The Isle of Man
Family History Society

Notes from presentations - 2017

  • February 2017 – Manx buildings with Frank Cowin
  • May 2017 – The Story of Milntown with Charles Guard
  • August 2017 – Member’s Evening with Peter Quayle, Tommy Thompson, Ron Ronan, Jack Kaighin, Richard Green and Frank Cowin

February 2017 – Manx buildings with Frank Cowin

The evenings speaker was the ever popular Frank Cowin- introduced by Ernie as- Architect and Surveyor- “he knows everything”- and so it seems!

Frank talked a little about the concerns many people have about the future for old buildings on the IOM. The planners seconded the conservation officer to work in renewal and regeneration, so there in no one working full time in that post. The registration of buildings was being delayed. Charles Guard petitioned Tynwald.

Since then, there has been an organisation set up called The Building Conservation Forum. This consists of Culture Vannin, MHK’s , MNH and planning officers and various other interested parties. MNH and Culture Vannin have worked on an Isle of Architecture project to raise awareness of our built environment. The Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society appealed to heritage organisations around the Island to meet consider their buildings. This is now called The Alliance for Building Conservation (ABC). It has been producing a fortnightly newspaper article in The Examiner under the banner of “Buildings at Risk”.

The approach Frank used when framing his talk was to ask us to consider four factors when considering vernacular architecture: Time (i.e era), Place, People and Technology. Throughout the first part of the talk, Frank used examples to illustrate these factors, sharing with us with large collection of slides he had collected over many years.

Frank’s examples moved from the earliest dwellings, through to ‘Polite architecture’ and more recent buildings of the 1950’s and 1960’s. He talked us through a wide array of building materials and methods, explaining how innovation drove new design.

Most striking was Frank’s ability to explain how “to read” a building” .It’s story is written on its face”. He encouraged us to always look upwards for the clues.

People arriving on the island influenced design, bringing their methods with them. There was a lovely round up of some of the most influential Architects and builders, all illustrated with great images. Even illustrated were some buildings which were never constructed.

The vote of thanks was given by Mr Keith Teare, who applauded Frank’s ability to speak with great knowledge of whichever subject he presented. He also reiterated one of Frank’s points which was the importance of conserving buildings and finding new and relevant uses for them, as opposed to pure unsustainable preservation.

May 2017 – The Story of Milntown with Charles Guard

The evenings’ speaker was Mr Charles Guard. Charles had just retired as the administrator of Culture Vannin (formerly the Manx Heritage Foundation). He has a reputation as a very knowledgeable broadcaster and is currently a Trustee of Milntown.

Charles set out to give us a brief history of the site and explained that some of the research had been carried out by Derek Winterbottom and Nigel Crowe. Derek’s history of Milntown was now out of print but a new edition is being planned and will include new information about the history of the house.

Milntown comprises of a 15-acre estate located next to Sky Hill where a great battle took place in 1079. The estate has been the seat of the Christian family from around 1515. Many of them were Deemsters though the most famous of the Christians to be born there is Illiam Dhone, born in 1608. Charles made a great job of describing the aspects of the English Civil War which lead to the execution of Illiam as a traitor in 1663.

Charles talked about lots of misinformation concerning Milntown but referred to Jennifer Kewley Draskau’s biography of Illiam Dhone as being the definitive account of his life and times.

The Christians had large estates at Euanrigg and Workington Hall in Cumbria and after Illiam Dhone’s execution, they tended to live more in Cumbria than on the Isle of Man. Nigel Crowe had found important documents in the Cumbrian Archives which showed that the original Milntown mansion was, in fact, demolished in 1750. It was replaced by a new, five-bay house designed and built by the estate’s then tenant, Captain John Llewellyn. Llewellyn was also responsible for the lodge at Parc Llewellyn built 12 years later.

There is no documentary record of the precise position of the old mansion, but recent geo-physical surveys and an archaeological dig seems to have identified some of the foundations of the old house in the rookery to the north of the current house. More investigation is needed.

In 1828 Dorothy Wordsworth (sister to poet laureate William) visited Ramsey (where she seems to have been offended by the smells in the town) and also called at Milntown which at the time was rented out to a Mrs Cubbin, the widow of the late Archdeacon. She was somewhat condescending towards Mrs Cubbin and her daughters and the commented on the faded décor of the house.

All this changed when John Christian came on the scene. Although living in England when he inherited the estate, he accepted the post of Second Deemster on the Island and returned to live here with his family at the Fort Anne in Douglas.

As soon as Mrs Cubbin’s lease was up he set about converting the 1750s house into the Gothic masterpiece it is today. As he moved out of the Fort Anne, the founder of the RNLI, Sir William Hilary moved in. Eventually Sir William’s son married Deemster Christian’s daughter and the families became very close.

Deemster Christian was a rather humourless man and he made a complaint against Sir Walter Scott on account of his novel, ‘Peveril of the Peak’ which was set in the Isle of Man in the 17th century. The Deemster objected to Scott’s unflattering depiction of a member of the family, even though it was a fictional. At a dinner party in Cumbria Deemster Christian pressed William Wordsworth to write to Sir Walter on his behalf. Wordsworth did this but when he was on the Island, he declined an invitation to dine again with the Deemster. Perhaps he’d had enough of being harangued about the Christian family!

In 1832 the Deemster was involved in an extraordinary court case when he appeared as defendant. He was accused of throwing a farmer’s son into the Sulby river during an altercation about fishing rights. The Deemster had to appear before his peer and colleague, Deemster Heywood. It’s clear that the whole Island was agog with the details of this court case which was given eight whole pages in the Manks Advertiser.

Charles pointed out that some forty years earlier two ancestors of Deemsters Heywood and Christian were on opposite sides of a dispute on the other side of the world when Peter Heywood and Fletcher Christian were involved in the Mutiny on the Bounty.

Deemster Christian left the estate to all of his children and his son, the Reverend William Bell Christian bought out his siblings by taking on a huge loan of £75,000. When he died unexpectedly, whilst married to his fourth wife Vio, it was clear that she was unable to keep up the payments on the debt and the estate was declared bankrupt. In the great auction of 1886 everything in the house was sold, pictures, furniture and historic documents. Vio rented the mansion back from the receivers and ran a successful school ‘for the daughters of gentlemen’. After her tenure the house became a hotel in the 1930s and was run by Lynn Carlyle who was controversially accused of seducing men’s wives.

It then passed to Charles Peel Yates of Yates’ Wine Lodge fame, and then it was bought by Lady Kathleen Edwards, who arrived in the Island in 1964 as a tax exile from the Labour government’s punitive surtax. It passed down to her son Sir Clive Edwards who, on his death in 1999, left it for the benefit of the Manx people.

The estate is now run by four trustees who have built a café, developed the gardens, built self-catering accommodation and are gradually restoring the interior of the house to its former Gothic glory. The estate’s beautiful gardens are complemented by a collection of vintage cars and bikes, which are on display for visitors. To enhance the income of the estate (which receives no government assistance), the trustees are promoting events, such as Cyclfest, and encouraging private functions such as weddings and corporate events.

The vote of thanks was given by Keith Teare. He acknowledged the “big crowd” that Charles had drawn and praised his knowledge of this strand of Manx History. Particularly, Keith pointed to the very human stories that Charles’ talk had teased out of the story of a house.

August 2017 – Member’s Evening

This being the Members evening, various interesting persons spoke for ten minutes each as follows:

Peter Quayle spoke about The Big Snows of February 1963 and 1967. His family farmed at Knocksharry and had a milk round in Peel. He walked into Peel to collect his Mother who was stuck. He felt very weak but was revived by a kind person giving him rice pudding. Various farm workers volunteered to work for the Highway Board clearing snow by hand. People were snowed in a Cronk y Voddey for two weeks and little London for four. The bread van made it as far as the Devil’s Elbow and Michael women walked to meet it.

Tommy Thompson spoke about his father’s experiences 75 years ago in September 1942 when prisoners of war were being shipped from Japan to Hong Kong. A submarine fired on the Lisbon Maru and she sunk taking 48 hours to go down. The conditions of the ship had been dreadful and many Japanese abandoned the ship after nailing hatches shut. Eventually the Japanese navy helped rescue some.

Ron Ronan talked about the history of Castletown Football Club. A display of memorabilia was made at the Civic centre when the centenary was celebrated in 2004. Ron brought photograph trophies and medals to show us and talked about some of the clubs highlights and some well known footballing characters. John Morrison kindly brought Mrs Morrison’s collection of Postcards for us to look at. He also has been sorting through his Fathers collection of negatives from the 1950’s when he worked for Keigs. John had loaded these on a tablet for us to enjoy.

Jack Kaighen shared some funny stories. One about a foolish lad cycling home from Castletown via the fairy bridge. He refused to say hello to the little people and was hit by a car, breaking his shoulder blade. Jack was a Corporal serving in the catering Corps in Germany and made haversack rations for 400 hundred men- staying up all night to do it!

Richard Green has a couple of questions on how material on Manx records can be accessed online.

Frank Cowin talked about ‘The Penny Spitfire’. Rank collects RAF lapel badges brought some to show us. In WWII funds were raised for ‘The Spitfire Fund’ by selling badges made from a penny. He showed us how they were made using an upscaled paper model and talked about seeing it done by Louis Cowin in the workshops at Clucas’ Laundry where his father worked. Manx people made a mile of pennies on Douglas prom.

Frank also talked a little about the work of the Alliance for Building Conservation (ABC) and appealed to anyone willing to write an article for the paper on old buildings to please volunteer.

Thanks to all who contributed to an entertaining evening.