We counted ourselves very fortunate in having Edmund Southworth, Director of Manx National Heritage, as our November speaker. He began by sketching out his previous experience and specialised interests. This included archaeological work in a number of museums culminating in running all the sites for Lancashire County Council, including two castles. Well, we can match that!
Edmund traced the geological and geomorphic history of the Island from the last ice age, 12 000 years ago, when land started to become inhabitable. Finds from the earliest times show a hierarchical system and a range of buildings and artefacts showing variations in quality of life – larger homes in the best situations, more farming activity and finer possessions. Nothing changes!
The Island is unusually rich in remains. It is curious that the Romans never came here, despite it being visible from the mainland, (no, our speaker did not mention boat fares!) The odd Roman coin has been found on the Island, but how they got here is guesswork.
Christianity arrived early in the Island’s history and survived a whole series of conflicting forces, including the Vikings. These were young men, in their prime, with all the natural passions associated with this age. Most came via Viking centres such as York but others from as far away as Arabia. The indigenous Manx maids were not indifferent to these manly charms and it didn’t take too long to assimilate them. The Christian faith was embraced by many and still continues, affecting all lives with its principles underpinning law, education, hospitals and social provision.
Despite being so close to the UK and formerly joined to it, even major events there such as the Norman invasion in 1066 had little effect here. Of more interest was the Viking line of influence through the Isles – Lewis, Skye, Mull, Islay and Mann.
The Middle Ages saw transference of power with the island being treated as a chattel to be bought and sold. It was seen as more of strategic importance than anything, sitting in the middle of the Irish Sea.
Throughout the evening, each point was illustrated with fascinating slides, many quite fresh to the audience.
From the earliest times, mining has been exceedingly important with metals such as Copper and Lead found in large quantities. More valuable metals such as Silver and Gold can be found but to a lesser extent. All of these workings have left a rich industrial archaeology, as illustrated in the Laxey valley with its world famous water wheel.
Industry led to a transport heritage of dozens of mining and quarrying rail lines. Now, the survivors support the tourist industry that has almost drifted into heritage, itself – bar motor sports, of course.
Internment camps, preserved sites, family history and social events were all melded into a fantastic evening.
December sees the Christmas Party, then Andrew Johnson, MNH – Finds at the Airport, Wednesday, 19th January, 7.30 Centenary Centre. Note the date change!