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A HISTORY OF

ST GEORGE’S CHURCH

 

DOUGLAS, ISLE OF MAN

C. W. Gawne MA, PhD, FInstAM

2006

 

1708 – Bishop Wilson instrumental in having St Matthew’s built.

 

1761 - Bishop Wilson’s successor, Mark Hildesley, realised that St Matthew’s was becoming woefully inadequate. Work started on new chapel of ease to Kirk Braddan at Oates Land

 

1765 –Revestment Act returned sovereignty to Britain. Widespread island problems

 

1775 – Bishop Richmond revived chapel project.

 

1778 – Organ purchased from Dublin (possibly first organ in a Manx Church)

 

1780 – Bishop Richmond died. New chapel completed on 24th November 1780.

 

1781 – St George's consecrated on 29th September 1781.

 

1784 – First burial in churchyard.

 

1786 – First marriage at St George's – of the first chaplain, Rev Crebbin

 

1833 – Organ rebuilt.

 

1828 – Internal improvements (galleries, vestry, altar pulpit, reading desk and Bishop's Throne)

 

1844 – Plans to enlarge church, due to increase in Douglas' population. Not acted upon.

 

1847 – Rearrangement of internal layout gave 200 extra seats

 

1852 – Two widows given by High Bailiff and Vicar General.

 

1864 – Major structural work. Church extended eastwards, with new chancel, organ chamber, reredos and vestries.

 

1865 – Large window given by Henry Bloom Noble.

 

1872 – New font given by Miss Moore.

 

1878 - St George's became parish in its own right.

 

1880 – Church redecorated. Pilasters added. Floor tiled, gas lights added.

 

1882 – St George's became temporary pro-cathedral.

 

1898 – All Saints (as a curacy to St George's) opened.

 

1909 – Major improvements. Church extended to the east, re-roofed, vestries added.

 

1910 – Window donated in memory of Samuel Harris

 

1922 – North aisle Memorial Chapel constructed.

 

1934 – Church hall completed.

 

1957 – St Barnabas' closed, and parish merged with St George's.

 

1999 – Ring of 10 bells installed, subsequently increased to 12

 

2003 – New Harrison & Harrison Organ installed.

 

2007 – Major re-ordering of the interior: Removal of 130 seats in the nave to create free space. 

Chancel extended westwards to accommodate a nave altar, with matching pulpit and font. 

Lady Chapel enlarged, refurbished and an aumbry installed.

 

 

 

EARLY HISTORY

 

The history of St George’s church, particularly in its beginnings, has been inextricably linked with the social and economic history of Douglas and the Isle of Man, as well as the Island’s association with Britain.

 

Early in the eighteenth century the Bishop of Sodor and Man, Thomas Wilson, was greatly concerned that Douglas had no church.  In 1708 he was instrumental in having St Matthew’s built in the market place alongside the quay in what was then the main population and trading area of the town.  Wilson, who strongly condemned the smuggling and running trade in the Isle of Man, did not foresee the prosperity that this ‘trade’ would bring and the increase and spread it would cause to the population, then about 800, of the Island’s largest town.

 

By 1761 Bishop Wilson’s successor, Mark Hildesley, realised that St Matthew’s was becoming woefully inadequate for the town whose population had now increased to approximately 2,000.  He preached an earnest sermon in favour of church extension in Douglas.  At the same time, the gentry and the merchants of the prospering town - a result of the ‘trade’ - had ambitions.  They were finding St Matthew’s crowded and unsuitable for their spiritual and social needs.  On 26 October 1761 Philip Moore, Hugh Cosnahan, William Quayle, Peter John Heywood, John Christian, James Oates, Richard Joynes, John Joseph Bacon, John Finch, John Clarke, Robert Black and Robert Caesar requested an interview with Bishop Hildesley to discuss the need for ‘a more commodious place for the public worship of God in this town’.  These gentlemen proposed that St Matthew’s should be dissolved by an Act of Tynwald to enable the Bishop to ‘make sale or otherwise dispose of the same and the site thereof to defray the expenses attending the erection’ of a new chapel.  They proposed that the stipend for the chaplain of St Matthew’s and the emolument for his position as master of the Douglas Day School should be transferred to the new chapel.  They also proposed that the owners of pews in the old chapel, on transfer, should receive equal accommodation in the new.  They further proposed that a burial yard should be purchased.  As a result of this meeting, plans for the new chapel went ahead, but not at the demise of St Matthew’s; it survived.

 

A prime site, at Oates Land on the hills to the north of the growing town and reached by a rough road, was given as a gift by Philip Moore of the Hills estate.  Many people had undertaken to subscribe to the erection of the new chapel, and by the end of 1761 the list of promises totalled £712.  Additionally, firm monetary donations had been ‘made by sundry well dispos’d persons’.  The Bishop had appointed trustees to raise further subscriptions.  One of these trustees was Dr Richard Betham, the Crown’s customs officer in the Isle of Man who later became the father-in-law of Captain William Bligh of the Bounty’ fame.  On the strength of all this support, work began on the new chapel-of-ease which would ecclesiastically belong to the parish of Kirk Braddan.

 

The trustees were entirely responsible for the construction of the chapel, ordering timber, stones and other items, employing workmen, receiving progress reports, gathering in money and making arrangements to ensure strict economy.  An overseer was employed to superintend the work.  Whilst no architect’s plans of the chapel are known to exist, it seems that the design was possibly based on St James’ in Whitehaven of which the overseer had been instructed to make a copy drawing.  Building stone was hauled in carts from Bank’s Howe on the northern outskirts of Douglas and the Nunnery Howe on the nearby southern hills of the town.  Limestone was burnt in a kiln situated in the chapel grounds.  A schooner was chartered to bring timber to the Island from Riga in Latvia.  Construction work went on for the next four years, with the roof and part of the internal timber work finished.  At this stage all the money collected had been spent.

 

Then in 1765 came disaster.  The Isle of Man, with its low customs duties, was ideally centred in the Irish Sea for use as a base for legitimately receiving goods in large ships and dispatching them in smaller ones, to be then smuggled into neighbouring secluded British harbours.  The Island believed itself to be outside the jurisdiction of Britain.  But it became obvious that the British Government would have to take some drastic action against this ‘trade’ which was so adversely affecting the Imperial coffers.  It made a proposal to John Murray, third Duke of Atholl and feudal lord of the Isle of Man, ‘for the Purchase of the Isle of Man, preventing that pernicious and illicit Trade which is at present carried on to the great diminution and detriment of the Revenues of this Kingdom’.  The Revestment Act of 10 May 1765 returned the sovereignty of the Isle of Man to the British Crown, importantly together with control of the customs duties.  The Act dealt a blow not only to smuggling but to legitimate trade in general.  The merchants of Douglas were devastated.  ‘The sale of the Island,’ wrote one of the chapel trustees, ‘which put a period to our opulence, put a period to everything that depended upon it.’  Concern about their businesses resulted in many of the people who had pledged financial support for the new chapel to withdraw their offers.  The building work was brought to a stop with outstanding debts.  The Island suffered directly after Revestment.  Few legal importations were made, smuggling into the Island became prevalent, the trading towns became almost deserted, the rents of houses and lands fell to one-third of their former value, and very many of the Manx people were obliged to leave the Island to ‘seek their bread in foreign lands’.

 

It was Bishop Richard Richmond who revived the chapel project ten years later in 1775.  He appointed new trustees to again open subscription and donation lists to compound the old debts and finance the new work.  The appeal was even successfully extended to Britain where £418 1s 0d was received from numerous wealthy persons, including three archbishops, thirteen bishops, the Duke and Duchess of Atholl, six other dukes, six earls and others of the nobility and gentry.  All this success meant that the work could be resumed in 1776 with a more extensive scheme proposed.

 

During its construction the chapel was presented with a silver communion service marked ‘Douglas’s New Chapel 1777’.  Tradition has it that its donor was John Murray, fourth Duke of Atholl.  The service consists of two chalices, one large paten, two small patens, a flagon and a spoon, and is engraved with the sacred initials ‘I H S’, the cross and three nails set in a halo.

 

Before the chapel could be finished a fresh calamity occurred.  Bishop Richmond died in 1780.  His estate was insolvent, and the money collected for the chapel could not be distinguished from his private finances.  The unfortunate trustees had already given money to the Bishop on personal bonds.  As the building was almost completed, they were now committed too far to stop.  They agreed to pay any accounts themselves, though, not unnaturally, they thought ‘it just and reasonable that we shou’d charge interest until we shall be reimbursed’.

 

Accounts rendered in the latter stages of the construction reveal some interesting facts.  Deal boards cost 1s (5p) each, nails 10d (4p) and 2s per hundred, sprigs 4d per hundred, brass curtain rings 3d per dozen, stock locks 2s each, a hand lock 9d, white and yellow paint 6d per lb., linseed oil 6d per pint, turpentine 10d per pint, a paint brush and pot 8d, a large sweeping brush and stall 1s 10d, crimson duffoil 10s per yard, long lawn 2s 10d per yard, dark green cloth 6s 6d per yard, a tablecloth 7s 9d, tape 1/2d and 1d per yard and fine large-post paper 1s 6d per quire.  The wages of carpenters were 1s 6d per day and cartage for the use of a horse was 5s per day.  John Ware & Son were paid 6s 8d for advertising the seats.  John Ware was the printer who published some parts of the Manx Bible and the Manx Hymns.

 

The chapel was finally completed on 24 November 1780.  The size of the chapel, big enough to seat 1,300, was more impressive than its architecture.  There was a single roof, the marks of which can still be seen in the tower.  A semicircular apse at the east end contained the chancel, with an ‘ear’ in which the chaplain’s family sat.  At the west end it had a dominant plain square tower with little ornamentation.  However, the interior was well made and had correctly proportioned fluted wood columns, lead Ionic capitals, Renaissance cornices and woodwork.

 

It is clear that the congregation was to be drawn largely from the wealthy classes of Douglas.  Early seating plans reveal that the pews were mostly purchased for twenty years or auctioned on a seven year lease.  This income was crucial in continuing to clear debts and finance the building of the chapel.  Only some thirty seats were reserved free for the poor; the majority of the poorer worshippers of Douglas were to be left at St Matthew’s.  Later plans show that pews were reserved for the Lord Bishop, the Duke of Atholl, the Governor-in-Chief, the Lieutenant Governor and members of the military serving at the Douglas fort and stationed in nearby barracks (hence the nearby Fort Street and Barrack Street).

 

The new chapel, now called St George’s, was consecrated by the new Bishop, George Mason, on 29 September 1781.  It has been suggested that the choice of patron saint may have been a compliment to the Bishop.  The consecration ceremony was followed by a meal for distinguished guests.  The bill for the proceedings included 21 bottles of red port wine: two guineas (10p each bottle); 19 dinners: £1 8s 6d in all (8p each person); and porter and ale: 9s.  On the same day as the consecration, the first baptism in the chapel took place, that of John, son of Thomas and Isabel Cannell.

 

The Bishop had appointed the first chaplain of St George’s, the Rev Charles Crebbin, who was also vicar of Santon.  The Bishop reserved to himself this right, but it was challenged by the vicar of Braddan, the Rev Thomas Woods.  Woods considered that, as St George’s ecclesiastically belonged to the parish of Kirk Braddan, he should make the appointment and had consequently nominated his nephew the Rev Julius Cosnahan.  The matter was referred to the Metropolitan Court of York.  But the lengthy suit was never completed due to the death of both the Bishop and the vicar of Braddan.

 

Interestingly, the first marriage at St George’s was that of the Rev Crebbin to Miss Jane Callow on 25 October 1786.  The Rev Crebbin’s original annual stipend was £80.  Later records show that the chaplain received £100 per annum, the organist £15, the clerk £10 and the sexton £5.

 

 

ORGAN

 

The merchants of Douglas, finding themselves not permanently ruined by the 1765 Revestment Act, set up another subscription list some years later to help the chapel by making ‘a present to it of an elegant organ’.  William Crebbin, one of the trustees, had an acquaintance in Dublin named John Parkinson.  Parkinson knew a William Ruxton who had for sale an organ which had belonged to ‘a musical society which subsisted here’.  It was known that the Messiah had been first performed by Handel in 1742 in Dublin.  Tradition has had it that this organ was linked with Handel’s rehearsals for that performance, but this is almost certainly not so as its installation was seemingly not completed until after his performance and departure from Dublin. 

 

The organ was purchased in November 1778 for £100 (Irish) and shipped to the Island in early 1780 at a cost of £12 8s 0d, to be fitted in the west gallery of the now nearly completed St George’s.  It was rebuilt by Michael Heathcote at a cost of eleven guineas.  It stood more than twelve feet high by nine feet wide, and included an open diapason, a stopped diapason, a principal, a flute, a sexaquialter, a cornet, a clarion bass, a trumpet treble and a hautboy.

 

The organ is said to be possibly the first organ to be installed in a Manx church.  It became a great centre of attention, so much so that the farmers and their families who came into Douglas for the Saturday market would stay overnight to the Sunday to hear ‘tuneful notes of praise pealing forth from a piece of mechanism so marvellous in their eyes’.  At this time there was amongst the military personnel stationed in Douglas a private soldier ‘gifted with a bass voice that Lablanche himself might have envied’, and the combined attractions of the organ and the primo basso drew such congregations that the church was often filled to overflowing.

 

One of the chapel’s later organists was Charles Barrow, maternal grandfather of Charles Dickens and a fugitive debtor from England, who lived in Douglas from 1810 until his death in 1826.

 

In 1833 the organ was rebuilt and a second manual and pipes were added.  When the chancel was rebuilt in 1864, a new organ, retaining some of the original pipes, was installed by the London firm of Gray & Davidson.  In 1885 a new organ screen was erected in memory of the late wife of the Rev Beauchamp George.  In 1893 the organ was again rebuilt, this time by Alex Young of Manchester, and a third manual was added.  In 1952 a new organ with an electric pneumatic action, console and blower was built by Jardine of Manchester, possibly still retaining some of the original pipes.  In 2003 a new organ and pipe-work, built by Harrison and Harrison in their specially designed workshop just outside Durham, were installed.

 

 

PRINCIPAL CHANGES

 

St George’s was closed for a time during 1828 whilst certain internal improvements were carried out.  These included work on the galleries and a new vestry, as well as a new altar place, Bishop’s throne, pulpit and reading desk.

 

In 1844, with Douglas’ population having mushroomed to about 9,000, various options for structural alterations to enlarge St George’s were considered but not acted upon.  They included the possible construction of wings to the existing galleries and the erection of a gallery at the west end of the church which would have been reached by an exterior staircase.  These various proposals were ‘principally for the accommodation of the poor’.  By 1847 a rearrangement of the interior layout of the chapel gave nearly 200 extra seats for the poor. However benevolent the proposed and actual improvements were intended to be, the class segregation system continued to be very prevalent.

 

It was not until 1864, with the population of Douglas now further increased to approximately 13,000, that any major structural alterations were processed.  The old semicircular apse was pulled down and the church extended eastwards to contain a chancel, a reredos, vestries and organ chambers. The only stained glass in the church up until this date - two large windows given in 1852 by the High Bailiff and Vicar General, Samuel Harris, in memory of his father who had been a trustee - were reset in the new chancel.  In 1865 a large central window was presented by Henry Bloom Noble, Douglas’ greatest benefactor.  The white Caen stonework of the reredos was by Charles Swinnerton and the tablets were decorated by John Nicholson; both men were from Douglas.  A new font was provided in 1872 by Miss Moore; the original font was deposited with the Manx Museum some years later.

 

When in 1863 Governor Henry Loch had taken up his appointment in the Isle of Man on behalf of the Lord of Man (the British Crown), he was immediately determined that the Island should equip itself for the recently established tourist industry which was replacing low customs duties as the main source of fiscal income.  One of his immediate efforts was directed towards the provision of deep-water landing facilities for steamers at Douglas through the replacement of the breakwater and the construction of Victoria Pier.  The new harbour at Douglas made it the principal port of the Isle of Man, so much so that in 1869 it became the Island’s new capital, taking over from Castletown.  The redesign of lower Douglas was a major priority for Loch.  He inaugurated the building of Loch Promenade on land reclaimed from the foreshore.  Over the next few years terraces of hotels were erected, with the sale of the plots paying for the construction of the promenade.  Associated with the promenade work, the construction of Victoria Street provided a link between old Douglas and its new uptown suburbs.  This new main thoroughfare, leading from Loch Promenade and connecting with Prospect Hill, passed close to St George’s church which was now in the centre of a busy commercial and residential Douglas.  Here, private residences such as those in Mona Street and Albert Street were being converted into holiday accommodation, thereby considerably increasing the church’s summer congregations.

 

The recognition of the importance of Douglas was reflected on St George’s, which became a parish in its own right and achieved church status on 28 January 1878.  In 1880 a considerable sum of money was collected for repairs and redecoration of the church.  The chancel was richly ornamented with pilasters, the aisles and chancel were tiled, gas fittings were installed (the remains of which still exist), new stone window frames replaced the rotten wooden ones and three of the side aisle windows had stained glass installed.  St George’s became the temporary pro-cathedral of the diocese of Sodor and Man in 1882.  All diocesan and national services were held there, including enthronements of the Lord Bishops.

 

In 1892, due to the difficulty experienced in accommodating the large congregations which were swelled by holidaymakers, the Rev Robert Baron began holding the Sunday morning service outside in the churchyard during the summer months.

 

At a diocesan conference in 1897 it was decided that a new church was needed to serve the population of the new upper part of Douglas.  All Saints, on Alexander Drive, was built as a curacy to St George’s and was opened in 1898.  Difficulties regarding freehold prevented a permanent church being consecrated, but did not prevent the licensing of a temporary church.  All Saints ‘temporary’ church would eventually be replaced by a new permanent church in 1967.

 

An extensive scheme of renovation for St George’s had been decided upon in 1896.  £1,500 was raised at a very grand and profitable bazaar held at the Palace on Douglas promenade the following year.  But it was not until 1908, prompted by Bishop Thomas Drury, that the matter of renovation was taken up in earnest with further money raising schemes in place.  It appears that Bishop Drury was planning that St George’s would become the cathedral church of the diocese.  Considerable extensions and improvements were made during 1909-10 when the church was closed for several months.  It was extended again at the east end to contain a new narrower chancel constructed four feet off the ground to carry the extension over existing graves.  It was re-roofed with separate roofs for the nave and the two galleries.  Additional vestries were provided.  Stalls were built for the Bishop, the Archdeacon and the four canons. The cost of renovation was £6,413.  The architects and builders were James Cowle & Sons.  At this time a new pulpit, in the form of a cross, was given in memory of Captain William Kermode, one time Commodore of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company.  The church was reopened on 5 May 1910 when Bishop Drury dedicated it in the presence of Archbishop Lang of York.  The population of Douglas was now approximately 21,000.

 

The various men’s clubs associated with the church had played football in the late 1800s, but it was not until 1919 that St George’s Association Football Club was founded.  During its early years the club’s famous battle cry of ‘Fine day and the vicar out!’ centred around the Rev William Charles Jordan, an amateur England international who played for West Bromwich Albion.

 

The present church hall at the end of Hill Street was built as a community centre and Sunday School and was completed in 1934.

 

The movement of population further away from the lower Douglas area caused a decline in the support of St Barnabas’ in Fort Street, so the church was closed in 1957, and the union of the benefices and parishes of St George’s and St Barnabas’ occurred.

 

In 1969 the whole church interior was redecorated.  Dykes Bower, Church Architect for Westminster Abbey, was invited to suggest the best scheme.  He recommended reverting as far as possible to the original Georgian style of decoration.  The walls, the pillars and the old pitch pine organ screen at the rear of the church were painted off-white with the slabs and flutings picked out in gold leaf.

For all but its recent history, the church’s main source of income was raised by worshippers and supporters paying pew rents.  By the late 1930s this income was about £150 annually, in the 1960s it stood at about £75, and was finally ended in 1982.

 

  

WINDOWS AND MEMORIALS

 

The original Harris windows still remain in the chancel along with the Noble central window which is now flanked by two windows donated in 1910 in memory of her parents by the daughter of Samuel Harris and his wife.

 

In 1922 a memorial chapel was constructed in the north aisle in memory of the men of St George’s who fell in the Great War.  A memorial volume records their names.  In 1929 the chapel’s oak panelling, floor and marble tiling were given by Frank Cowin in memory of his father, William Cowin, a churchwarden for sixteen years.  In the same year a matching baptistry together with a font and cover were given by Arthur Cooper, another churchwarden.

 

In the memorial chapel is a stained-glass window, again in memory of churchwarden William Cowin.  The next window in the north aisle is in memory of Eleanor and Philip Elliott who devoted their lives to charitable work in the town of Douglas.  Captain Francis Rhodes Hartwell RN, son of the Rev Francis Broderick Hartwell, is commemorated in the next window.  The next memorial window is for Laurence Adamson, formerly Her Majesty’s Seneschal (collector of Crown rents on the Island), who died in 1877.  The final window is dedicated to Frederick Peter Johns.

 

In the baptistry is a memorial window to Mrs Aitken, widow of John Hobson Aitken, Chief Clerk and Treasurer of the Isle of Man.  The next window in the south aisle is in memory of the Rev Beauchamp George’s first wife, Annie.  Another window is erected to the memory of Rowley Hill, Bishop of Sodor and Man, who died in 1887.  The next window is dedicated to John Curphey, Clerk and Scripture Reader for 45 years.  The final window is in honour of the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria.  A portrait of the Queen is seen in the upper portion of the window.

 

Over the nave door, where the original organ was sited, is the organ screen memorial to Annie George.

 

In the west porch is a war memorial plaque brought from St Barnabas’ church.  The characteristic lettering on this plaque is by Archibald Knox, the Manx artist of international standing who also famously produced Celtic influenced Art Nouveau designs for Liberty’s of London.  The arms of the Duke of Atholl were once emblazoned on a shield in the porch.

 

In the north gallery is a memorial tablet to the Manx scientist and naturalist Edward Forbes who was born in 1815 in a house on the site of the present Douglas Town Hall.  He was the foremost authority of his day on botany, geology and marine zoology.  He was elected president of the Geological Society in 1853, an office never held by so young a man, but he died in 1854.  The upper part of his memorial tablet is triangular and has a pendent decoration somewhat resembling foliage, and enclosed in the apex is Professor Forbes’ portrait.  Also in this gallery is a curious wall tablet to the memory of Jane De La Pryme with her age changed from 22 to 44 without any sign of concealment.

 

There are many other plaques, tablets and memorials on walls around the church.

  

BELLS

 

Claims for expenses for the new chapel incurred between July 1781 and September 1782 included a bill for £4 12s 10d from John Smith, blacksmith, for ‘stocking’ the bell.

 

A replacement bell for St George’s arrived on the Island by the steamer Queen of the Isle on 8 February 1842.  It was three feet in diameter and weighed ten hundredweight, and was placed in the steeple ‘no doubt to the infinite satisfaction of the congregation in lieu of the miserable apology for the “churchgoing bell”, with which they have been so long annoyed’.

 

On 19 April 1891 new tubular bells at St George’s were dedicated by Bishop John Bardesley.  Captain John Caesar Quayle, the then church treasurer, reported:

 

We are rejoiced at the very hearty response which has been made to the appeal in connection with the proposed peal of tubular bells.  Mr Johnson, who has taken much kindly interest in raising the necessary funds may well feel gratified at the results of his efforts.  We must not expect that a peal of tubular bells, costing £280, be equal to some of those old peals of bells which are to be found in both city and country church.  A peal similar to those some of us are accustomed to would cost £1,500 to £2,000; and if we had them, we would probably very soon bring our old tower to the ground.  These we are getting will be very nice indeed and will come with a great pleasant sound to the many lovers of St George’s Church, and I’m sure we will never regret getting them.

 

A single church bell was installed in the tower in 1957 in memory of Edward Ewart John Corkill by his church and Masonic friends.

 

The present bells were installed in December 1999 as a Millennium project.  The existing bell was incorporated as the sixth bell in what was initially a new ring of ten.  As there was so much space in the tower, the new ring of ten was designed as the back ten of a ring of twelve as it was inevitable that some day the ring would be augmented.  Sooner than anticipated the church received two unexpected donations, and the ring was augmented to twelve by the addition of two trebles in the early part of 2001.  At the same time, two ringers donated the cost of replacing the 1957 bell with a new bell with the result that St. George’s has a homogeneous ring of twelve modern bells.

  

CHURCHYARD

 

The original consecration order of 1781 expressly condemned and prohibited the practice of burying within the chapel building.  A burial area within the churchyard was, therefore, an early part of the scheme.  But the churchyard remained unenclosed for many years, no legal title to the land having been established.  In 1809 John Moore - who had married into the Moores of the Hills family, the original owners of the site - granted title to the land in exchange for two seats in the chapel and a family plot in the churchyard.  The churchyard was to be enclosed by a wall no less than five feet high.

 

St George’s churchyard was essentially the ‘field of the stranger’.  Most Manx people who died in Douglas had a right to burial in the parishes of Braddan or Onchan.  There are, of course, many Manx interments in St George’s, but the majority of names to be seen on the tombstones are English.  They include retired half-pay officers, doctors, shopkeepers, artisans and impoverished gentlefolk escaping their creditors.  They had flocked to the Island because of its low taxes and cost of living and found their last resting place in St George’s.  Descent from the nobility is not infrequently claimed on the headstones, and at least fifty graves are those of persons with military titles or linked to the same.  These were the leaders of ‘polite society’ in Douglas.  There are a number of graves of nonconformists and catholics in the churchyard.

 

Whilst the chapel had been consecrated back in 1781, the churchyard had not.  Bishop Mason had refused to do so because of loan repayment problems.  Although notice was given a number of times in the Manx Advertiser during the latter part of 1825 that Bishop George Murray was planning to consecrate the churchyard, it did not happen.  Despite the churchyard being on unconsecrated ground, burials took place there up until 1862.  At this time, Bishop Horatio Powys had had a number of private and public rows with the chaplain, the Rev William Hawley, and the wardens of St George’s over various issues, including the continuing churchyard debts.  He consequently refused to allow any more burials.  A meeting of seat holders was held to protest.  They subsequently discussed the matter with the Bishop, and as a result he consecrated the ground on 7 July 1862 and burials continued.

 

The first burial - of Matthias Kelly, a shipbuilder - took place on 9 April 1784.  The grave, near the south-west corner of the church, is marked by an elaborate and interesting headstone which was erected on 21 October 1841.  As well as giving details of the interments, it also gives a brief local history, ‘contrasting the state of the Isle of Man then, to what it is now’.  There are inscriptions in Greek, Latin and Manx.  Above the lettering there is a pictorial representation, illustrating a text in Manx, of the Judgement Day: ‘Bee’n cayrn er ny hellym, as bee ny merriu troggit seose’ (‘The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised’).

 

On its reverse side the stone refers to the coming of cholera.  Victims of the cholera epidemics that hit the Island in 1832 and again in 1833 lie under a large open space in the grassed area north of the churchyard, marked by a small plain cross bearing simply the words ‘Cholera 1832-33’.  This mass grave contains the bodies of 34 and 86 victims of the disease for the two years.  The cholera outbreaks were later vividly described by T E Brown, the Manx national poet, in The Doctor:

 

                                    For, if it’s the cholera that’s in,

                                    You’re wantin’ all your strength to begin

                                    And courage to that.  Aw, ye better belave

                                    Or send the clerk to dig the grave.

 

Tom Brown was born in 1830.  His father, the Rev Robert Brown, held the curacy of St Matthew’s which was situated in the narrow streets of Douglas where defective water supplies and insanitary conditions made it a breeding ground for disease.  In 1832 Tom’s godfather, the Rev Thomas Howard who was vicar of Kirk Braddan, moved to St George’s.  He offered Robert Brown the curacy of Braddan, well out of town in the open countryside.  This turned out to be an extremely fortuitous move in view of the cholera epidemic that would hit the Island later that year.

 

During the dreadful cholera outbreaks, over 200 related deaths occurred in the Island.  The victims and the survivors were nursed through the care and love of those who risked their own lives.  One name that shines out above all others was Eleanor ‘Nellie’ Brennan (1792-1859).  She had been left an orphan at the age of 16 and survived by taking in washing and through her strong Christian faith.  When the cholera epidemics took their hold she paid daily visits to the victims’ homes as well as the cholera hospital on the outskirts of the town to nurse, clean and feed the patients.  She was a great believer in hygiene.  Although unable to read or write, she was appointed the first matron of the new hospital in Fort Street in 1850.  Nellie is buried in a simple grave on the south side of the churchyard.

 

A further link with the cholera epidemic and St George’s was made when Margaret Squibb, a wealthy widow and a victim of the 1833 outbreak, left her property in Mucklesgate (the earliest surviving recorded street name in Douglas) and Cambrian Place to St George’s to be used as a home for widows.

 

Near to the cholera burials are many unmarked burials of unknown drowning victims whose bodies were washed ashore.  There is only one memorial, a simple cross similar to the cholera one, in memory of the victims of the shipwreck of the Minerva in 1809.

 

Another grave linked with the sea is that of the campaigner Sir William Hillary (1771-1847), who was the founder of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.  He argued for the building of the Tower of Refuge on Conister Rock in Douglas bay as a place of refuge for victims of shipwrecks (the total cost of the tower was £255, of which £181 was obtained by public subscription and Hillary paid the balance).  He also called for the reform of the unfair import licence system that operated in the Island.  In later years Hillary lost most of his money in a bank failure.  His tomb is near the east end of the church, on the side of the entrance path.

 

Pierre Henri Josef Baume (1797-1875) was a rich refugee from France who had lived a very unusual early life, including possible incest, murder and infanticide.  He had been an international courier and double-agent, but in his latter years lived as a miser and recluse in The Arches on South Quay.  When he died he left his fortune of £50,000 in trust to be used for educational and charitable purposes in the Island.  His grave is covered by a magnificent monument and is also near the east end of the church.

 

Members of the clergy of St George’s buried in the churchyard include Francis Broderick Hartwell, William Hawley, Beauchamp George, Robert Benjamin Baron (who, according to his headstone, was ‘known to many as Great Heart’) and Charles Vincent Stockwood, Archdeacon of Man.  Thomas Crellin, the bellringer and organblower at St George’s for 35 years, has a memorial on the south side of the churchyard which is very tiny but distinctive as it is surmounted by the stone figure of a bell.  Other burials connected with the church include its first sexton, James Cunningham and one of its choirmasters, J. B. Mason.

 

Head teachers of St George’s School (also variously known as the Douglas Daily and Sunday School, the National School, the Lancastrian School and St George’s National School), James Cretney, Miss Ann Crellin and Henry Nicholls, are also buried in the churchyard.  The original school was erected (at a cost of £1,120) in Athol Street in 1810 and was supported by voluntary contributions.  Its 1841 annual report notes that there were 160 boys and 160 girls attending the school to be taught reading, writing and arithmetic.  The boys were additionally taught geography ‘as may be useful to them in after life, should they be called, as many of them are, to visit other and distant lands as seamen or otherwise’.  The girls learnt needlework ‘and are thereby fitted to fulfil their stations, as useful members of families, or even if necessary to earn a livelihood for themselves by that means’.  With the school overflowing, another one in Barrack Street was opened in 1839 for younger children directly connected with the church.

 

St George’s is the only church in Douglas to have a churchyard attached to it.  It contains many interesting graves.  The Isle of Man Family History Society has compiled a detailed list of the remaining decipherable monumental inscriptions.

 

 

CLERGY

 

 

  Chaplains

     
    Charles Crebbin    1781  
   

John Christian      

1817  
    Benjamin Philpot   1827  
    Thomas Howard   1832  
   

Francis Broderick Hartwell

1836 Member of the House of Keys 1825-27
    Edward Forbes  1847  
   

William Hawley 

1859  
         
 

Vicars

     
     Henry Armstrong Hall 1877  
    J. E. Beauchamp George 1880  
    Robert Benjamin Baron 1891  
     John Campbell  1907  
    Robert Daniel Kermode   1908  
    William Charles Jordan 1919  
    J. Talbot-Easter   1925  
    Charles Vincent Stockwood 1927  
    J. White  1948  
    Percival Charles Halls Matthews  1953  
    David A. Willoughby 1980  
    Brian H. Partington 1996  
   

Brian Smith

2005  
    Andie Brown 2011  

    

 

 

SOURCES

 

Books

  • Clague, E., and Moore, C, The Ball Keeps Rolling - One Hundred Years of the Isle of Man Football Association, (1990)

  • Cringle, T., Here is the News, An Illustrated Manx History, (1992)

  • Cringle, T., Here is the News, A Chronicle of the 20th Century, (1999)

  • Forrest, K. A., Manx Recollections - Memorials of Eleanor Elliott, (1894)

  • Fraser, M., In Praise of Manxland, (1935)

  • Gelling, Canon John, A History of the Manx Church 1698-1911, (1998)

  • Gill, W. W., editor, Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarians Society, Proceedings, vol v, no ii, P. W. Caine.

    Early history of St George’s Church, Douglas, (1946-50)

  • Moore, A. W., A History of the Isle of Man, (1900, reprinted 1977)

  • Kniveton, Gordon N., Forster, Robert E., Kelly, Robert, Slack, Stuart, and Cowin, Frank, Douglas Centenary, 1896-1996, (1996)

  • Qualtrough, J. K. and Scatchard, W. J., That Island, (1965)

  • Quiller-Couch, Sir Arthur, T. E. Brown - Poems, (1952)

  • Slack, S., Streets of Douglas - Old and New, (1996)

  • Stenning, E. H., Portrait of the Isle of Man, (1958)

  • Stowell, B., Labours of Love - A Manx Story, being a Memorial of Eleanor Brennan, (1859, reprinted 1988)

  • Thwaites, W., History and Directory of the Isle of Man, (1863)

  • Webber, D. T., An Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Isle of Man, (1997)

  • Winterbottom, D., T. E. Brown - His Life and Legacy, (1997)

  • Johnson’s Illustrated Guide, (1858) - MNHL Ref: F67 J5/8

  • The Manx Church Magazine, (June and July 1891)- MNHL Ref: L6/MC/1

  • Quiggin’s Guide, (1836) - MNHL Ref: F67 Q2/1

  • St George’s Church Organ Appeal, (2002)

 

Academic Studies

  • Bazin, F., PhD Thesis, Music in the Isle of Man up to 1896, (1995)

Manuscripts, Manx National Heritage Library

  • Parishes and Parish Churches - MNHL Ref: F71/i/ix, Accession No: 9210

Anon., History of St George’s Parish, (circa 1911-19)

      Cowin, H. S., Bi-centenary of St George’s Church, (1981)

      Craine, L., St George’s and St Barnabas’ Church, Douglas, Isle of Man, (1974)

  • Anon., Notes and extracts on St George’s Church, Douglas - MNHL Ref: MD41, Accession No: 5934

  • Crebbin, C., Rev, Letters - MNHL Ref: 10321

  • Gawne, C. W., St George’s Church, a ‘draft’ history, (2000) - MNHL Ref: MD41, Accession No: 5934

  • Gell, Canon, Papers - MNHL Ref: 9507 (Box 3 of 18)

  • Oates, Edith, Papers - MNHL Ref: 1989/1-28C

  • Short, Thomas Vowler, Bishop of Sodor and Man, St George’s, Douglas, (1844) - MNHL Ref: MS1219A

 

St George’s Church records

 

Various original and copied records covering parts of the history of the church.  1897 Bazaar programme - coloured front cover and many photos inside.  Previously in boxes in vicar’s vestry, now in Manx National Heritage Library.

 

Newspapers

  • IOM Weekly Times, 30 January 1932, ‘The graves in St George’s churchyard’

  • IOM Weekly Times, 7 January 1933, ‘The early history of St George’s Church’

  • Manx Advertiser, 15 September and 3 November 1825, public notice

  • Manx Advertiser, 19 June 1828, editorial

  • Manx Liberal, 12 February 1842, report

  • Manx Sun, 12 February 1842, report

  • Manx Sun, July 1863

  • Manx Sun, 18 November 1865, restoration report

 

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