Old Ramsey Town

Norrie Radcliffe excelled in his illustrated presentation on old Ramsey.

We began with the retreating ice sheets that left the island a very different place to before. Melt water coursing down bringing masses of rocks and silt changed the landscape. It might have been 20 000 years ago but the effects of 600 feet of ice sitting on us is still clearly visible.

Ramsey is situated in a very watery setting with the sea on one hand and the Sulby River on the other. Early pictures showed how man fought back to maintain a foothold. Fishermen were ordered, in the 16th c., to bring in loads of stone, once a year, to help build up the town’s defences and yes, flooding still occurs and we still have to be watchful.

Ramsey soon became the second largest settlement to Douglas and thrived. The first slide of 1790 showed this and the rich harvest of the sea when the bay was full of fish was compared to the over-exploited seas of today.

Bit by bit, street by street we saw the town grow. Simple fishermen’s cottages, larger elegant houses in Georgian times for captains and merchants with another surge of building of substantial, richly decorated Victorian houses for the well-to–do and visitors, enriched the town in its fine setting.

This glorious range of buildings were set off by fine churches, chapels, picture houses, schools a town hall and court house. Who could have predicted that so much of this, particularly in South Ramsey, would be destroyed, not by earthquake or enemy action but by its own citizens? Norrie returned to this extraordinary, wilful destruction in the 1950’s, time and again. Originally a Peel man, he returned to the same theme as Eddie Lowey, last month, namely, Peel – be ever watchful and alert! You are one of the last bastions of this heritage. Continue to fight to protect it. Very powerful forces in the most unexpected places are keen to destroy it under their own distorted banner of ‘progress’.

We marvelled at the modesty of the ladies in their bathing machines. What a contrast to today!

Not many of us knew that one of the driving forces for shipbuilding was the lack of wood tax on the Island. This enabled ships to be built here much more cheaply. This was comparable, I suppose, to today’s tax breaks for film-making. Even iron- hulled ships such as the Euterpe, re-named the Star of India, were Ramsey built. She’s still sailing, of course, in Santiago. Four hundred men were working in the shipyard at that time.

Rope walks, soup kitchens, 1890 Big Snow, railways, cattle yards, schools, the new catholic church by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, paddle steamers, fire engines, the soon to be sunk Ellan Vannin entering her home port all flashed by in rapid succession – phew, what a treat!

Next meeting, Wednesday, 5th May, 7.30pm, Centenary Centre, Geoff Corkish MBE, MHK, ‘From Steam to Hot Air’ – unmissable!