In the meantime, particularly after the coming of the railway to Peel in 1873, tourism became important. To accommodate the visitors, who mainly came from northwest England, hotels and guest houses were built along the shoreline and higher up on the Headlands, followed by that amenity for any self-respecting seaside resort, a promenade. Such was the demand by the annual influx of visitors, many small cafes opened and private households ‘took in’ visitors. As has been remarked, Peel began to turn away from Harbour to face the seafront. New streets were laid out, with up-to-date amenities – tarmacadam and main drainage. Houses were still built of sandstone, but by 1920, the use of brick had taken over.
Peel’s holiday business continued with interruptions for two world wars, when the happy holiday makers were replaced by reluctant visitors, ‘enemy aliens’, who had been trapped by the onset of war.
During WWI, Knockaloe farm, a little to the south of Peel, was turned into a prison camp, where up to 30,000 German, Austrian and Turkish civilian nationals were interned. In 1940, requisitioned guesthouses at the end of Peel promenade became Peveril Internment Camp, which incarcerated those suspected of having sympathy for the Nazi regime in Europe. While some prisoners really had fascist leanings, a number were refugees, escapees from various parts of Nazi-occupied Europe. Still others were German nationals, but Jewish, who had managed to get out of their, now dangerous, country. After vetting, these mostly young men were released, to assist the Allied war effort.
Post WWII, holidays were again in demand, but gradually, the sun of southern Europe beckoned. By the mid 1960s, the fall in demand dictated the closure of the Peel/Douglas railway and many of the guesthouse businesses put up their shutters.
The fishery had its ups and downs. One period of great demand, for example, was during the 1960s and 70s, when large trawlers and freighters from Northwest Europe, the so-called klondikers , with apparently insatiable appetites for herring, were moored in Peel Bay. Another boom was provided by the gourmet demand for scallops – a demand fulfilled for a time only by the fishermen of Peel. Since then, the fishing has remained sporadic. Manx boats no longer fish for herring, which have been left to boats mainly from Northern Ireland, fishing for scallops and the smaller queenie, crabs, and even the once despised dogfish, which are all sought under rules emanating from Europe.
For some time, large crowds have descended on Peel for special events such as the spectacular Viking Festival, during which the Viking Fleet made a menacing landing on Peel Shore, witnessed, it is said, by several thousand spectators. After a stylised conquest of the indigenous Celts, reconciliation resulted in intermarriage. After the denouement of this popular event, others remain a draw – motorcycle sandracing on the Shore and races around the narrow streets by cycles and karts with speeds difficult to comprehend. Meanwhile, the former Festival replica Viking boats are used in races crewed by enthusiasts, members of various societies or businesses such as banks.
Once the lure of warm sunshine becamem ore attractive than the sometimes elusive sunshine from the Irish Sea, along with the rest of the Island, Peel has seen a decline in its tourist trade. However, its seaside atmosphere remains, for the fishermen still mend their nets, sand castles can still be built and the sea, though not the warmest, can still be paddled in. Peel’s sandy shore remains popular with families, while a big attraction is ice cream, which proves to be a big draw, particularly at weekends.
The Town remains largely unaltered, by-passed by the finance sector’s demands for accommodation. Peel’s old fashioned air could well be why so many people are attracted to the place – with its sandstone buildings crowding its narrow, winding streets. The Harbour and Shore remain for those with nautical or general seaside interests, which spectacular views over the rest of the island and the Irish Sea can be relished from Peel Hill and the headlands. Worthy of reflection, is the evocative epithet for the town, so astutely coined in the 1930s – the Sunset City.