Traditional Buildings of Man…Andrew Johnson MNH

I know that Andy Johnson, of Manx National Heritage, is an incredibly popular speaker and that traditional Manx buildings are very much in the hearts of our members but to watch over eighty flood into the Centenary Centre theatre was a joy. If only our political masters, local and national cared as much!
Andy began by reminding us that virtually none of our old buildings are protected. He requested members and friends to feed in information and local history of Peel and its buildings into the ‘Traditional Buildings of Man Project’ at
The illustrations on screen were very emotive.  Under ‘Buildings Already Lost’ was Ronaldsway Farm, the home of Illiam Dhone. This prompted many others to be named from the audience.
‘Buildings Already Going’ included many thatched buildings, a particular interest of Andy’s.
We then saw Awyn Beg, Surby, with its complex development interest using simple materials such as thatch, elevated roof, later asbestos tiles, render and then the two dwellings combined into one. The building is still in place but much changed. The audience was very interested in the ways that a building’s history can be’ read’ with a little practice.
Knock Rushen, a gentrified quarterland farmhouse, including its outbuildings was much admired. We noticed the developments over time from the 18thC. Onwards.
Cummal Beg, Smeale showed early pictures of a simple, single storied cottage developing with an extra storey and various extensions making use of bricks from local brickworks, now gone.
There was much interest in a wicker chimney flue in Bride. These were covered with wattle and daub, making them fire resistant. There are several surviving examples. They were cheap to build and popular when stone was in short supply. Available materials included beach pebbles, turves, mud, thatch, cob and corrugated iron. The latter has been around long enough to be thought of as ‘traditional’!
‘Unsuspected Significance’. The 15th C. Friary, Ballabeg, is a good example. What, at first seems to be a barn, is seen to be of massive, national, historic significance. This former Franciscan Chapel has survived by the skin of its teeth. What now for this building, illustrating, as it does, such an important part of the Island’s development?
Next up was Ballapaddag with its complex extensions and excellent, internal woodwork. Then, to Ballavargher with its slate-hung façade and a fine range of outbuildings. Craig, Andreas illustrated developmental growth between the 18th – 20th centuries. It was the home of father and son MHKs Robert and Robert Sayle Corlett.
‘Industrial Architecture’. This includes a whole range of activities – mills, mines, railways, weaving sheds, net and sail lofts. All too late, the value of these structures are being appreciated for their intrinsic qualities and record of our history and development. Smeale’s smithy has been lost but that at St Marks is to be protected.
We looked at fishermens’ cottages at Port St Mary, Poyll Vaish (Pool of death!), Garwick, Port Mooar all enjoying good access to the sea. Examples of weavers’ sheds were seen at Surby and Ballafesson. One has only to half- close one’s eyes to see them as hives of activity. What a joy it is to visit places where weaving has been re-introduced to good effect.
Andy reminded us of the MNH National Monuments Record. He said that it contained c. 5 000 archaeological records and a goodly number of industrial sites but had very few buildings on record. If you can help with this work, please contact MNH.
The audience sprang to life when ‘Traditional Buildings of Peel’ hit the screen. We saw very early 18th c buildings at 27 – 29 Douglas Street, now gone and Callister’s House, the oldest in Peel, once in Douglas Street, smashed down in 1949.
Orry Lane is of great interest. Formerly known as Custom House Lane, it extended across to Gawne’s Court. This yard was behind a coaching inn owned by the Gawnes of Kentraugh and then became the School of Navigation.
Castle Street with its fine 18th c. merchants’ houses is still of great interest. Deemsters and other wealthy people lived there, all profiting, no doubt, from the ‘running trade’ as smuggling was referred to!
Strand Street, Bridge Street, Factory Lane were all admired, including their once-common cowsheds. This was pre- readily obtainable milk from dairies.
Warehouses and the huge salt house, demolished in 1952 were examined with great interest before we moved on to public buildings with ‘classical pretensions’ such as chapels and courthouses. Hotels, villas and Victorian terraces all invited closer inspection.
The discussion after refreshments was led by expressions of anger at the mindless loss of so many important buildings in our story. The Majestic Hotel, Onchan, Baillie Scott’s first large work and of international importance, recently flattened for modern apartments. Even his own home, designed and built for himself and family, The Red House, is suffering structural alterations internally and externally. The member who raised this asked what was the point of registering buildings of this quality to see the ‘protection’ so readily tossed aside to the nation’s loss.
This meeting was hailed as a masterly presentation and was inspirational. Would that any of rulers were listening!
Our next meeting is on Wednesday, 16th April at 7.30pmin the Centenary Centre, when Dr Fenella Bazin speaks on Viking Women in the Isle of Man.