the public in September - the power cars being labelled "Douglas & Laxey Coast Electric Tramway" - the extension onto Laxey opened 28 July 1894 by which time cars were labelled "Douglas & Laxey Electric Tramway" - the associated Snaefell Mountain Tramway opened in 1895 (note however that the MER was 3ft gauge whilst the Mountain railway was 3ft 6in probably to allow extra width for the Fell braking system) - the shared Laxey station a little later after the Laxey viaduct had been completed - the extension to Ramsey was then started and opened to Ballure on 2 August 1898 - Ramsey was reached in 1899 once the Ballure Ravine had been bridged.

 

Ramsey Station c.1920
 


Ballure Bridge


Dhoon Station

Dhoon Cutting

Laxey Station

Laxey Viaduct

Groudle Station

Climb out of Douglas

Derby Castle
Route Schematic
 

This page is not intended to compete with the many books written about the MER over the last half century, to which reference should be made for more technical details and photos..

Background

Electric Traction was first demonstrated in Berlin in 1879 and was quickly applied to providing short distance transport systems where steam railways would not be appropriate - the American streetcar developed from the mid 1880's is the archetype of the system adopted on the Island . Blackpool had introduced Electric Trams along the seafront in 1885 and such systems were starting to be seen in several British towns . Douglas was experiencing considerable increase in its tourist trade and was also developing accommodation both for tourists and locals, northwards from the old cramped town. The development of a transport system combined with a new road along the coast at Onchan Head could serve both tourism and local needs - however the required development required considerable capital which was to be found from the ill-fated Dumbell's Bank. A key player was Alexander Bruce who had arrived on the Island as Manager of the Ramsey branch of the Bank of Mona, then owned by the City of Glasgow Bank - he had been noted as forceful and charismatic (though Pearson describes him as a bluff personality who could be a hard task master) thus when the Bank of Mona closed in 1878 due to failure of its parent bank he was offered the position as General Manager of the long established Dumbell's Bank and saw that Bank apparently prosper over the next 20 years. He became associated with Frederick Saunderson, an Irish engineer originally connected with the Laxey mines who had become involved in real estate - the pair saw the opportunity to develop the large Howstrake estate, poor agricultural land but with a cliff top location and proximity to Douglas it could be developed as a mix of housing and pleasure grounds - the original plans were dawn up by 1889 and gained Tynwald approval in 1892, which approval required a road and tramway (of unspecified motive power) to be built through the estate to above Groudle - a major backer and provider of capital was Alfred Jones Lusty a wealthy retired London merchant who had lived on the estate - the Douglas Bay Estate Co was formed in September 1892. Bruce had sought advice about the Tramway and had been put in touch with the Manchester firm of Mather and Platt who held the British rights to some key components, especially the American Edison dynamo, thus the company had the connections to propose an American streetcar design using electric power delivered at 500V d.c. Another entrepreneur, R.M. Broadbent had already seen the potential of Groudle glen as a tourist resort with attendant hotel and attractions which hotel was ready for the arrival of the tramway in 1894 - the Douglas Bay and Groudle Glen Co. owned the land with Saunderson already having plans to extend to Baldromma beg, Bruce it seems had a grander vision of extending towards Laxey and then to the top of Snaefell - thus a new company the Douglas and Laxey Coast Electric Tramway Company was formed to take over the tramway interests and the proposed extension leaving the original company, with which it shared most of its investors, to develop the estate. Tynwald approved the extension but stipulated that the line must also carry freight and mail.

The Horse tram along Douglas Bay had opened in 1876 and had been a considerable success - the original developer, Thomas Lightfoot, had sold out to the Isle of Man Tramways Ltd which was sold in 1893 to Bruce's company to become the Isle of Man Tramways and Electric Power Company Ltd - Douglas Town Commissioners as part of their agreement forced Bruce to develop the Upper Douglas Cable Car system. The 'Electric Power' component indicated Bruce's ambition to also supply power to business and private users - such customers included the Derby Castle Opera house, the then new Douglas Bay Hotel (illustrated on the postcard view) and part of Onchan village street lamps.

The rapid development and considerable civil engineering to reach Laxey and the summit of Snaefell as well as the start on the Upper Douglas cable system had required considerable capital - Laxey would require even more as the original plan for a low level approach with a tunnel under the new road and crossing the washing floor of the Great Laxey Mines was not practical thus an extensive viaduct was constructed running on the inside curve of the new road bridge. The original terminus of the line from Douglas and Laxey was on the southern edge of the (new) village with a considerable walk to the short-lived Mountain railway station on the mine-side of the New Road near Dumbell's Row ('Ham and Egg Terrace') until following the construction of the four arch viaduct a new joint station was constructed on land owned by the Gt Laxey Mine company adjacent to the Laxey Church; the mines captain house was adapted to become the Station Hotel (now the Mines Tavern) and a large refreshment facility(burnt down in 1917) built in the 'rustic' style adopted at many stations. The shortage of capital in the original company forced Bruce to form a new company to finance the extension through to Ramsey to which the IoMET&EPCo was allowed to subcontract the work - Bruce had wanted the line to enter Ramsey via Port e Vullen along a wide new south promenade passing alongside Ramsey Pier - however these plans fell through and the entry had to be considerably inland behind Waterloo Road to terminate in the gardens of the Palace Concert Hall (later Plaza Cinema) once Ballure bridge had been finished.

Overall the total cost of the line from Douglas to Ramsey had been £518,000 but only £366,000 had been raised in capital(mostly due to low take-up of the shares of the new company) leaving the company heavily in debt to Dumbell's Bank - dividends had in fact been paid out of capital and the company was probably trading whilst insolvent, the company secretary resigned in January 1899 but Bruce and the company auditors managed to show a favourable balance sheet. The company might have survived this period but other aspects of Bruce's stewardship of Dumbell's Bank were about to bring the whole edifice crashing down.

Bruce and Dumbell's Bank

Ralfe in an article of 1918 states about Dumbell's Bank "After 1880 this Bank, leaving the path of legitimate banking, entered upon a career of adventure, initiating and financing speculative companies and combines, whose growth was encouraged by the remarkable development of the Island, and especially of Douglas, as a holiday resort." Norris in his Manx Memories and Movements claimed that the Bank was probably unsound before Bruce's appointment. Some of this is hinted at in the court proceedings following the 1900 collapse of the Bank but as Bruce was never prosecuted due to his illness (and his death shortly afterwards) the full story did not emerge. Possibly the greatest detail is given by Tim Crumplin on the basis of extensive research into the Manx brewing industry - Bruce would appear to have joined in the widespread speculation that was a feature of the 1880s using the Bank's capital - he lost money in an unwise investment in Peruvian Corporation Bonds and £21,000 in the Alsopps flotation as well applying for £130,000 in the 1886 Guiness flotation. After this time he turned his speculation to property speculation which arose from the booming tourist trade which encouraged speculators to acquire key sites in the anticipation that prices would quickly rise and provide a large profit - Bruce became associated with John A Brown (owner of IoM Times and leading Freemason with directorships of many companies including Derby Castle & The Palace), Charles B Nelson(a director of Dumbells), R. Cain, T Kneen and J.M.Cruikshank who acquired the old Tremlows shipyard in February 1886 for £15,000 and sold 18 months later for over a 100% profit. A company called the Manx Syndicate Ltd was registered in Feb 1888 with its supposed aim to acquire the Castle Mona Hotel and remaining part of the Castle Mona estate to preclude competition to the Derby Castle recently acquired by Brown, but Bruce was not at that time officially connected with this group though there was public speculation that the syndicate had to have the backing of some bank. Brown (probably with Bruce) had seen the attractions of amalgamation between the large amusement halls also saw potential in the amalgamation of the Islands brewing interests and especially in setting up a large network of tied houses as was happening in England at that time - such a group might be expected to find support both among English investors and brewing concerns. The Woolf brothers, originally from Crewe, arrived on the Island in 1882 and shortly afterwards acquired Ballalaughton Brewery on the outskirts of Douglas - in 1889, associated with J.A. Brown and the Syndicate this became a public company, share value £20,000, which started on a buying spree of various public houses at inflated prices - however the visiting trade on which the licensed trade depended saw poor returns in the early 1890's as conditions were depressed in Northern England - two other breweries - the Royal Albert in Ramsey (connected with Charles Nelson) and Castletown brewery had also gone public in this period but with little sucess. From 1895 onwards another amalgamation mania in England allowed the possibility of merging these companies and tied houses and capitalising the company at some £570,000 - thus was born the IoM Brewery Amalgamation agreement of November 1898 - Bruce could use this to offload several licensed premises acquired by the IoMET&PCo and thus return that company to solvency - some £200,000 of this capitalisation was supposed to come from Allsops the Burton brewers. Brown was the publicist for the group and it would seem used his paper to paint a rosy picture of the proposed company especially in Northern England - however others had already seen that the company could not possibly pay - Crumplin quotes the Financial Times 15 June 1899 as saying the 'the whole scheme is very dangerous and unsatisfactory'. Brown also had a vociferous opponent in John Phillip Callow previously associated with Brown as manager and secretary of the Derby Castle company but who lost that position on the company's liquidation in 1898 as part of the rationalisation of amusement halls - Callow was the owner of the Manxman which week after week criticised and ridiculed the Amalgation and the proposed flotation; Callow's ownership did not become public knowledge for many years - his background, initially as a young audit clerk for the Railway before moving as accountant to Derby Castle gave him a good position both to understand and see the machinations of the Bruce/Brown arrangements . Allsops also had difficulty in raising the £200,000 that seems to have been agreed and decided not to participate - thus the £300,000 issue of Isle of Man Breweries raised little more than the £50,000 the syndicate were said to be prepared to invest leaving Brown with a liability of £206,000. Though Bruce denied in November 1899 that the Bank had any investment in the Amalgamation it was found that it had authorised Charles Nelson to acquire £150,000 of shares - by early 1900 it was obvious to the officials (but not to the public) that the Bank was insolvent - an attempt was made to interest Parr's Bank in acquiring it but the finances were such that they refused and the Bank was forced to foreclose on all loans and passed into receivership. Nelson and other officials were charged with fraud in a criminal trial.

Post Collapse of Dumbells

The various companies held by Dumbells as securities were sold - Douglas Corporation aquired the Horse Tramway and Cable Car whilst the Douglas-Laxey-Ramsey, with the Snaefell Railway and the associated hotels were acquired in August 1902 by a newly formed Manx Electric Railway Co with mainly English investors - one good omen was the unexpected docking in Ramsey Bay a few days later of the Royal Yacht bearing King Edward VII and Queen Alexandria - they travelled back to Ramsey on the Tram in Bruce's special saloon - which Royal patronage the company made much of in its publicity.

Service + Fares

The 1897 advertisement (from Official Guide to Accomodation) shows the fares and summer service levels on the system

Isle of Man Tramways and Electric Power
COMPANY, LIMITED.
TIME TABLE.

Douglas and Laxey Electric Section.

Commencing 1st June and until 30th September, 1897.

A Service of Electric Cars will leave DERBY CASTLE at 6-30 a. m., 8-15 a.m., 9 a.m., and every half-hour until 9 p.m.
LAXEY at 7-20 a.m. (Royal Mail Car), 9 a.m., 10 a.m., and every half-hour until 10 p. m.
Additional Cars will run between the above stated times as often as is necessary to meet the traffic requirements.
On SUNDAYS the First Car will leave DERBY CASTLE at 10 a. m. ; LAXEY at 11 a.m., and afterwards the same as on Week-days.

FARES:

Between Derby Castle and Groudle.. ..3d Between Derby Castle & B'beg Crossing..9d
Derby Castle and Garwick....6d . ,, Derby Castle and Laxey....1s 0d
Return Fare between Derby Castle and Snaefell Summit... ..3s 6d.

These Cars afford the Pleasantest, Cheapest, and most Convenient means of reaching the Howstrake Golf Links, Groudle, Gatwick, and Laxey Glens; Laxey Big Wheel, and the

Snaefell Mountain Electric Railway,

On which Cars run at frequent intervals throughout the Season.

Douglas Bay Horse Section.

A Service of Horse Cars will run every few minutes between the Electric Tramway Station and Victoria Pier, starting from the Tramway Station In the morning in time to catch the Fleetwood, Barrow, and Liverpool Steamers; the last Car leaving Derby Castle at 11 p.m., and Victoria Street at 11-20 p.m.
On SUNDAYS the First Car will leave the Tramway Station at 9-15 a.m., and Victoria Street at 9-30 a.m. ; the Last Car leaving the Tramway Station at l0 p.m., and Victoria Street at 10-15 p.m.

FARE-TWOPENCE EACH WAY.

Upper Douglas Cable Section.

Cable Cars will run between Victoria Pier and Broadway, via Victoria Street, Prospect Hill, Buck's Road, Ballaquayle Road, and Broadway, in accordance with the traffic requirements.

FARES

Victoria Pier and Murray's Road
2d Up
1d Down
Broadway and Murray's Road
2d Up
1d Down
Transfer Tickets, to and from Murray's Road, via Broadway only, 2d

The Company undertake the Collection, Delivery, and Carriage of Goods, Merchandize, and Parcels between Douglas and Laxey. For Rates and further information apply to

May, 1897. J. ALDWORTH, GENERAL MANAGER.

Online References

Quine, J. Handbook en route; Isle of Man Souvenir of Coast and Mountain Electric Railways London: [1899]
The Electrician 26 Jan 1900 pp458/462 covers the interesting use of water power at Laxey

References

Crumplin Tim & Rawcliffe, Roger A Time of Manx Cheer Douglas: Manx Experience (ISBN 1-873120-54-0) 2002 - chapters 3 + 4 covers the Bruce years
Chappell, Connery The Dumbell Affair Prescot: T. Stephenson & Sons (ISBN 0-901314-21-8) 1981 - a rather journalistic history of the career of George William Dumbell and not that well researched

Bibliography

Note that several books cover all Tramways - MER, Snaefell, Cable Car, Marine Drive and Horse Trams

 


[Manx Note Book]
   

Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
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