Henry Bloom Noble, a talk by Pauline Ellis Brew

by John Slater

This talk was billed as Henry Bloom Noble, his life and legacy. Pauline did a sterling job in meeting this aim in the time allotted. So interesting was her well-delivered talk and so fascinating the man and his accomplishments that one was unaware of the passage of time.

Henry was born in 1816 and died in 1903 so his life spanned the Victorian era. Despite having been the island’s greatest benefactor having donated hospitals, a park, a school, a library, St Ninian’s Church, the museum, Laxey Gardens, public baths, bailed out the Steam Packet and Douglas Corporation after Dumbell’s Bank crash, he does not get the credit he deserves. Pauline pointed out that he doesn’t even have a bust in the museum he donated, together with the land it stands on. Apparently, there was no mention of Noble at a special anniversary meeting at Ramsey Cottage Hospital although he had donated both land and building. Pauline says she even had to speak up for him in St Ninian’s Church. He had donated land and building in anticipation of the growth of upper Douglas. One can only speculate on the reasons for these omissions.

Henry Bloom Noble was born into abject poverty in Cumberland. The family was starving and had to break up for a while until his father got a job in Whitehaven. He came to the island in 1835 to work for a Mr Spittall. By 1840, he was managing the business, eventually taking it over. Slater’s Directory listed him as a trader in timber, wines, spirits and the like, with ships, as well! He was brilliant at spotting business opportunities and made a great deal from money- lending, property and land speculation. He was very tough in these dealings. At this time, he was living at 12, Derby Square. He became chairman of the Steam Packet and got married in his 40’s. His wife, Rebecca was very supportive and we gained the strong impression that she was largely responsible for encouraging his philanthropy.

Everything Henry touched seemed to turn into money. Mining shares bought for £80 were sold for £1400 leading him into shrewd mining investments. The anticipated growth in tourism encouraged him to invest in Douglas promenade along with Governor Loch and Harris. He arranged for Alex Gill, the architect, to design many of these iconic sweeps of buildings, bought what is now the Villa Marina and persuaded the Governor to live there, rather than in Castletown, shifting the centre of political power.

In 1888, Rebecca died. There was a massive procession as she was much appreciated having left the Douglas Orphanage and Children’s Home parts of her legacy. Noble was a staunch Church of England man, despite having assumed the name Noble to commemorate his Jewish link via his grandmother. When he died, there being no children, five trustees administered his estate continuing charitable links on the island, in his home county and in Liverpool where hospital beds for Manx patients were established.

Pauline commended David Winterbottom’s book on Noble as essential reading.

Our next meeting is on June 21st at 7.30 pm in the Centenary Centre when the ever popular Peter Kelly will be giving another one of his fabulous illustrated, historical tours.