It’s very encouraging to see that the increase in the numbers of people coming to the evening meetings. Events further afield are generally less well-supported though. Attendances for the indoor meetings average about 25, which represents about 40% of our membership. Please let us know if you have any ideas suggestions for speakers and subjects or, indeed, if you would like to volunteer your own services!
Our Manx Dialect Roy Kennaugh 11th October, 2011
We are really fortunate that there are so many people involved in studying areas of Manx interest. Roy has been part of a group of researchers who have looked at the way English is spoken in the Isle of Man. What was once described as the Anglo-Manx dialect is now referred to as Manx-English. The work has thrown up some unexpected findings and forms a very useful reference point for future research work.
Advent Carol Service, Old Ballaugh Church Sunday 11th December 2011
Our carol service marked the second Sunday in Advent. Enthusiastic singing and thoughtful readings contributed to a memorable event, which gives us all an opportunity to sing Advent carols and hymns such as ‘Hills of the North, rejoice!’ After the service, we were treated to welcome mulled wine (non-alcoholic!) and mince-pies.
The Story of Ramsey Lifeboat Tony Walters Ballaugh Heritage Trust, 21st February, 2012
We were fortunate that Tony spoke to us about the subject close to his heart in the year in which he received a major award from the Australian equivalent of the RNLI. He drew on his extensive knowledge of the RNLI to tell us about some aspects of how the organization is run, including the development of the boats themselves, the training of crews, and some of the inspiring stories of rescues.
Warden Reserves Officer Tricia introduced us to the variety of flora and fauna to be found in the Island’s landscape. There are particularly interesting areas in Ballaugh and neighbouring parishes. The Curragh, of course, is an internationally-recognised wetland. Close Sartfield is most famous for the extraordinary sight of the orchids in early summer but Tricia described some of the less well-known reserves and gave an account of some of the issues that have to be taken into consideration in their management.
The Isle of Man in the 1900s Jack Kaighen 17th April, 2012
We welcomed back another heritage enthusiast. Jack’s lantern slides continue to fascinate with the insights they give into lives a hundred years ago. Many focused on the visiting industry, recording the huge numbers of visitors, particularly in Douglas. It’s always interesting too to see how the townscape has changed and, although most scenes were familiar, some views were less recognizable.
Manx links with Western Norway Fenella Bazin 1st May, 2012
Unfortunately, Andrew Johnson’s scheduled talk on Flight into History: Archaeology at Ronaldsway 1935-2010 had to be postponed so our Chairman stepped into the breach! The Isle of Man’s links with Norway have been an important element in shaping Manx life today. The first Vikings settled mainly on the northern plain, which was fertile, and was easily accessible by sea, and had long sandy beaches for landing boats. The northern parishes have a rich tradition of carved crosses from the period. Only one has been found in Ballaugh. Housed in the Old Church, the runic inscription refers to Olaf Liotulfsson, perhaps the founder of one of the Ballaugh families, as his surname gradually changes into the surname Corlett.
Guided Tour round RonaldswayAndrew Johnson Sunday 20th May 2012
On Sunday 20th May eleven of our members enjoyed a guided walk around Ronaldsway by Andrew Johnson, the Inspector of Ancient Monuments and Field Archaeologist at Manx National Heritage.
Andrew started by giving us a great overview of the importance of the area. He referred to the Viking and Scottish landings on St Michael’s Isle, describing the Isle of Man as ‘a pawn in the drawn out game between England and Scotland’. Andrew told us of a 1700’s coastal battery which nearly closed up the Derbyhaven bay. He described the great farmland in the area and talked about the Christian family and their history and the demolition of their farm and Ballagilley farm in the 1930s for the development of the airport. Andrew talked about the origins of archaeology as a area of academic study and the amateur work of Cannon Stenning, then a master at King William’s College. Signs had been found of medieval lead smelting.
We then moved along to the Manx Flyers Club. Andrew pointed out where graves had been disturbed by ploughing. He described the second dig in the area between 1935 and 1937 which led to the discovery of a Bronze Age (2100-700 BC) round house and village with traces of pottery and signs of metal working. Also in the area was an early Christian chapel.
Andrew went on to talk about a hectic period for Manx archaeology driven by the speed of wartime airport expansion. During the Second World War, Ronaldsway became a military airport with HMS Sea Eagle and HMS Urley being based here. Bulldozers levelled Ballagilley and the Creggans farms to make way for more runways. The driver came across a dark area in the ground and asked the Museum to come and take a look. There was a problem. Basil Megaw from the Museum was away on wartime service. His wife, Eleanor (by training a naturalist) stepped in to examine the area. The Isle of Man authorities were very helpful Andrew told us, in allowing an internee to assist. Eminent archaeologist Gerhart Bersu was ‘just around the corner’. He was brought as close as the guards would let him and allowed to use a step ladder and binoculars to observe the dig. Eleanor would cycle to meet him in the evenings to discuss the dig. The dig yielded a huge collection of artefacts and flint tools.
We then took a walk onto ‘The newest part of the Isle of Man’. Andrew described the reasons behind the 2009 runway extension and all the planning that went into building it. The Rock Armour had to be imported from Norway. Rubble came from Turkeyland quarry and the area was seeded with locally collected seed.
The plan for massive changes to the site provoked several digs starting in 2008. Andrew described the rationale as being ‘the least amount of archaeology done for the most gain’ and told us that only the areas due to be disturbed were examined. Uncovered was a Bronze Age village from 3,500 years ago as well as a Mesolithic house, measuring 6 and half metres round. The Mesolithic period was from 5,000-10,000 years ago (the late stone age), and the period of transition from hunter-gathering to agriculture. This find was very significant as it is only one of half a dozen in the whole British Isles and it showed that the land had been rich enough to settle and build dwellings so that the inhabitants were no longer purely nomadic. This now lies under the new taxiway. Artefacts included Bronze Age tools and lots of flints. 10 tonnes of soil was removed and is being sieved and tested in Cambridge to ensure all the archaeology is captured.
The trip to Ronaldway, with Andrew’s guidance, was a brilliant way to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon and a sincere vote of thanks was given by Sarah Christian. (SC)
Guided Tour round the Nautical Museum Sunday 16th September, 2012
On Sunday 16th September, a measly 5 people ventured out of the parish to have a skeet round the Nautical Museum in Castletown. Of our number, two hadn’t been for over twenty years and two had never been at all. David gave us a lovely tour of the site, showing all the hidden features and clever devices in George Quayle’s captain’s cabin.
As it was a lovely day, three of us ladies ventured to Port Erin. We couldn’t decide between an Ice cream sitting on the promenade or a swift beer in the Bay Hotel- so we did both! A scenic drive over the Slough, Dalby, Patrick and Peel had us in a holiday mood by the time we returned to the parish. A great afternoon out. (SC)
Journey to the End of the Earth Captain Bernie Quirk 23rd October, 2012
Captain Quirk led us through a thoroughly entertaining overview of his journey to the remote island of St Kilda. Although landing was impossible on his second cruise, he had been able to explore part of the main island on an earlier visit. Now only occupied during the summer by wardens and researchers, his account gave us an insight into how difficult life must have been when there was still a permanent population.
Another Thin Slice Bill Quine and Vic Bates Peel Heritage Trust6th November, 2012
Bill’s enthusiasm for the story of Peel and district has unearthed many fascinating stories. Featuring in this talk was the story of Joe Mylchreest, the Diamond King. Describing his early colourful career and travels, Bill then moved on to the development of the gold mine in South Africa, the links with businesses such as the de Beers. And the subsequent return with his South African wife to the Island.
‘I see a dark stranger’ Saturday 15 December, 2012
Breaking with the carol service tradition, this year’s Christmas event was the showing of a film in the Village Hall.
First screened in 1946, ‘I see a dark stranger’ starring Trevor Howard and a young Deborah Kerr, is a thriller which was partly filmed on the Island right at the end of the war. Although it has its darker moments, there is plenty of humour. Ballaugh and Sulby even had their moments when the names featured on signposts.
After the screening, a delicious afternoon tea had been provided by members of the Trust. Our thanks go to them for their much-appreciated baking and to Allyson for her technical expertise is setting up the equipment.
The Chairman of the Manx Heritage Foundation, The President of Tynwald and the author
Milntown House, the ancestral home of the Christian family, was the location for the launch of the new and definitive biography of William Christian, otherwise known as Illiam Dhone, one of the most controversial figures in Manx history. The launch was in the presence of the Hon. Clare Christian, MLC, President of Tynwald.
This year is the 350th anniversary of the execution of llliam Dhone by firing squad at Hango Hill outside Castletown, and this biography, by Jennifer Kewley Draskau has been commissioned by the Manx Heritage Foundation to mark this occasion.
His death on the morning of January 2nd, 1663, marked the end of an extraordinary and troubled period in the Island’s history. The Lord of Man, the Seventh Earl of Derby, had been captured and executed as part of the English Civil War, and Illiam Dhone had surrendered the Isle of Man to the Parliamentary forces which arrived soon afterwards
Ever since that day, debate has raged over whether Illiam Dhone was a patriot or a traitor. Did he surrender the Island to save the Manx people from a violent invasion, or did he do it for his own gain?
Illiam Dhone certainly flourished under Commonwealth rule, indeed he took the position of Governor of the Island for a period, but mysterious setbacks and allegations (of embezzlement, plotting a coup and even impregnating his own illegitimate daughter) dogged him until the Restoration of the Stuart Monarchy, when the new Earl of Derby took revenge and put him on trial. Although a ‘silver-tongued orator’, Illiam refused to plead or even attend the trial and was condemned to death.
His execution provoked the wrath of King Charles II and rocked the English legal system to its foundations. The Manx Deemsters were summoned to London and were imprisoned for a whole year and the Eighth Earl of Derby was instructed to restore all the lands and possessions of the Christian family. This intriguing and impeccably researched account by local author Jennifer Kewley Draskau, tells the remarkable story of an enigmatic and elusive figure, whilst simultaneously casting fascinating light on a little-known period of Manx history and the traditions of the Isle of Man, which underpin its unique relationship with England and the UK today.
The book is retailing for £20 and is available throughout the Island.
The TTs, Ballaugh railway station, the Bowling Club, and the many societies and groups that use the Village Hall: all these are some of the happenings that are part of the fabric of the village and parish of Ballaugh. As well as the parish church in the village and the Old Church at the Cronk, there were several Methodist chapels, all now closed and mostly used for other purposes. There was a golden opportunity to come together to talk about these, and lots of other topics, on Saturday 19 November. Ballaugh Heritage Trust held an afternoon of Living History, an event intended to stimulate memories over a cup of tea and a cake.
At the centre of the afternoon was the idea that we are all part of a living history. Major events are recorded in newspapers but the stuff of every day life is often unrecorded, although as important as the more public happenings. It was always intended to be an event that would stimulate ideas, rather than just present material for visitors to absorb. So there were a small number of exhibitions and, scattered around the hall, notepads and pens for people to jot down their memories.
As well as the exhibits, there were two talks. The first was a book launch at 3.30pm, when Sarah Christian gave an entertaining talk about her Ballaugh research, which resulted in the publication of From Travail to Tranquillity: social history of Glen Dhoo. This has been selling well and has encouraged many people to explore this picturesque but little known area of the parish. Before that, at 2pm, Marie Radcliffe had spoken movingly about the Roses from the Heart project, inspired in Tasmania by the stories of the transportation of 40 Manx women convicts to prison colonies in Van Diemens Land. Out of these heart-breaking accounts has come a remarkable international project, which has led to the embroidering of exquisite bonnets made in their memory. Many of these were on display, along with the stories of the women in whose memory they have been embroidered. Worldwide, an astonishing 25,266 bonnets have been made to commemorate the convict women who endured much received so little recognition. Their economic and social contribution was enormous, yet the ‘stigma’ shrouding their existence always precluded discussion of their value.
Some of the bonnets on display
So, we hope we might have stirred memories of social gatherings, elections, the Northern railway, the school, church and chapel events.
The renovation of the Railway Goods Shed offers a wonderful opportunity
to devote most of the next issue to the Northern Railway and its impact on
the communities it served.
Most people think of documentary research but personal memories and items
are really important, as they often contain information that has never been
written down before.
Trawling through old newspapers is a litde addictive! Why is it that a
newspaper more than a few decades old rivets the attention in a way that
today’s newspaper doesn’t?
I often hear people reminiscing about their experiences on the train,
particularly school journeys. If these aren’t written down, they’ll disappear
and be lost to future generations. An important part of local history will
So I’m appealing to you to contribute to the next issue in early 2014. Items
don’t need to be long or academic: anecdotes, photographs, tickets,
timetables, advertising material are all needed.
The 2015 issue will be devoted to the work of the Church Recorders, who
are now steadily working their way through the contents of our two churches.
Once they’ve finished, they will have a task of preparing a detailed report of
their work. However, their brief doesn’t include the history of the buildings
and churchyards, so it’s up to us to put flesh on the bones of their
Topics could include weddings, the stories behind memorial tablets or
gravestones (see David Radcliffe’s article in Issue No. 10), beating the bounds
of the parish, civic Sundays, Remembrance Day services, and so on …
So have a look in your cupboards and attics, please, and help to make the
next two issues memorable!
The first of a planned series of walks exploring the parish was published towards the end of 2012. Good friend and supporter of our Ballaugh Trust is Bill Quine, of the Peel Heritage Trust has planned an enjoyable and informative route following the railway line on a circular route from Ballaugh to Bishopscourt and back. His love of the area is apparent and his local knowledge, particularly of the working of the railway makes this attractive 3.5 mile walk. Thank you, Bill!
We were in St Olave’s Church, Ramsey, when someone entered the main door and handed an envelope to the Minister. Everyone stopped singing. When he opened the envelope and announced, ‘I’m sorry to tell you that we are now at war with Germany’, we were in a state of shock.
The service proceeded: no-one spoke.
Afterwards, we stayed in small groups as if gaining strength from each other.
As the week ensued, we had prepared ourselves for the next shock to come.
We knew call-up papers for the young men who were eligible would soon arrive. They came within a few days. The postman delivering our letters told us that the Reservists had been called up for active service and were assembling at the Old Cross (the part of Old Ramsey near Lough House) so we collected our bikes and set off. We found a small group of people assembled there watching the Reservists lined up in formation. One of the mothers who lived in Maughold Street was wearing a black dress and a white apron. As the men marched to a coach which was waiting in Waterloo Road to take them away, she pulled her apron over her face and sobbed. We were made aware then that this was the beginning of the unknown.
Many young people volunteered before the age of eighteen, including my two brothers.
The Home Guard was established and training began for Civil Defence. Windows had to be blacked out and street lamps were dimmed. Identity cards and gas masks were issued and had to be carried at all times.
The role of women
There was no conscription for women but our employers expected us to do voluntary work. Some joined the Land Army. Others started on training courses for nurses and the police force.
Many of the younger group volunteered for the Forces. Others were in charge of offices and shops. There were training courses for Wrens in Douglas. When the war with Germany accelerated, more pilots were needed. Some of the WAAF were qualified pilots; others were training and invaluable for ferrying the aircraft.
As the war intensified, men in the older age groups were recruited to the armed services. Women were able to help to take their place in various occupations, in banks, the Civil Service, as well as the armed forces and the Land Army.
Two gallant ladies
We realised that this was a new era. One of the first to be affected was the nineteen-year-old daughter of a painter and decorator. Some of his men were among the first to be on the Register. When the last man was called to train for combat, their nineteen-year-old daughter offered to help. She was often seen, wearing white overalls, climbing the painter’s tall ladder, carrying a paint can and brush ready to paint one of the tall buildings in Parliament Street.
When the postman for North Ramsey was conscripted for military service, her mother, who would be in her late forties, offered to take his place. She could not drive, so travelled many miles on her bicycle between the Vollan and Bride, often down muddy lanes, delivering post from Ramsey to Bride, in all weathers.
The education service too needed more recruits to replace the servicemen who had volunteered or been conscripted.
Air raid sirens were heard. When this occurred at night, all lights had to be extinguished and the wardens on duty would meet in the basement of the Bank (now the Westminster). Raids often took place in the early hours when enemy aircraft returned from Northern Ireland. A kind benefactor arranged with Christory’s Bakers to supply food and hot tea for the volunteers. We would patrol the streets to make sure that no lights were showing and all premises secured.
Barriers were erected on Bowring Road, which led to Jurby. These were about six feet high, consisting of sand bags, the first at the Fort and the second at Thornycroft. They were zigzagged to allow traffic to proceed. Dimmed storm lanterns were lit at night at the foot of the barriers.
After Dunkirk in 1940, the Island forces had few means of defence. Broom handles sharpened at both ends were issued to the air personnel at Jurby. Only the Home Guard who had their own guns were correctly armed. We were completely demoralised.
The influx of service families
With the increase in the number of servicemen, accommodation was very difficult to find. Refugees were also arriving. Some came from the Channel Islands, others were escaping from wartime Britain. Some went home in despair; others stayed rather than face the nightly air-raids in England. Air crew arrived, many bringing their families and seeking somewhere to live. This was difficult.
Boarding houses on the Mooragh Promenade had been requisitioned for the establishing of the Internment Camp and all residents had to leave their premises by the 21st of May. They were only permitted to take a few possessions with them. Some managed to find suitable premises. Others with children relied on relatives to care for the younger ones. This caused so much heartbreak. Their livelihood had also disappeared. There were few tourists then in winter and they relied on the early season to meet the winter fuel and food bills, rates and heating. The parents of one of my friends owned a boarding house on the Mooragh Promenade. When their home was required for the internees, she was eighteen. I recently asked her, ‘Where did you find somewhere to live?’ She replied, ‘I don’t remember. It was if it had never happened.’
Our next visit was from two Army Billetting Officers, who called at my parents’ house requesting accommodation for two men who were interpreters based at the new Mooragh Camp. They had nowhere to stay. So desperate were they that one had to sleep in a cell at the Police Station the previous evening. They inspected the two bedrooms on the top floor (of Thornycroft, Bowring Road) and decided it would enable the interpreters a degree of privacy. The rooms were suitable for four men who were part of a unit at the Internment Camp on the Mooragh Promenade. They arrived that evening and were soon settled in. They were friendly and discreet. We did not discover their role at the camp. The guards and internees soon arrived by steamer which berthed at the Ramsey Pier.
Thornycroft was a six-bedroomed house. Already there was a Sergeant in RAF Jurby, his wife and three-year-old daughter staying with us (Mother, Father and three daughters). They stayed with us until the end of the war and my mother stayed in touch with them for many years afterwards. Their name was Gove, and their daughter was Stella.
Building new airfields
Preparations were also being made for the construction of airfields at Jurby, Ronaldsway and Andreas. Bride Sand and Gravel (BSG) was appointed and work began. Sand, gravel and stone was in demand.
Ronaldsway was the most urgent and after each day’s delivery, the contractor would telephone stating the quantity of sand and gravel needed for the following day. One evening, all deliveries were cancelled when an important archaeological site was discovered at the end of the runway under construction. This site was to be excavated by a German professor and his wife Maria. They were living in the married quarters at Port St Mary internment camp. He was a well-known archaeologist. His role was to direct the excavation, which was to be carried out by volunteers from the camp. Maria, also an archaeologist, was responsible for the survey of the site. For security reasons, armed guards were on duty at all times. In his book Island at War, Connery Chappell does not mention any Manx archaeologists involved in the excavation.
Meanwhile, Jurby airfield was nearly completed, RAF personnel were in their quarters. Large hangars were almost covered and training of new recruits was under way. This was the year of the air battle over Britain. Small quarries were re-opened. BSG owned the Dhoon Quarry, leased one in Sulby Glen and another in Dalby. Fresh water was needed to wash the salt from the aggregates, boreholes were made and a well was constructed near to the shore, using concrete castings. Work began. A depth was reached when it was necessary for a ladder to be used by the workman. One man was securing the final casting when his rubber boots suddenly filled with water and a quick exit via the ladder was needed.
A bridge was needed to gain access to the Sulby Quarry. For this, railway sleepers were laid and then concreted over. This bridge was in existence for many years after the war. The measures helped with the increased workload. Another difficulty was the staffing problem with younger men joining the forces leaving older men to carry out their work.
Army personnel were billeted in Midwoods Photographic shop next to the Lifeboat Station in Ramsey. We spoke to one soldier who was sitting on a chair ‘on sentry duty’. I’ve never seen a young man look so exhausted. He just gazed out to sea with expressionless eyes. It was said they were here as a rest after Dunkirk.
After Dunkirk, some of the survivors were stationed in Ramsey, also members of the Free French Army were stationed at the Hydro (later renamed the Grand Island Hotel). Volunteers opened a Centre in the Old Chapel Hall, where the Electricity Showroom now stands. This was to provide somewhere Service Personnel could write letters, have refreshments and talk with local people. Letters from Service Personnel were often censored.
The introduction of rationing
Food and clothing rationing came into force and also petrol log books had to be kept. Although we had coupons for certain foods, oranges and bananas were very scarce. Meat shortages meant finding alternatives. Sausage meat could be minced with oats or bread and onions and steamed in a pudding basin, then sliced and served cold with salad. The WI taught us to bottle fruit and tomatoes. Apples could be cut into rings and dried. Bread was rationed for a short time. We were fortunate to have Laxey Glen Mills. Elderberries and blackberries could be made into a good winter drink. Jelly could be made from cherryade pop and gelatine. Rose hips were collected and used to make a tonic for children. Farmers’ wives preserved eggs in isinglass. Butter would be wrapped in half pounds, wrapped in butter muslin, placed in a crock then covered with water which had been boiled with salt. This solution had to be strong enough to float an egg. It was left for 24 hours before using. This would still be fresh after 12 months. Clothing was rationed. A coat and three pairs of stockings would take almost a year’s supply of coupons.
Garments could be made from materials not rationed. A warm winter coat could be made from travel rugs bought from Sulby Woollen Mills, and a warm dressing gown using curtain material, neither of which were rationed. Lace was not rationed and could be made into a wedding dress. A mother with small children trying to cope on the allowance made to Service wives would sometimes sell their children’s clothing coupons, to enable her to buy extra food for them.
In 1942, in order to maintain the Gold Reserves, the Government made an order that wedding rings could only contain 9-carat gold and must not be wider than a curtain ring. We were also encouraged to invest in National Savings.
This was a difficult time for mothers. They were solely responsible for the children, who were upset in the absence of their fathers. Also some were working hard to keep a family business profitable and making decisions for the future. At the beginning of the war, the main maternity hospital was in Douglas. Due to the influx of new mums, and because petrol rationing and the blackout made travelling difficult, it was decided that a Maternity Home would be established in Ramsey, and suitable premises at Brookhill Road were found and adapted. Unfortunately, because of the condition of the building, it was impossible to install a lift, so patients had to be carried by the nurses from the maternity wards to their bedrooms. Establishing this maternity unit made it much simpler for their families to visit the mothers and the new arrivals. The Matron was young and very pleasant, as were the nurses. They would relate any news of Ramsey and of the war.
One of the service families lived in a rented house near to me. They had two children, a boy of 10 and a little girl of three or four, who was looking forward to starting school at Albert Road. One day the mother was on her way to purchase food at one of the small shops in Bowring Road. She secured the straps on the push chair to make sure the daughter was safe. Unfortunately, the little girl managed to undo the safety harness and ran across the road in front of a motor car. She died instantly. Her mother was distraught. We tried to contact her husband. He was on a temporary posting from Jurby and was somewhere in England, and so it was difficult to contact him. We did eventually and he was given compassionate leave. As there was no telephone in the house, it was arranged she would stay with me where she could receive the telephone call from her husband. She was worried about his reaction to the tragedy. When the call came through, I handed the phone to her and left the room but could not help hearing her say, ‘Do you still love me?’
Moving away from friends and family was a strain for mothers and children. With the new influx, extra classrooms were needed to cope with them. The teachers helped the children to cope with a new curriculum and culture. They were used to the frequent postings of service life and soon settled to new routines. When doubts were expressed, one headmaster said they had
good exam markings and adapted well. One of the schools which the mothers put on top of the list was the Dhoor, a little country building between Ramsey and Regaby.
When the war with Germany escalated, training time for air crews decreased to a few months. At the end of this, they were given a short home leave before being posted on active service. We realised they expected the war to be over before their training was completed. It was a very sad time. Short leave brought home personnel who lived previously in the Isle of Man and it was good to see them most wearing service uniform. The Manx ships en route to and from Fleetwood were often overcrowded and permits gave priority to military personnel and their families. Students wishing to return home were not on the list. It was not unusual for a girl student longing to get back to the Island to ask a single male soldier if she could be his ‘wife’ for the journey.
Activity was seen at the new West Grammar School on Lezayre Road. Air Force Personnel were seen entering the building. Rumours spread round the town. Armed guards were on duty. It was not until after the war that we learned that this was an important Radar Station. A large platform was built on the sea between Jurby Head and the Point of Ayre. This was for practice bombing.
An Air/Sea rescue unit was established at the Shipyard in Ramsey. The crews of these high-speed craft took part in many rescues of ships. These are recorded in the book Ramsey Life Boats 1820-1991.
J urby Airfield
Following the invasion of Poland and Czechoslovakia, young men who had escaped were posted to Jurby Airfield for training. They had no means of contacting their families. Some of them married local girls and made a good life here. As well, there were· also Canadians and New Zealanders, who were stationed at Jurby and Andreas. When America entered the war, confidence and morale improved.
We were no longer alone.
A Sunday School outing
Some of the wives and children were living on Windsor Mount overlooking the Bay. Some of the children attended St Olave’s Sunday School, so we invited them to come with us on the Sunday School Picnic to Silverdale. When the big day came, the weather was perfect and everyone had a good time. The shop was sold out of sweets but they still had crisps, candyfloss, ice-cream and Horlicks tablets, swings and a boating lake. The mothers told us of listening for the planes returning from raids over Germany in the early morning. This meant that husbands would soon be home for breakfast. It was unlucky to count them. We taught them ‘Ellan Vannin’ and ‘Ramsey Town’, which we sang in the coach on the way home. We became good friends. They missed their families in England but enjoyed the safety of the Island.
There were many accidents and plane crashes on the Island, some on Snaefell. Due to security, there was little publicity at the time. Because of the secrecy regarding aircraft disasters on the Island during the war, tumour played a major part of our lives. When news circulated that wreckage had been seen on Snaefell, many people braved the steep climb to investigate. By this time, the major bulk of the disaster had been removed for investigation, and only small parts remained. These were collected and some made into decorative items. One such in my possession is a brass table lighter with a model Spitfire on top, a small but fitting tribute to a gallant crew.
Entertainment in Ramsey consisted of two cinemas and the Saturday dances 1eld at the Pool Ballroom. It had a good floor. There was a local band on stage and an M.C. Tables and chairs were comfortable. There was a coffee jar. Alcohol was forbidden and it was always warm in winter. The Polish men were especially good dancers. We became friendly with one of them and invited him home for Sunday lunch. On meeting my Mother, he bowed, :licked his heels and kissed her hand. They spoke about Warsaw and his family. During the early part of the war and as part of establishing good relations with the people of Ramsey, invitations were issued to an evening entertainment at Jurby Airport. This was for most residents a welcome break and also a way of satisfying curiosity about the way in which it operated. Free transport was provided and, as we entered the main gate, sentries were on duty, and a general feeling of excitement prevailed. We were shown into a large room with a stage, seating arrangements and dimmed lighting. When we had settled, curtains were drawn and the play commenced. We enjoyed the evening immensely, especially when we recognised some of the Station personnel in the cast. I think this play was ‘Night must fall’, It is difficult to convey the pleasure of that evening, as travelling was restricted owing to petrol rationing.
At that time I owned a plot of land at Grove Mount. It was surrounded by trees and a hedge. One of the interpreters at the Mooragh Camp asked me if some of the internees could use it to grow vegetables. They would buy the seeds and supply me with some of the produce. They would need tea and food mid-morning. This was agreed but this must be given to the guard who accompanied them. One day when I made the trip, the guard was not there. I asked them where he was. They laughed and said he was under the apple tree fast asleep ‘We’re watching him! He won’t get away!’
[Many were Italians who were desperately missing their families. My mother says that she would often take me up in the pram and they loved that, cooing over me in a very Italian way! FB]
Travel off the Island
Travelling to England was difficult. The Steam Packet ships sailed to Fleetwood to avoid the raids in the dock area in Liverpool. Some areas of the entrance to the port were mined. Soon after I was married, we needed to visit there. It was a calm day with a sea mist. As we neared Fleetwood, the fog intensified. The ship’s engine slowed down then stopped. After a few minutes, the seaman on duty shouted and we could see the faint glow of the sun. We were soon on our way into the harbour. There was no radar at that time. Liverpool was protected by the huge barrage balloons and was targeted on many bombing raids. A business colleague phoned me very distressed. He couldn’t find his way to the office where his employment of twenty years once stood. Now everywhere he looked there was nothing but rubble. He was heartbroken.
One lovely autumn day when harvesting was under way at Balladoole (Lezayre), a young airman walked into the field and asked if he could help. It transpired that he was recovering from an accident while training. He was in charge of the drogue which was flown from the aircraft during target practice. In doing this, his hand was caught in the winding gear. Fortunately the pilot realised the difficulty and managed to return to base, landing safely. Ralph Smith was the official photographer at Jurby. He was responsible for the complete set of aerial maps of the Isle of Man, a set of which are kept in the Manx Museum. He was a very good friend, who escaped relatively unscathed from more than one air crash. I seem to remember he worked for a local newspaper in Lydney or the Welsh Borders. After the war, while he was still stationed at Jurby, he was a regular visitor, often bringing a precious box of New Berry Fruits
Calling out the lifeboat
In peacetime, rockets were fired to call out the lifeboat crew. However, this was not the practice during the war. The coxswain’s young daughter had to run along Barrack Lane, banging on the doors to alert the crew members.
The end of the war
The war ended on 5th May 1945. Everyone seemed to be celebrating. Bunting decorated almost every building and in Ramsey a large banner was suspended between the tall twin chimneys in the Ship Yard. Street parties were planned and blackout curtains were taken down.
Homecoming of personnel from the forces was eagerly awaited. One did not know whether to laugh or cry. Some would not return, their graves unknown. About a month later, my sister and I were walking down Bowring Road where my parents lived. She was ahead of me. A man in a khaki uniform was coming towards us. He did not speak to her. It was only when we met did I recognise my eldest brother, home from the forces in Africa and Italy. We had not seen him for three years. She was then fourteen and he hadn’t recognised her. [Manx servicemen were unable to take advantage of48-hour leave and many were away from the Island for years at a time FB]
Returning to civilian life
When peace was declared, most servicemen and their families were looking forward to demobilisation and a new way of living. Many servicemen were still in their teens; some still had to take examinations. Depending on the arrangements, be it a small or large firm, apprenticeships could be from four to seven years. In some cases, the Manx Government helped with small grants for the first few years. Some agreed to shorten the length of the apprenticeship.
This was a difficult time for students based in training colleges. Teaching methods had changed. Some found it difficult to adapt to the new regime. Others coped well and adapted to this new way of life. Apprentices who had been used to having regular pay in the services found it frustrating not having money to spend and having to economise by living with relatives. In some cases, the relatives were given a small grant for their food and keep until the student finished training and was able to earn a living. Wives too had helped to keep a family business solvent also helped the returning service men to take over the running of the businesses they had had to leave.
With the investment in the infrastructure of the Isle of Man during the latter part of the 19th century, there was a pressing need to improve communications across the Island. The Douglas to Peel railway was opened in 1873, closely followed by the line from Douglas to Port Erin via Castletown. In spite of opposition from the Isle of Man Railway (IoMR), the Manx Northern Railway (MNR) began operating in August 1879. The 17-mile route linked Ramsey with St John’s and Douglas. Four years later the railway was extended along the Quay in Ramsey. The bitter relationship between the IoMR and MNR was only resolved in 1905, when the MNR and Foxdale lines were absorbed by the IoMR.
The goods shed in Ballaugh was built when the northern line opened in 1879 but appears to have been heightened, possibly as a result of the 1905 takeover. From the start, Ballaugh Station was provided with a passing loop, extended over the level crossing in 1883. There was also a goods loop and sidings.
With the improvement in roads and road transport, all the Island’s railways declined during the 1960s. The last service on the St John’s to Ramsey route ran on 6 September 1968, although there was a freight service operating until the autumn of 1969. The tracks were lifted in 1974 and much of the route is now an extended public footpath.
In 1979 Ballaugh Commissioners purchased the goods shed and a section of the railway line from the Government for £2,500. The building has since been used as storage by Ballaugh Commissioners.
‘Really nice to have the chance to see the railway come to life. Our walks will have new meaning.’
‘I look forward to seeing rolling stock in the shed in the near future.’
‘Great exhibition – I had no idea that the track was still in the goods shed. Would be lovely to see some rolling stock here.’
When the Goods Shed was opened to the public for the first time, it was clear from these comments that there was a lot of interest in the building. It spurred on the members of the Heritage Trust to make this a more permanent situation and plans were put into action.
The first major step was to sign an agreement with the Commissioners for a ten-year lease, and this was signed in April 2012. This was the signal for action! A fund-raising operation was set into motion and there were plenty of discussions on how the space can be used.
The building is generally structurally sound but, in order to stop the deterioration of the main fabric, the following essential work is planned for the winter of 2012-13. The main priority is the re-pointing, and work on this began in October. Doors and windows have to be restored and essential woodworm treatment is to be carried out. With commendable foresight, members of the Trust managed to salvage guttering in the original style when Albert Road School was demolished.
The Trust has been fortunate to receive considerable funding for the preliminary work. The first award was in March 2012, when the Manx Heritage Foundation generously granted £8,000 towards the re-pointing. Once the essential work has been completed, work can then begin on the internal renovation, so that the plans for an exhibition centre can begin.
An Exhibition space for Ballaugh
A permanent poster exhibition is planned. This will highlight aspects of the parish which makes Ballaugh special, and will feature the Curragh, an internationally-recognised wetland of special significance, the Great Elk, the Iron Age fort of Cashtal Lajer, the Old Church at the Cronk with the runic cross slab, the growth of the present village, Ballaugh Bridge, emigration and, of course, the railway itself. Over the years, the Trust has begun to gather information and artefacts relating to the area. There have been some generous donations of railway-related items, photographs and, importantly, personal reminiscences.
It was clear from conversations at the History Day that there are some fascinating memories of the village and parish. A few of these have featured in earlier issues of the Newsletter but there is still a huge source of these. Some will have been recorded, on paper, tape or video. These provide valuable, and often entertaining, insights. It’s important that these are preserved.
It’s planned to have a basic permanent display which will stand alongside temporary exhibitions on specific topics. The information gathered will then form an archive of the history of the parish.
Using the Goods Shed
The Goods Shed will provide an educational resource for schools in the area. Dr Graeme Cushnie, Head of Ballaugh School, has already expressed enthusiasm for the project. The building could provide a showcase for children’s work, either on paper, computer or audio-visual, including interviews with parents, grandparents, etc re their experiences of living in Ballaugh. The project also offers opportunities for A level and undergraduate research into Ballaugh’s history, including the trades and occupations (milliners, tailors, auction house, public houses, etc), natural history, archaeology, and local history.
What will the opening hours be?
We shall also need volunteers to man the Goods Shed. Opening hours will probably be during the race weeks of the TTs and the Grand Prix, Bank holidays, and by appointment for visiting groups and schools..
It will be a great opportunity to show off the village and the parish to visitors.
The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee was celebrated on the Island on Friday 6 July. In spite of the weather, the whole day was a huge success.
The Jubilee Princess procession opened the proceedings and, because of the rain, some changes to the plans had to be made. Everyone had hoped for a warm, sunny and dry day. It was not to be! Crowds gathered in the Village Hall to enjoy the fun and games, the maypole dancing, and the splendid celebration cake competition. The decorated hat competition added to the fun and there were delicious refreshments.
With his usual aplomb, Captain of the Parish, Mr Edgar Cowin, chaired the evening concert, which opened with the talented Manx Music Group from Ballaugh School, directed by Miss Caitlin Bennett. The School’s Drama Group, directed by Mrs Jan Bale, then took to the stage with an excellent adaptation of a Manx story ‘The Manx Cat and the Governor’s Lady’.
Ballaugh Brownies and Guides entertained us next with ‘A Russian Fairy Tale’. Though not intrinsically a comic tale, Elaine Fenton’s production was highly original and was greatly enjoyed by the audience.
A surprise item was magician Liam Moorhouse, whose skills and wit appealed to all ages.
A feature of the Jubilee Year was ‘Sing’, composed by Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Gary Barlow. Fenella Bazin conducted the newly-formed Songalong Choir, which featured some fantastic singers from Ballaugh School, with some parents as well. They made a splendid sound!
Recitation featured too. Edgar Cowin gave an amusing poem about an earlier Jubilee, and Simon Graley treated us to ‘Tales of the North’ (England, that is, not the Isle of Man!).
More youthful talent followed with Doona Lambden and Bridget Bale. Doona’s own song was a great hit with the audience. We shall look forward to hearing more!
Andrew Williamson’s solo slot opened with Gill’s arrangement of ‘I‘m happy as a king’, which was followed by Michael Head’s ‘Lone Dog’, finishing with enthusiastic audience participation in the Flanders and Swann song ‘The Hippopotamus Song’.
The evening closed with an Edwardian miscellany, a piece describing a visitor’s experiences on visiting the Island. Carl Reber’s ‘Descriptive Selection for the Piano’ begins and ends with the sea journey, and includes several popular songs of the day, including ‘Ellan Vannin’. Illustrated with slides, the audience sang lustily.
Ed: I’ve included this article in its unedited state as an excellent example of the complexity of research and how the story can unfold. The Internet has meant that research that would have been very difficult or impossible in the past can now be followed through. Although the emails show how immediate responses can be, the footwork still has to be tackled.
Sometime during the summer of 2009 I happened to photograph a gravestone that caught my eye in the graveyard at Ballaugh Old Church. The stone was inscribed with the name Lieut. Mark Ecken R.N. In October 2009 I chose to put that photograph onto a website called Flickr URL: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ballaugh/4061695284/. This was listed with a ‘tag’ for the surname on the gravestone.
In February 2010, as a result of an internet search on the surname Ecken, I was contacted by e-mail by Jillian Ryder in Australia. She was researching the Pinkerton family for a friend, and had come across a Mark Ecken, as the husband of an Elizabeth Pinkerton. Mark Ecken and Elizabeth Pinkerton had married in Glasgow, Scotland in 1819. Elizabeth Pinkerton had emigrated to Australia from Glasgow in 1839. Jillian had not known what had happened to Mark Ecken, and was not aware of a connection to the Isle of Man.
MEMORIAL INSCRIPTION AND CHURCH RECORDS
‘In memory of / Lieut. MARK ECKEN R.N. / who departed this mortal life / on the 13th day of September / 1826 aged 41 years. / Also CATHARINE GEORGINA his daughter who departed this life / on the 21st day of January / 1827 aged 18 months’
This adds a daughter to the family tree. I looked for her baptism, and also any possible siblings. I found Catharine Georgina as might be expected in the summer of 1825:-
‘Catharine Georgiana daughter of Mark & Elizabeth Ickan privately bapt 22nd July.’
Note the spelling of Georgina, was this an error? Also note the variant spelling of the surname. The clerk was presumably unfamiliar with the ‘alien’ surname.
The Ballaugh burial records show:
1826 Mark Ecken Lieut R N Sep 21st 1827 An Infant Daughter of Mrs Aiken Jan 26th
So far that has given us Ecken, Ickan and Aiken as variant spellings!
Luckily Mark Ecken left a will:
ECKEN, Mark Warcup 1826 Bal E 2 0106426
On Microfilm GL743 (damaged) at the Manx Museum Library, Douglas, Isle of Man
In the name of God Amen I Mark Warcup Ecken more commonly known by the name of Mark Eiken, a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy at present residing in the Parish of Ballaugh in the Isle of Mann [this is the old spelling] being weak in body but of sound and disposing mind memory and understanding do make publick & declare this my last will & testament in manner and form [the?] following Item [or is it Heir?] – I leave and bequeath unto my beloved wife Elizabeth Ecken after the payment of all just debts the whole of my estate real & personal of every denomination or kind whatsoever and lastly I nominate constitute & appoint my sd [said] Wife whole & sole Executrix of all the rest residue & remaining of my Power Chattles & effects and Guardian of my three children Margaret Pinkerton – Mary Harriet & Catharine Georgiana Ecken [the capital E has been gone over again and looks like an I perhaps] In witness whereof I have herewith subscribed my name this 7th Septr 1826.
Signed Published & declared / Mark W. Ecken /
before us who have herewith subscribed our names as witnesses in the judence[?] of the Testation & of each other, Wm. Mitford/J C Bluett/Advocate Jurate}/[etc.] hath given pledges – Thomas Kewish and John Frowd both of Ballaugh…
Notes: I’ve not come across any Mitford’s on the Island before.
J C Bluett was, or later became, the High Bailiff.
Thomas Kewish is listed as ‘Gentry’ in Slater’s Directory of 1846.
The name Frowd has popped up before in my research, but I haven’t as yet tracked down who that family was – it is not a Manx name.
The name that kept coming up on internet searches was the unlikely sounding Dodo Ecken. He had links to the Royal Navy and Woolwich, and was a surgeon. Could there be a connection?
Who was Elizabeth Pinkerton?
She married Mark Ecken in Glasgow in 1819. They had three daughters. One died in the Isle of Man aged 18 months. The other two emigrated to Australia from Greenock, Glasgow with their mother, and their Uncle and Aunt etc in 1839. She had a brother James Pinkerton. James Pinkerton was married to Margaret Unknown. Their daughter married a Kissack. There were four other children. They all emigrated from Greenock, Glasgow to Port Philip, Australia in 1839. Two of James Pinkerton’s sisters also emigrated together with three nieces (of James and Margaret) and one sister-in-law (of James and Margaret).
Hi David…I’m researching the Ecken/Pinkerton families for a friend. There was a wife and two daughters of Mark Ecken RN came to Australia in 1839 on the ”Superb” from Glasgow, they settled in Victoria with Mrs Ecken’s brother James Pinkerton and family. I believe your headstone photo may be her husband’s. This is the second time the Isle of Man has come up in this research, in 1841 Census 3 girls named Chmil (Chmel) from Liverpool were staying there. Two of these girls and their Aunt all married Pinkertons. Still haven’t worked out what the connection to your Island is….thanks for the photo, a fabulous find.
Best wishes, Jillian Ryder, Australia
The Chmel girls’ mother was named Kitchen…is that a local name for you? Adelbert Chmel was a wine and spirits merchant in Liverpool, we think he may have been from Prague. Also the Aunt Chmel married Mark Ecken Pinkerton. Do you have the full transcription for the stone as part of it is hidden by a bush? Thanks for the Cannel suggestion, I’ll have a look at that.
Hi David, that would be wonderful. I may have another connection….James Pinkerton of Victoria died at the home of his son in law, a Mr KISSACK. Now I know you have a few of those, are any local to the town where Mark Ecken is buried?
Hi David, Jillian Ryder has helped me in finding ancestors in Liverpool which led also to the Isle of Man. She said I would be very interested in the photos etc. on your facebook page and I would welcome the chance to learn more about the community you live in. Jillian has sent me the information on Lt.Ecken’s grave site and the other messages you sent her and I would like to view the photos she says you have posted.
We are both quite excited about this – what a wonderful tool the internet can be; I am a novice who wants to learn more
Mark Ecken married Elizabeth Pinkerton 18 Jan 1819 Glasgow. James Pinkerton married Margaret Gardiner 24 Dec 1816 Glasgow. Louise Silberberg Cook is the lady I’m researching for. We love dead people, too.
Yes I did get your email and sent a reply, let me know if it’s gone astray. Mark’s daughters here were Margaret who died a spinster at age 55, and Mary Harriet who married her first cousin William Pinkerton. Were there such things as rates/tithes books or post office directories or anything like that in your parish?
Dodo Ecken (Research by Jillian and David)
Dodo Ecken married Mary Loney 25 Apr 1772 at St Mary Magdalene, Woolwich, witnesses Jam Carter, T Barker, ? Barker, Thomas Sparshott, Mary MacPherson.
Mark Warclap Echen born 30 Oct 1784 Baptised 12 Dec 1784 St Mary Magdalene Woolwich , of Dodo and Mary.
Dodo was a surgeon with the Royal Artillery, and Mark Warcup (see below), was Commissary of stores to the Royal Engineer. At that time the Artillery and the Engineers were housed together at Woolwich so the men were connected through the army.
Where does the name Warcup come from? (Jillian’s research)
Mark Warcup married Frances Loney (the sister of Dodo’s wife?) on 24 Jan 1766 St Mary Magdalene Woolwich, Frances listed as a minor, witnesses Mary Loney and Mulford Young. This would suggest that Mary and Frances were sisters, which would mean Mark Warcup and Dodo Ecken were brothers in law, and Mark Warcup an Uncle to Lieut. Mark Warcup Ecken..
SUMMARY MARK WARCUP ECKEN
Born 30 Oct 1784
Baptised 12 Dec 1784 St Mary Magdalene, Woolwich
c1810 Glasgow Mark Ecken was a Lieutenant with the Impress Service.
1819 Glasgow Mark Ecken married Elizabeth Pinkerton.
Children: Margaret Ecken.
c1824 Mary Harriet, m.Wm Pinkerton, Melbourne 1848, d.1900
Manx Newspapers search re September 1826: The Manx Sun 16.09.1826
‘We regret to note the extent and fatality which dysenteries and cholera morhus are making among the poor of this island. As they are complaints very readily checked by the early adoption of medicine we consider it as a strong inducement to some public measure, by which the poor should be provided with medical advice and medicine, gratis.’ ‘Dreadful Storm: During the past week the weather has been in a very unsettled state.’ Many ships were wrecked with considerable loss of life. No Ecken obituary.
FINALLY: WHAT WAS HIS CONNECTION WITH THE ISLE OF MAN?
Had Mark been pensioned off? Did he retire to the Isle of Man, because of the cheaper cost of living? Was there a family connection? There is no obvious connection with the Island. The surname Loney (his Mother’s maiden name) resembles Looney, which is a well known surname, but that seems to be a coincidence.
Loney family: (research by Jillian and David)
A John F. Loney (John on birth records) with the Royal Navy, Master of the Trincomalee (North America and West Indies 17.09.1747, could be the girls’ father. If so, this is Mark Ecken’s grandfather, and might be worth a look as it would give him a link to the Navy.
From the records at the National Archives, mostly from the Navy Board, I was able to determine that the Shipwright known as John Loney Junior is Mary’s father. Captain John F Loney RN is probably a relative. John Senior was a Shipwright in Portsmouth, John Junior was a Shipwright’s assistant for a time. They were building ships for the Navy. John Junior was appointed Master Boatbuilder at Woolwich in 1764. And, if you’re interested, his will is online dated 14th November 1778. Would certainly help to verify the story.
Conclusions (by David): It isn’t clear why Mark Ecken and his family were on the Isle of Man. There is no indication that they were living permanently on the Island, no address mentioned in the Will, in the burial records, or on the headstone. If it is true that a Pinkerton (his wife’s family name) married a Kissack, and I have not been able to find this marriage in Ballaugh or Jurby – or further afield via the internet, then perhaps they had simply been simply visiting their Kissack relatives, when Mark, and in due course, his infant daughter were struck down by some illness. So if there are any ‘Kissack’ experts out there who know the answer please let me know!
The move from the Old Church at the Cronk to the new church in the early part of the 19th century produced major and obvious changes to the parishioners. Some, however, are less obvious to modern historians but must have caused considerable comment at the time.
Anyone familiar with the Old Church today will have noticed that the hymns are played on a small harmonium, an instrument that was relatively affordable, produced an organ-like sound, had a pump operated by the keyboard player, and that took up very little space. It was also portable and eminently suitable for use in Sunday Schools. Developed in France during the early 19th century (which explains why the organ stops are in French), it was originally intended for domestic use.
When the move was made to the outskirts of the village, Robert Taubman, who had been the organist, took over the role at the New Church. According to Miss Beatrice Kneen, writing in the Antiquarian Proceedings of 1926, the whole Taubman family was musical, and said to be the proud owners of the first piano in the parish. Robert had originally played the bass fiddle and afterwards the ‘seraphine’, a name often used to describe the new-fangled harmonium. It is this reference to the ‘bass fiddle’ which gives us a valuable clue to what sort of music would have been used every Sunday.
The move coincided with big changes in worship. Up to the 1830s, music was provided by local musicians, who would play for local dances and socials, perhaps join in with performances with choral societies, then with the church band on Sundays. There was no set instrumental combination for the band, which could include fiddles, cellos, flutes, clarinets (usually known as ‘clarionets’) and serpents, found in both military and church bands.
A serpent player (Photograph by Fenella Bazin)
Followers of the Oxford Movement advocated a return to what they believed was more appropriate, drawing their inspiration from medieval times. Followers encouraged the introduction of robed choirs, separated from the congregations by rood screens. St Olave’s Church in Ramsey is a good example of this style. Hymn-books were gradually introduced, standardizing (and eventually impoverishing) the repertoire, which began to conform to national standards, rather than developing local idioms. Nowadays, for instance, we nearly all sing the words of ‘While shepherds watched their flocks’ to the tune ‘Winchester Old’, dating back to the 1590s. The Methodists tend to opt for ‘Lydia’, a much livelier tune. But at one time, hundreds of different melodies would have been found right across the British Isles. Some have survived and are being revived. We have several versions here on the Island. Did you know that the tune of ‘Ilkley Moor’ was originally composed by Thomas Clark of Canterbury for the hymn?
So the music used in the Old Church would have been much more local, accompanied latterly by the harmonium but before that by musicians like Robert Taubman playing instruments such as the bass fiddle, probably a type of cello. In the south of the Island, the tradition lasted well into the 20th century, with Tom Taggart playing his bass fiddle at Kerrowkeil Chapel, and commemorated by Cecil McFee in a splendid poem.
Hymns would be ‘raised’ by the parish clerk, whose appointment depended on him having a good singing voice. He would ‘line out’ the hymn, echoed by the congregation, line by line, so that every hymn would take twice the time to sing. They tended to be sung much slower too, so a hymn might take five minutes or more to complete. Probably because of this, some singers started to add twiddly bits to the tune, adding their own variations and changing the character of the melody. This tradition still survives today in the Isle of Lewis, where singers produce an extraordinary effect when singing metrical psalms in Gaelic. Although hymn-raising is no longer heard in church, it survives in cruinnaght and eisteddfod competitions.
There were choirs, though not robed and not always well behaved. Thomas Hardy described his early memories of such a choir in his novel Under the Greenwood Tree, which deals with this exact period of transition, from instrumental accompaniment to the introduction of harmoniums, played, in his story, by the splendidly named Miss Fancy Day. The singers would be called on for special services, particularly at Christmas. Anthems would often be composed by the choirmaster. Many remained in local use only, but others were published and became popular with a wider public. We have a wealth of these in the Island. Peripatetic singing masters would visit a parish to train a choir, staying anything from a few weeks or months, or even years. Master William Shepherd was a Cumbrian choirmaster who had a huge influence on Manx choirs in the early 1800s, leaving behind him a treasury of manuscript books, now brought to life again by musicologists and performed by choirs such as we have in Ballaugh.
The style is generally known as ‘West Gallery’, as that is where the choir would have sung from. The congregation might well have turned round to watch them during the anthem, bringing down on their heads the wrath of the clergy, and probably giving rise to the term ‘facing the music’.
A modern ‘West Gallery’ choir, singing in Malew Church
Most of the music manuscript books in the Island have been found in the south, round the Castletown and Colby areas, mainly as a result of Shepherd’s work. It is believed, however, that he also trained choirs in the northern parishes, and I am longing for someone to find traces of his work. The books were handwritten, the lines ruled with a five-pointed pen, with the music copied out by the choirmaster on the right-hand page. The left-hand page was left blank for the owner to add the words. Sometimes these were dutifully completed, other times left blank, perhaps because of semi-literacy or because the singer had memorized the words. As paper was quite expensive, people often used spaces left in the manuscripts. Some of the examples from Colby contain sketches of people of boats, or have personal comments, or school exercises.
There are now scores of choirs in the UK, North America and Australia performing this music, and many enthusiasts searching through archives and church cupboards. Some exciting items have been unearthed, including several here on the Island. John Wesley would have heard West Gallery music when he came here at the end of the 18th century, and wrote in his diary that he was greatly impressed with the singing of Manx congregations, noting that he ‘was agreeably surprised’. He had not heard better singing at Bristol or Lincoln. ‘Both men and women have admirable voices; and they sing with good judgement. Who would have expected this in the Isle of Man?’
His comments show that there was a good standard of music making here, comparable with that in major cities in England. So it is not surprising to find that the surviving manuscripts show that we also had a wide variety and high standard of repertoire available to the church choirs. With the disintegration of the tradition in parish churches in the mid-nineteenth century, musicians either moved into Methodist churches, or decamped to the local pub, where the singing continued. South Yorkshire is still a centre for this tradition, where it can be heard in the weeks leading up to Christmas, attracting large crowds, singing carols specific to local areas. They live up their titles too; ‘Hail, smiling morn’, ‘Drop hark’, and ‘Sweet chiming bells’ are all joyous songs that deserve to be better known.
Some of the members of Ballaugh Quire, in a photograph which was featured in the 20th anniversary of the West Gallery Music Association’s publication ‘Let our joys be known’. Some 30 choirs from as far afield as Cornwall and Northumberland meet regularly or occasionally to explore the music enjoyed by church musicians in the days before the Oxford Movement introduced Victorian anthems and surplices. Over nearly 30 years, Ballaugh Quire has performed items, some written by Manx composers. Most of this energetic and heartfelt music had been forgotten for 200 years but is now being restored to regular use.