Peel in Place: History, Presence and Future by Dr Patricia Tutt RIBA

Report by John Slater

We began this month’s packed meeting with a presentation of an information board to Sam Knight of the Manx Transport Heritage Museum. This is a fine piece of work by member, Vic Bates, commemorating the first passenger railway on the Isle of Man, Douglas to Peel in 1873. Tragically, this scenic line, following the River Neb, was closed in 1968. What a boon it would be to get this re-opened, connecting the mass of new housing developments in the central valley to Douglas. Oh to see a dramatic reduction in road traffic and wasteful multi- storey car parks!

Ray Harmer, our chairman and MHK, welcomed members, non-members and our ever-popular guest speaker and local celebrity, Dr. Pat Tutt, RIBA . The subject was Peel in Place, History, Presence and Future.

Pat began by pointing out that the title did not include a typo’. There was, indeed, a play on words but the Presence of Peel is tangible, as every resident and discerning visitor will notice. This is very important and its ancient buildings and wind-cheating narrow, zig-zag streets are important elements in this ‘presence’. Does the present regeneration scheme respect or enhance this ancient place?

A very unusual feature of Pat’s presentation was the reading of an academic paper she had presented to the Island Studies Journal, set against a backdrop of a rolling display of superb photographs of Peel, mostly her own work. This quality may be enjoyed in her superb book, ‘An Introduction to the Architecture of the Isle of Man.’

The question was posed, ‘What is an Island City’? With the aid of historic prints, paintings and writings, she argued a powerful case for Peel being designated a cathedral city with its ancient cathedral dating in part to nearly 1500 years ago. Quoting examples to the east and west of us, it became that we had but to regard ourselves as a city with Peel City Commissioners and Peel City Hall and the like for it to become established by common use and convention.

Peel Heritage Trust still holds the title of the Peel City Guardian and we still publish under that name. The title dates back to 1882. The Vatican, referred to Peel as the city in the Diocese of Sodor and Man. Peel’s affectionate nick-name, world wide, is Sunset City.

Amongst our favourite photographs on the big screen was a drawing of the old cathedral by Robert Anderson in 1876. The opportunity to see this still beautiful, if fractured building inside and out was so moving. Do look these up, you cannot fail to be affected. Surely there are caring people out there to rescue and restore this ancient gem as a centre for pilgrimage, a centre for research, study and reflection!

Pat spoke about the historical background of Peel set in the context of the Island as a whole. It is remarkable that we haven’t been invaded for centuries, even by Ancient Rome or in WW11 and we have still managed to hold the UK at arm’s length as well as  the EU.

Our next meeting is the very important AGM, setting our course for the next year. Please note that it is in the Philip Christian Centre at 7.30pm on Thursday, 16th February at 7.30pm. Once again, some of our popular books will be on sale.