Often we think of the Victorians as staid and a bit dusty, but they were at the forefront of engineering and innovation. I am fascinated about what they achieved, although there was the industrial revolution which people felt was a terrible era, they made huge changes which contributed to the world we live in today.
Douglas town was a small ‘fishing town’ centred on the harbour, which started to grown with the coming of visitors to the island. These visitors were not necessary tourists to begin with, but Last Wednesday I went to a presentation at the Peel Centenary centre by Peter Kelly an interesting man and one who has so much knowledge on the Victorian era in the Isle of Man. He showed many slides from the 1930’s up to the late 50’s and what a treat they all were as some of them had not been seen before.
Contrary to what we think today of all the modern innovations, technology and this instant world we live in, it would not have happened as quickly without the Victorians.
business men who had gone bankrupt, entrepreneurs and the like. The town relied on fishing, trading and also the smuggling (known politely as the running trade).
With the increase in residents, visitors would come to visit and word got around that it was an interesting place to visit and was on the route of the Grand Tours of the islands. The Napoleonic wars had put paid to visits to Europe, so a new Grand Tour became fashionable. Word spread and soon more and more visitors came to the island which increased the need for hotels and boarding houses. The first hotels and boarding houses were in upper Douglas as there was no thought of building along the stretch of sand that was the beach area. That soon changed when the land was reclaimed and sold on to developers who created boarding houses that were in turn leased to landladies.
This was the start of a great era of tourism which put Victorian engineering to its test. New piers were built, railway lines, electric railways and horse trams were just the tip of the iceberg as these were required for the transportation of the visitors. New paddle steamers and boats were designed to carry the many tourists and one example that no longer exists of how clever they were was was the Port Soderick rail which spanned the cliffs, and so much more to mention that I would be here all day.
When we look at images of the island, not only did we see the engineering in industrial buildings and transport but also in the architecture of the day. The development of theatres, dance halls, ballrooms which could accommodate 5000 people, opera halls, and many more areas of entertainment not only served the purpose of entertaining the visitors, but were also things of great beauty. Sadly a lot of these have been lost to development, but a few remain in new guises which slot in nicely as the façades have been kept.
What can we say about some of the buildings we have put in the place of the old and grand ladies of that era, namely the old Hilton Hotel (replacing the Palace ballroom complex), the RBS building which took over the land that the Grand Villiers Hotel was built on. Douglas still remains a mark of our Victorian past, when seaside’s were fashionable to go to, fresh air was the key to good health and holidays were all about having fun with family. We still have the seaside and fresh air, and God willing if the Douglas Council does not take away any more of our Victoriana, we have what is quite unique in the world, a Victorian Seaside town, with the transport infrastructure intact.