The Isle of Man
Family History Society

Notes from presentations - 2023

February 2023 – A talk by Dave Martin of Manx National Heritage

Katie introduced the speaker. Dave Martin is a Trustee of Manx National Heritage and involved with the Isle of Man Antiquarian Society (IoMNHAS). He has written 4 newspaper articles on Bridges and many other interesting articles in a series called ‘Buildings at Risk’ on behalf of the The Alliance for Building Conservation (“ABC”).  This group was formed in Autumn of 2015 when IoMNHAS, alarmed at the continued neglect of the Island’s built heritage, and continued lack of progress with building registration, offered to host a meeting with like-minded groups to discuss what might be done to highlight and promote awareness of the plight of vulnerable buildings, and potentially provide a mutual-support forum.

To date, membership comprises almost all the active Heritage Trusts on the Island (Rushen, Castletown, Foxdale, Peel, Ballaugh, Laxey & Lonan, Onchan, Kirk Michael, Ramsey), IoM Victorian Society, Save Mann’s Heritage, the IoM Steam Railway Supporters Association, and the Antiquarians (as co-ordinators/secretariat).

Since inception, the main achievements of ABC are in raising awareness of the plight of our built heritage (including our Buildings at Risk articles). They are very interesting and can be found online

Dave Martin: Bridges in the Landscape

They make a bridge to the future- and links to the past. We use them but don’t give them much attention.

His great grandfather was a bridge engineer and Dave wa a user of a ‘bridge’ as a Sea Captain. The talk would not make bridge engineers of any of us but was aimed to spark curiosity.

The first man made features in our rivers would be stepping-stones, fish traps, mills, pond and structures for industrial processes. Rivers make an obstacle to human movement. There was a land bridge between us and St Bees Head- it’s loss made us our own Island.

Water was used as defences or even a trap (Battle of Sky Hill). Meyrcough Abbey in the curragh is still lost. Our rivers and streams are not much used for transport. They can be forded or crossed with stepping stones. Sometimes riverbeds were just levelled.

There was a story from George Quayle describing an old couple carrying people across the river. The Vicar used to be carried and not pay!! But he didn’t get on with the Clerk so the Clerk bribed the old lady to accidently drop him!

Sometimes ferry’s were used across the harbours. Sometimes bridges were just planks of wood. Daniel King’s drawing has a bridge coming from the Nunnery. The 1726 Waldron history describes the bridge. Dave told us of a woman crossing with a bottle of brandy in her hand was saved by her hooped petticoats.

Plank bridges had to allow for changes in the tides. He showed us 1896 photograph of the wheeled plank bridge with the swing bridge in the background.

Lots of slate slabs crossing ditches now covered over- they are still there but we don’t see them. Most crossings required imported timber or masonry. Slabs are limited really to spanning four or five feet. So, the bridge would need masonry piers or pillars and perhaps an abutment to support the bridge at the riverbank. Debris can build upstream so the piers are made with a point called a ‘cutwater’ to split the water and to reduce the pressure. Some like the bridge at Ballameanaugh in Sulby has three slabs and two piers. Manx Slate should be called Manx Mudstone- it is fine in compression but not so good in sheer or twist.

By Sulby reservoir an arched bridge is constructed with packed stones. Ballaskelly bridge is a lovely high arched semi-circular bridge.Dave showed us an unseen bridge on the Sulby Glen Road.

Communities came together to build bridges. But the upkeep was problematic- particularly when on parish boundaries. In 1739 an ‘Act for the Building and repairing of bridges in this Isle’ Introduced an all Island levy- 1d per head per annum- ages 16-60 collected in the spring from residents and visitors. This empowered compulsory acquisition and compensation. In order to prevent disputes, it laid out five locations where bridges were urgently needed (after the chapel at St Johns was repaired). Sulby bridge was first to be built and was made wide enough for two carriages.

Due to the lack of quarries in the north shore stone was used. It was difficult to use and rubbish to build arches with. But once the bridges were built they could carry better loads of stone from quarries further south. People had been obliged to provide labour to repair roads and in 1760 bridges were included.

In 1895 13 local men built Tholt-y-will bridge was built, organised by Cowley Crammag.

One of the Sulby bridges at the Claddagh was damaged after the great Flood. A pigmy bridge at Ellan Bane is dry must of the time but built to prevent flooding of the Railway Line.

Dave went on to talk about various bridges in the North i.e, Railway bridges ‘The Basket bridge’ which was quickly repaired- not like it would be these days. Corrody Valley piers where piers form an aqueduct- a water bridge. The Auldyn river passes the road by Milntown. The river powered Milntown Mill. There is a big deep ditch which was the tail race for the mills. Some may say it’s a culvert, but Dave considers it a bridge.43 inches of rain fell in 1930 and the River Auldyn flooded which washed away fords, bridges and roads. Controversy and sabotage (with grease or lard) as the repairs and new bridges were built as the residents were effectively trapped in the valley, their business scuppered until schemes had been finished.

Fern Glen in Glen Auldyn was an attraction run by the Lyndsay Family with charas running from Ramsey. Their business never recovered. Roger Formby was invalided from the army and took a farm up Glen Auldyn and was defensive of his property and his privacy. He set out to beautify the glen and built a rustic bridge. Mr Gill helped build it and talked about it in the Folk Life Survey.

The lower reaches of the Sulby are tidal including Pooil Dhooie (the White Bridge)- prior to that it was forded at The Sandy by Bowring Road. At times the fords would be impossible In 1728 residents implored for help in building a bridge. So after the Act, Ramsey was number four on the list – no money but they had to borrow money to finish the stone bridge. Pedestrian niches included and sometimes extended to allow the avoidance of carriages when walking. Ramsey has the widest Bridge on the Island- Mylrea’s Bridge which crosses the Ligney Stream (next to The Swan) on Parliament Square.

Ramsey was a busy town and port with a busy shipyards and railhead. The Authorities made a resort by building the Mooragh park and hotels on the promenade around 1881. A bridge across the harbour was needed but the town sits on sand. In 1892, the commissioners had to pay compensation to investors on the Mooragh Promenade as the Bridge had been delayed and not yet finished.

Ramsey Swing Bridge was originally hand-operated needing four men to move it. At high tide the water nearly touches it and sometimes it does. It’s painted every 6 years.

What route had the greatest number of bridges built at one time and later deconstructed and recycled? The building of the Injebreck Reservoir needed 11 bridges.

The most spectacular tallest and longest would have been bridge across the harbour in Douglas to Douglas Head. The foundations to one end were erected but the company went bankrupt before it was built- It was to go from Circus Beach to Head Road (The Douglas Head Suspension Bridge and Tower) The planned tower was erected at Blackpool instead.

Comments and questions: Millennium Bridge in Douglas- a sign suggests you thank the bridge as you cross which some consider optimistic- perhaps you should thank it when you have safely crossed it. The Monk’s bridge at Ballasalla is the only registered bridge. Was the Swing Bridge built on a foundation of Rushes? Mike recalls people climbing over the very top of the Swing Bridge