Historical description of the Isle of Man

Map of the Isle of man

Man, Isle of, an island, with adjacent islet of Calf of Man and several skerries, in the Irish Sea, between England, Scotland, and Ireland, and nearly equidistant from Liverpool, Greenock, and Belfast. Its centre is in lat. 54° 15' N, and long. 4° 30' W; its N extremity, at Point of Ayre, is 16 miles SSW of Burrow Head, in Scotland; its NE extremity, at Maughold Head, is 30 miles W of St Bees Head, in Cumberland; its SW extremity, at Calf of Man, is 31 miles SE of Ardglass in Ireland, and 45 NNE of Holyhead in Anglesey; and the central point of its W coast, at Peel, is 27 miles SE by E of Lough Strangford, in Ireland. Population of Man in 1726, 14,066; in 1757, 19,144; in 1784, 24,924; in 1821, 40,081; in 1841, 47,986; in 1861, 52,469, in 1881, 53,558; and in 1891, 55,608. Its outline is proximately oblong, with angular projection at each extremity, and extending from NE by N to SW by S. Its length, from the Point of Ayre to the SW of the Calf, is 35 miles; its greatest breadth from Ballanayre, N of Peel, to Banks Howe, is 12 1/2 miles; its circumference is about 80 miles; and its area, inclusive of the Calf, is about 130,800 acres. Its aggregate form may be described, in the words of an old writer, as "a park in the sea, impaled with rocks." The coast, except in the N, and at the bays of Douglas, Castletown, and Poolvash, consists of rugged and lofty precipices. The interior is divided into two regions by a chain of mountains extending through it from NE to SW. The chain begins at Maughold Head with a height of 373 feet, and runs by the watershed of North Barrule, Snaefell, Beinn-y-Phott, Garraghan, Greeba, Slieau Whuallian, South Barrule, and Cronk-ny-Arrey-Lhaa to the W coast N of Fleshwick Bay, with a maximum altitude of 2034 feet at Snaefell. Side mountains or spurs flank considerable portions of the watershed line; a chain of hills, in continuation of the watershed line, runs to the SW extremity of the W coast; heights of considerable altitude beetle over many points of the E and the SE coast, all the way from Maughold Head to the vicinity of Castletown Bay; and a summit, 472 feet high, rises on the Calf. The Calf is separated by a sound only about 500 yards wide, and comprises about 800 acres.

About three-fourths of the island S of a line drawn westward from Ramsey to Sulby, and thence south-westward to near the middle of the W coast, consist of Lower Silurian rocks, comprising all the Cambrian series below the Upper Silurian. Considerable tracts within that region, particularly at Foxdale on the E side of South Barrule, and at the Dhoon N of Laxey, consist of granites and trappæan rocks, which have burst through the schists, and greatly contorted their strata. Two tracts at Peel and in the vicinity of Castletown consist of old red sandstone and conglomerate, resting unconformably on the upturned edges of the clay schist. A considerable tract, in the S around Castletown and Port St Mary, consists of carboniferous rocks, chiefly lower carboniferous limestone and shale, but including a remarkable black schistoze formation, locally called Poolvash Black Marble. The northern fourth of the island consists mainly of alluvium, overlying a stratified bed of drift gravel, and might all be regarded as, in some sense, an extensive raised beach. The aggregate rocks, though belonging to so few formations, possess much interest in their coast-sections, in their litho-logical character, and in rich stores of carboniferous and pleistocene fossils. Copper ore is worked at Langness, iron ore at Foxdale, lead ore, employing over 800 men and boys, at Foxdale, Great Laxey, North Laxey, Rushen, and Snaefell, from which about 130,000 ounces of silver are annually obtained. Ochre, umber, and rottenstone is obtained at Baldroma and Kirk Malew, and zinc ore is worked at Great Laxey, Rushen, and Snaefell. At Poolvash there is a quarry for working the celebrated "black marble," and the great slabs which form the steps of St Paul's Cathedral were quarried here.

The soils correspond in character with the rocks, and do not present much variety. The total amount of acreage under all kinds of crops, bare fallow, and grass in 1894 were 96,973 acres. The general surface looks, on a first approach, to be bare and bleak; yet, from the very edge of the coast-cliffs to a considerable distance up the mountain sides, it is all disposed in corn fields and pastures. Agriculture was long in a very low condition, but has gradually improved since 1765. The produce formerly was so scanty as barely to suffice for the population, but now is so plentiful as to admit of large exportation. Wheat and beans grow well on the heaviest lands; barley and oats grow well on the sandy portions of the N quarter, and on some portions of the hills; and potatoes are eminently suited to most parts of the N quarter, to the central valley from Douglas to Peel, and to the limestone tract around Castletown.

In 1893 there were 1224 farmers in the island. Poultry, butter, eggs, cattle, horses, and pigs are exported, and all kinds of produce find ready markets at Liverpool and Whitehaven. Sea-weed is largely used for manure, and calcined lime, from the limestone tract around Castletown, is largely employed. According to the statistical abstract for 1893, there were 1934 men and 282 boys employed in the fisheries. Lobsters are obtained in such quantity, chiefly on the rocky shores around the Calf, as to be an article of export. Manufactures, mainly in consequence of the want of coal, are not extensive; yet woollen and linen goods, and sailcloth, ropes, nets, and leather are manufactured.

The island is divided politically into ten sections—viz., the towns of Douglas, Ramsey, Castletown, and Peel, and the districts or sheadings of Glanfaba, Michael, Ayre, Garff, Middle, and Rushen. Ramsey, Peel, and Castletown send each one member to the House of Keys, Douglas sending five, while the six districts send three each, with the exception of Michael and Garff, which send only two each. The island is independent of the imperial parliament; has its own laws, courts of law, and law officers; and is not affected by any writ of chancery or other English court, unless the writ obtain the sanction of its own courts. No act of the Imperial Parliament extends to the island unless it is specially mentioned in it. The supreme court consists of the Lieutenant-Governor, the Council, and the Keys; bears the name of the Tynwald Court; may be convoked by the Lieutenant-Governor at any time of need for legislative business; and forms acts which, when sanctioned by the Queen in council, and proclaimed in Manx and English on Tynwald Hill in the centre of the island, have the force of law. The Lieutenant-Governor is appointed by the Crown, represents the sovereign, sits as chancellor in his court, is President of the High Court of Justice and captain-general of the military forces of the island. The Council also (with the exception of the vicar-general) is appointed by the Crown, and consists of the lord-bishop, the archdeacon, the clerk of the rolls, the attorney-general, the receiver-general, and the vicar-general; and, in consequence of their always taking part in the business of the legislature, practically includes likewise the two deemsters. The clerk of the rolls has the custody of the records, is judge of the chancery division of the High Court of Justice, and enters all pleas; the attorney-general sits in all courts for the Crown, and is public prosecutor; the receiver-general's office is practically a sinecure, the charge of the revenue being in the hands of the treasurer of the isle, through whom the official salaries are paid; the vicar-general is the bishop's official; the deemsters are the judges of the common law and testamentary divisions of the High Court of Justice, and are regarded as having derived their office from the ancient Druids. The Keys is the lower house of the legislature, and consists of twenty-four natives. They formerly held office for life, and were appointed, on a vacancy, by the Lieutenant-Governor, from a leet of two presented by the remaining twenty-three. This was, however, altered by the House of Keys Act, 1866, and the members of the house are now elected by the popular vote of the people. The Lieutenant-Governor, the Council, and the House of Keys constitute the Court of Tynwald, by which all the public laws of the island are enacted and promulgated. The House of Keys is supposed to derive its name of Keys from three Manx words signifying "four-and-twenty." The revenue is derived from import duties. It amounts to somewhat more than £72,000 a year. The expenditure comprises about .£11,000 on education, £8000 on the civil establishment, about £3900 in the customs department, and £2300 for public works; and the balance, after paying £10,000 a year to the Imperial Government for protection, goes to the insular general revenue. Prior to 1888 there were no poor-rates levied in the island, the poor being relieved only by charitable agencies supported by collections in the parish churches every Sunday morning. In that year, however, the Poor Relief Act came into force, and an Asylum Board was appointed to levy rates for the support of the poor. Three of the towns and one of the parishes have availed themselves of the Act; in the others the old system still obtains. A general Poor Asylum was provided for the island.

The Local Government Amendment Act (1894) provided commissioners for each parish, with duties and powers similar to those of the parish councils in England. The first election took place in October, 1894.

The postal department is independent of the local revenue arrangements, and is very efficient. Regular communication by steam vessels is enjoyed with Liverpool, Fleetwood, Whitehaven, Silloth, Barrow, Glasgow, Belfast, and Dublin. From Douglas a line of railway runs southward through Castletown to Port Erin; another runs westward from Douglas through St John's Junction to Peel on the W coast. From St John's Junction a line runs northwards along the coast, via Kirk Michael to Ballaugh, whence it crosses the island eastwards to Ramsey. There is also a short line from St John's Junction to Foxdale, chiefly used for mineral traffic: A telegraphic cable connects Point Cranstal, 4 miles N of Ramsey, with St Bees in Cumberland; and wires go from it to Ramsey and Douglas, and from Douglas to Castletown, Peel, Port St Mary, and Port Erin. A line of tramways runs from Douglas Pier to Derby Castle, by horse haulage, and from the latter place to Laxey, a distance of about 7 miles, by electric power. Many English families, attracted by the amenities of the island, have settled in it as permanent residents, and great numbers resort to it in summer for excursions through it, and for sea-bathing, &c. The currency was in 1840 assimilated to that of England, yet copper coinage is still to be seen stamped with the Manx arms. Notes of £1 secured by guarantees on land, are issued by local banks. Curious ancient manners and customs continued to prevail till the era of steam communication, but have now, in main degree, disappeared; yet many superstitious observances and notions, some of them supposed to date from the times of Druidism, still survive. The Manx language, a dialect of the Celtic very closely allied to the Gaelic and the Erse, is still spoken by the natives; but, as a spoken language, is not unlikely soon to become extinct. It was used in most of the parish churches, so late as about 1835, on three Sundays out of every four, but is now entirely out of use in public worship. A curious Manx literature, chiefly of ballads on sacred subjects, exists in manuscript, and maybe found in rural cottages and farmhouses; a scanty Manx literature, chiefly of a few poems, exists in print; a Manx prayer-book was printed in 1765, and a Manx Bible in 1772; a Manx grammar, which had become very scarce, was republished in 1859 ; and both a dictionary of Manx and English and a triglot dictionary of Manx, Gaelic, and Erse, were written by the author of the grammar, the former appearing in 1864.

The island possesses many educational advantages. King William's College, founded by Bishop Borrow in 1668, may be put on a level with the English public schools. It has several exhibitions to the universities, where many of its-pupils have obtained high distinctions. There are also endowed grammar schools in each of the four towns. Under the Education Act school boards were made compulsory, and attendance at school strictly enforced in every district. There are about twenty-five places of worship, either chapels or school-houses used as chapels, besides the parish churches, belonging to the Establishment; upwards of sixty other places of worship are Wesleyan or Primitive Methodist; several in the towns of Douglas and Ramsey are Congregational or Scotch Presbyterian; and there are Roman Catholic chapels at Douglas, Ramsey, Peel, and Castletown. The ecclesiastical matters of the Established Church are all comprised in the diocese of Sodor and Man, and will be noticed in an article under that title. The only towns are Douglas, Ramsey, Castletown, and Peel; and two of the chief villages are Port St Mary and Port Erin.

Man, in common with Anglesey, is the Mona of many ancient writers. It was called Mona by Cæsar and Tacitus; it was called Monaoida, Monabia, Menavia, and Eubonia by other Roman authors; and it was called Mann, Manau, Mannin, and Menow by the ancient Norsemen and the ancient Britons. It was early inhabited by a Scoto-Irish people, and was a great theatre of Druidism. It comes into view at the beginning of the 6th century as sharing in the troubles of neighbouring Celtic populations. It was the scene of a war in 503, and, after the termination of that war, it lay under the dominion of Maelgwyn, King of North Wales. It continued to be subject to Maelgwyn's son, but after a battle in 581 it passed under the dominion of Aodan M'Gabhran, King of the Scots, and it was ruled till the beginning of the next century by two sons of Aodan in succession as viceroys. Edwin, King of Northumbria, wrested it from the Scots about 625, but held it with such uncertain grasp that it reverted to them at his death in 633. It continued with the Scots through three more reigns, became the subject; of disputed succession in 755, seems thence for years to have been a scene of troubles, and reverted in 825 to the dominion of North Wales. A partition of the Welsh kingdom among three sons of the king took place in 877, and Man was then made a separate kingdom and assigned to Anaraud. But that prince became feudatory to Alfred the Great, and was the last of the Welsh princes who reigned in Man. The Norsemen, or Danes and Norwegians, were then making descents on the islands and coasts of Briton, and they seem to have driven Anaraud to seek protection from Alfred the Great. Harold Haarfager, King of Norway, and subjugator of the Hebrides and the Orkneys, invaded Man in 888, and drove Anaraud from the throne. Jarl Ketit Bjornson was appointed viceroy under the new regime, claimed the sovereignty for himself and became independent in 890, and was succeeded on the throne by first his son and then his grandson. The natives rebelled against his grandson and expelled him, and they appear to have been thence for a time without any settled government. Orrey or Orry, a Danish marauder who had overrun the Hebrides and the Orkneys, arrived with a strong fleet in some early year of the 10th century on the shores of Man, and was readily accepted by the people as their king. His son and successor, Godred I., came to the throne in 947, is said to have been the founder of Rushen Castle, and died in 954. Reginald, Olave I., Olain, Allan, Fingal I., and Godred II. followed in succession. Macon, son of the King of Dublin and high-admiral of King Edgar of England, in 973 swept the British seas with a powerful fleet, took possession of the sovereignty of Man, and assumed as the Royal Manx coat of arms a ship in full sail—a coat of arms which was afterwards adopted by the Lords of the Isles, and may be seen on many monuments in lona.

Godred III., the brother of Macon, succeeded him on the throne, and appears to have defended it in 986 in a battle against invaders. Reginald II., of the line of Orrey, succeeded in 996; Suibne succeeded in 1004, and was slain in defending his throne against Jarl Torfin of Orkney in 1034; Harold I., the son of Suibne, was the next successor, and reigned till 1040; Godred IV., son of the Danish king of Dublin, was the next successor; and Fingal II., the son of Godred IV., succeeded in 1076. Godred V., or Godred Crovan, the son of Harold the Black of Iceland, invaded Man in 1077, slew Fingal II. in battle at Sky Hill, and took possession of the throne; and he afterwards seized Dublin and great part of Leinster, and made overawing demonstrations against the Scots. Magnus Nudipes, the piratical king of Norway, in 1093, after having overrun the Hebrides and part of Scotland, invaded Man, and drove Godred V. from the throne. A viceroy was appointed by him to govern Man, but an opposition viceroy was soon set up by a portion of the inhabitants, and a great battle, fatal to both, was fought in 1098 at Stantway in Jurby. Magnus Nudipes returned a few days after the battle, found the island in a state of devastation from the effects of the civil war, restored it to a condition of order, sailed from it to the subjugation of Anglesey and Galloway, turned his arms then against Ireland, and was surprised and slain near Downpatrick in 1103. Harold Gillie, the youngest son of Magnus, made claim to the throne of Man, but was rejected by the people. Lagman, the eldest son of Godred V., was accepted by them in 1104, but he soon provoked their disobedience by acts of tyranny, and under cover of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land he abdicated in 1111. Olave II., the youngest son of Godred V., was then called to the throne, and he had the advantage of having been trained in the courts of William Rufus and Henry I. of England; but, although he ruled well for a time, he did things which produced subsequent complications and disasters. Godred VI, the son of Olave II., succeeded at the latter's death in 1154; he had been educated at the court of Norway; he became competitor for the crown of Dublin in 1155, and obtained it; he encountered battle by hostile fleets at Ramsey Bay in 1156, 1158, and 1164; he lost the crown of Dublin by the first battle, lost the crown of Man by the second, and regained that crown by the third; and he died at Peel Castle in 1187, and was carried for burial to lona.

Reginald III., a natural son of Godred VI., usurped the throne to the prejudice of a legitimate son; was refused recognition by the court of Norway; rendered fealty to John of England; created a precedent for all his successors being treated as feudatories of the English crown; constituted himself also a vassal of the see of Rome; provoked his subjects eventually to depose him, in 1226, in favour of his legitimate brother, Olave III.; fled to the protection of the thane of Galloway; made two descents on Man, in 1228 and 1229, with design to recover possession; and was defeated and slain in the latter year at Tynwald Hill. Olave III. did homage first to Henry III. of England, next to Haco Hagenson of Norway, and died in 1237. Harold II. succeeded him, married a daughter of Haco of Norway in 1248, and perished at sea on his way back to Man. Reginald IV., the second son of Olave III., succeeded to the throne, but was soon murdered by the brother of Reginald III. Magnus, a surviving son of Olave III., was then heir to the throne, but did not obtain possession till 1252; he rose to it over a course of usurpation and confusion ; he took recognition of his rights from the reigning kings of Norway and England; he assisted Haco of Norway in 1263 in his expedition against Alexander III. of Scotland; he afterwards, on the failure of that expedition, did homage to Alexander, and made himself a feudatory of the Scottish crown; and he died without issue or direct heir in 1265. Alexander of Scotland, then, in virtue of accession by Magnus of Norway, who had the nearest claim to the throne, took possession of Man as an appanage of the Scottish crown. The Manx resisted him and set up a remote relative of their late king, but were beaten in a battle at Ronaldsway in 1270 and compelled to submit. Alexander suppressed Man's old armorial device of a ship in full sail, which had continued to be used by all its kings from the time of Macon, and he gave instead of it the device which it still retains of three legs of a man in armour with the motto "Quocunque jeceris stabit." The island was ruled by lieutenants of Alexander till his death in 1285; it suffered severely from the oppressive conduct of one of these lieutenants in 1274; it passed into confusion and misery amid the rival claims to the Scottish throne, consequent on Alexander's death; it was transferred to Edward I. of England by the Scottish Commissioners in 1289 ; and it formally acknowledged Edward's rule and renounced all fealty to any representatives of its old quondam kings in 1290. Edward I. in 1292 gave it back to John Baliol of Scotland, to be held by him, like his other dominions, of the crown of England; Edward II. revoked it from Scotland, and in one year bestowed it successively on three of his favourites. Robert Bruce made a descent on it at Ramsey in 1313, proceeded to Douglas and Castletown, laid siege to Rushen Castle and got possession at the end of somewhat more than three months, and on acquiring mastery of the entire island gave it to Randolph, Earl of Moray, as a fief of the Scottish crown. A body of Irish marauders in 1316 invaded the island at Ronaldsway, defeated the inhabitants in an engagement at Wardfell, roamed over the island for a month in a course of plunder, and then, laden with booty, returned to their ships.

Robert Bruce and Edward III. in 1327 made a treaty that, in the event of Man rising against Scotland or Ireland against England, neither king should give assistance against the other. But a female descendant of the last Manx king having revived her claim to the sovereignty of the island, and made an appeal for protection to Edward III., that monarch in 1333 sustained the validity of her title, gave her in marriage to Sir William de Montacute, granted to Sir William a limited right to the crown of Man, and afterwards, in 1337, created him Earl of Salisbury. The Scots for a time resisted Montacute and retained possession of Man. Montacute, nevertheless, was regarded very favourably by the natives as a sort of legitimate representative of their own proper kings, and he eventually succeeded in expelling the Scots; yet in his efforts against them he so far outran his means as to be obliged to mortgage the island for seven years to Anthony Bee, Bishop of Durham, and the bishop obtained from Richard II. a grant of it for life. It reverted at the bishop's death to William, second Earl of Salisbury; was sold by him in 1393 to Sir William Scroop, afterwards Earl of Wiltshire; was given at that nobleman's attainder to Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland; passed from him also by attainder in only four years; and then, in 1406, was given to Sir John Stanley, whose descendant in 1486 was created Earl of Derby. The island remained with the Stanleys, though with some contests as to succession, and with some partial alienations, till the forfeiture and execution of the seventh Earl of Derby in 1651. It was seized by the Parliamentarian forces soon after that nobleman's death; was given in charge by Parliament to Lord Fairfax; reverted at the Restoration to the Derby family; remained with them till the death of the tenth Earl, without issue, in 1735; and then went to James Murray, second Duke of Athole, as descendant of a daughter of the seventh Earl of Derby. The British Government made overtures to that nobleman for the purchase of the island, but were not successful. He died in 1764, and was succeeded by his nephew. The British Government made overtures again to the new possessor, and in 1765 obtained from him a surrender of the island's revenues, exclusive of the manorial rights, for £70,000 and an annuity of £2000. The third Duke of Athole succeeded in 1774; petitioned Parliament in 1781, 1790, and 1805 for restoration of part of the revenues; obtained in the last of these years restored rights to a fourth part of them, afterwards commuted to £3000 a year; and finally, in 1825, surrendered all his remaining interest in the island, including the manorial rights and the patronage of the bishopric and fourteen advowsons, to the British Crown for £416,114. The last honorary service of presenting two falcons to the King was rendered on 19 July, 1821, by the Duke of Athole in person at the coronation of George IV.

The antiquities of Man are very numerous and various. Stone circles abound in every parish, and some of them appear to have been Druidical temples, others to have been places of Druidical sepulture. Cists, or low stone graves, are often turned up by the plough. Tall uninscribed stones, such as the heathen Norsemen erected to the memory of heroes, occur in various places, and two of them, near Mount Gawne and above Port St Mary, are called Giants' Quoiting Stones. Barrows are very numerous, and five of them, at Fairy Hill, Cronk-ny-Marroo, Cronk-ny-Vowlan, Cronk-Aust, and Cronk-ny-Dooiney, are specially remarkable. Cairns also occur, and two, called Cloven Stones and Orrey's Grave, continue in their pristine state. Ancient crosses, either runic or otherwise inscribed, are very plentiful; and so many as forty appear to be Scandinavian, while nine are probably later than the Scandinavian times. Two stone weapons and a considerable number of iron ones, including a battle-axe, a large gauntlet, and different kinds of swords, have been found. Numerous coins, chiefly Anglo-Saxon, Norman, and English, have been found, but no Norse or Danish ones have been discovered. Ancient earthen forts are at Ballachurry, Ballalough, Poolvash, Castleward, Ferk, Balla-Nicholas, Corvally, and Hango-Brough; old stone fortifications are on South Barrule, on Hango Hill, at Derby Fort, and at Rushen Castle; remains or vestiges of Treen chapels or oratories are numerous; remains of monastic buildings are at Rushen Abbey, at Bimaken Friary, and near Douglas; and ruins of a cathedral, an ancient church, a fine ancient round tower, and other ecclesiastical buildings, together with a large tumulus and remains of ancient civil buildings, are at Peel.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England and Wales, 1894-5