‘One of Our Badgers is Missing’ Katie King, by John Slater

Captivating Katie had me captivated. She said that her parents had never heard this talk and that they would be in the audience. This fazed her not one jot and I was delighted to find that her father was a pupil in Ballakermeen when I was teaching there, shortly after the dawn of time!
Katie’s presentation was based upon Manx National Heritage’s archives featuring some of the more unusual Victorian and Edwardian tourist tales. This she did with charm, vivacity and piquancy. More of the latter later!
We were soon in a world where tourism transformed the Island from a quiet farming and fishing community to one of the liveliest places in the world. Some of the quotations used to attract visitors included, “There seemed to be a gentleness about it that made one feel as if one was in Paradise.” This still can be the case, thank goodness!
The climate was described as, “exceedingly salubrious. When Governor Loch took up his post, aged just 38 in 1863 he couldn’t believe that the Island wasn’t exploiting lovely beaches, scenery and sea bathing, made popular by Queen Victoria. Loch arranged for Port Skillion to be the first official bathing creek. Douglas Corporation insisted that this would be for men only and women had to swim at Port Jack!
The only access for passengers was by Steam Packet. The crossing in the early days could be anything from 12 – 24 hours. The worst was six days! Loch insisted on improved steamers and piers.  Even so, some crossings must have been a little lively as one writer records, “There was scarcely a person in the whole of steerage who was not ‘departing’ over the side.” By 1860, crossings were down to 6 hours with the record of about 2 ½ hours!
The government got a grip of this new tourist industry following the creation of ‘holidays’ for working people. The advertisements were very attractive, by top artists. Combined rail and sail tickets cost just 1p more than the rail fare! Just as many cross channel companies do now, fares are cheap but the on-board spend of thousands of passengers ensure profitability. Any chance of this happening again!
From 1870 onwards, posters featuring beautiful girls lured young men over in droves. This in turn fired up thousands of girls who were looking for freedom from their normally restrained lives with the prospect of a love for life. Not surprisingly, a large local industry of ladies who dispensed favours for a price, developed! Public houses and dance halls flourished.
Loch had slums cleared with housing on the edge of Douglas for those displaced and had fine hotels built. He also fired up the transport system, introducing the steam trains and electric trams we enjoy today. The horse trams took care of the ‘missing link’ from the station along the prom to Derby Castle. The whole island was transformed in both appearance and prosperity.
Pleasure gardens and the glens were developed. Glen Helen had a zoo, including the legendary badger named in the title of the talk. The police dealt with this poor animal when it escaped, by shooting it! Apparently they also gunned down a monkey from elsewhere. Our wallabies had better watch out for blue, flashing lights!
I can’t do justice to this sparkling talk in an article. We’ll get Katie back!
Saturday the 12th and Sunday the 13th July are Peel’s Secret Gardens from 1.00 – 5.00pm. Adult admission is by the glorious programme with original art works at just £2. Accompanied children are free. Programmes are available in Peel News Centre, Mitchell’s Newsagents, in the Market Square on open days, Greeba Plant Centre, Jurby Water Gardens, Felton’s Ironmongers, Ramsey, Kirk Michael Post Office, Shamyr Hey Tea Room, Peel, Ward Library Peel, Fairfield on Tynwald Day, The Welcome Centre in Douglas. Open gardens will also have a supply.

This bi-ennial event is a highlight. There are 16 gardens to enjoy, all clearly marked and a map in the brochure.