by John Slater
Sue Woolley, until recently correspondent for the West for Isle of Man Newspapers began her splendid talk to Peel Heritage Trust with a reminiscence. She admitted that this wasn’t the first time she had appeared on the stage of Peel Centenary Centre. The first time was when she was six or seven years old and was playing the part of Little Bo Peep in a concert arranged by Millie Moughtin, leader of the Atholl Street Methodist Chapel Sunday School. Sue claimed to have been absolutely petrified, much as she felt now!
There was no need for Sue to be alarmed and she was soon happily launched into her talk centring on her life in newspapers. She admitted to not being as old as some of the journalists still working but old enough to have witnessed many changes in the industry.
Sue had the great advantage in life of being born in Peel. Marine Parade, Peel, was the family home. Her father was Stanley Wood, the butcher. He had a small farm on the Poortown Road and her mum, Elsie, ran the boarding house. It was only later in life when she was researching the author Hall Caine that she discovered that he had lived at the same address for a while whilst writing his most famous book, The Manxman. 4 Marine Parade may well have not one but two blue plaques! Caine then moved to Greeba Castle. Sue wondered whether some of his love of writing had passed from the walls into her own life.
Although Peel was a popular post–war holiday destination, the visitors had little money to spend and hard work, alone, failed to keep the business afloat and it failed. House and farm were sold and her parents moved to Douglas. She remained, living with the couple she stayed with during the season. Many will remember that children were often moved out during the summer so that their rooms could be let out, as well. How would that go down today!
We heard about Sue’s schooldays at the Clothworkers’, and the teachers who influenced her – Ina Quirk, Iris Colvin, Pamela Corlett (Quine), Edna Cashin, Sybil Kaneen, Freda Moore, Henley Crowe and headmaster, George Sayle.
There were several Manx papers published each week by rival companies. Sue’s older sister, Maron, had gone to work for the Examiner, and having sworn her to secrecy, that she’d had a spell of being, ‘Uncle Tim’, with the famous children’s page and club. She was thrilled and still remembers her membership number, 6868.
Having moved back to Douglas with her parents to attend Douglas High School, she found the school strict and impersonal – a marked contrast to the Clothworkers. However, two exceptional teachers of English, Amy Thomas and Mr Brewin inspired her so that she really enjoyed their classes. Armed with some o-levels and typing qualifications, she was poised for the world of work. Maron had spotted an advert in the Ramsey Courier for a junior reporter. With encouragement, she telephoned, spoke to the editor, was interviewed and got the job.
Sue was working in Dickensian surroundings in offices in Parliament Street. It was so cold in winter that she typed in gloves. She had her own page, Suzanne Says, focusing on key items such as Golden Weddings and hundredth birthdays. She was in print – career launched! No degrees in journalism in those days. You learned as you worked.
Sue outlined the many changes in production methods from boiling up lead for type to current electronic systems. When a Douglas office was established, Sue moved there but got ‘itch feet’ and with the promise of a job when she returned had a ten-year break in which she travelled in Europe, married, had two daughters and was settled in Maughold. She was able to join the Examiner as northern reporter. She was back!
Unfortunately, pressure on newspapers from other media led to staff cuts and she was asked to cover the West as well as the North. Living in Ramsey, now, she still found great difficulty in covering the West as she would have liked to and took early retirement. However, along with many of us, newspapers are so much more welcoming than electronic devices. Thanks, Sue, not just for your talk but your years as a journalist.
Our next meeting is on the 15th April, in the Centenary Centre at 7.30pm. Chris Machin will be giving a talk on Peel’s Motoring Heritage.