by Leslie Quilliam
Peel is situated roughly halfway along the west coast of the Isle of Man, sheltered to the north by the rocky St. Patrick’s Isle and to the west by Peel Hill. Its location allows the enjoyment of spectacular sunsets, particularly in the summer months. This phenomenon led the Town Clerk of the early 1930s to coin the catching epithet ‘Sunset City’ for Peel, a phrase which has lasted.
The tidal estuary of the River Neb provided a haven for the Island’s first known human inhabitants – the hunter-gathering people of the Middle Stone Age, some 9,000 years ago. Since then, besides a domicile, the site has had a major religious community; a fortress for almost a millennium, including a centre of the Island’s government; an important base for the Island’s fishing and ship-building industries and, in the last hundred years or so, a holiday resort.
The town (or, as some would have it, because of the presence of the Island’s Cathedral, – City) grew up on the right bank of the river, facing the walls of the fortification on St Patrick’s Isle – Peel Castle. The earliest evidence of habitation in the town dates from the 13th Century – the foundations of dwellings close to the harbour, in what is now Castle Street. The oldest sandstone houses align the narrow streets crammed in the area between the harbour and sandy shore. Subsequent development, save for the late nineteenth-century guesthouse building along the sea front, has been inland, away from the coast.