Castletown

Ralph Thoresby’s album of 17th century views of the Isle of Man

Eva Wilson discusses the history and scope of the earliest surviving pictorial record of the Isle of Man, an album of views owned by antiquarian Ralph Thoresby.

The British Library’s album of 17th-century views (BL Add MS 27362) is the earliest surviving pictorial record of the Isle of Man. Prepared after the surrender of the Isle of Man to Parliament during the Civil War, it formed a visual supplement to a written report commissioned by the new Lord of Mann, Thomas, Lord Fairfax(1612–1671), appointed by Parliament in the place of James Stanley, 7th Earl of Derby (1607–1651), a staunch Royalist who had been executed at Bolton in 1651. Little is known about the ownership and whereabouts of the album after the Interregnum, until it appeared in the 1715 catalogue of antiquarian and collector Ralph Thoresby (1658-1725) as ‘A Book of Prospects of the most remarkable places in the Isle of Man, some printed, others drawn with a pencil, the map dedicated to Tho. Lord Fairfax, as Lord of Man, and the Isles’.

After Thoresby’s death the album was acquired by an unnamed buyer in one of the two Thoresby estate sales (held in 1725 and 1763). The new owner added a number of cuttings from English newspapers on Manx subjects, published between 1765 and 1787. The cuttings chiefly concern the possible economic consequences for business and trade as a result of the change in the island’s status at the time of so-called ‘Revestment Act’ (1756), under which the Duke of Atholl sold some of his regalities as Lord of Mann to the English Crown. They are followed by an account in an 18th-century hand (probably the new owner’s own) of the ‘laws and customs’ of the Isle of Man. Whether the album remained with the 18th century buyer, or his family, until the final sale to the British Museum in 1866, we will never know. A facsimile of the album was published for the first time in 2014.1

The recto sides of folios 6–8 consist of prints – a map and a series of views of the island – previously used by James Chaloner in A Short Treatise of the  Isle of Man, as a supplement to Daniel King ’s The Vale Royall of England or The County Palatine of Chester, London 1656 (here abbreviated to Treatise). These are followed by eighteen monochrome, pale sepia, pen-and-ink topographical, and other drawings, with captions written in black ink on the verso of blank folios facing the drawings (ff. 9v–44r).


Map of the Isle of Man

Map of the Isle of Man

This map of the Isle of Man, with accompanying views was published in 1656

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Ff. 6r–8r are prints from James Chaloner’s Treatise.  With the exception of the map in the middle of the plate on f. 6r, they have been identified as etchings by Wenceslaus Hollar (1607–77).[2] The map is an engraving by an unknown hand, copied from a 1605 map by John Speed (c. 1552–1629), but reduced in size, with minor additions and omissions. Hollar’s etchings and captions fill the side panels. Left, is the arms of the Isle of Man and, right, the Fairfax achievement of arms.

Eight small views of the Isle of Man flank the map, which, with the three larger views on each of the following two folios, would have been based on preliminary under-drawings made on the island.  There is no evidence that Hollar ever visited the Isle of Man, and it must be assumed that he worked from under-drawings carried out by a professional or a gifted amateur (as, for example, an army officer).  The flanking images depict two views of Castle Rushen, one of St Michael’s Island (now commonly referred to as Fort Island), one of the stone bridge (now the Monks Bridge) at Ballasalla, and four coastal views from the south of the island. The six larger views, ff. 7r and 8r, are much more accomplished and may be more finished versions of the preliminary under-drawings, or are taken from more accurate professional drawings. One of these, of Peel Castle, was copied to a larger scale and signed with the initials DK (for Daniel King) and was used by King in his Vale Royall, cited above. This indicates that all six prints in the album (of Rushen Abbey, Castle Rushen, Peel Castle, Douglas, the Nunnery and Bishops Court) were made by the same hand and possibly by King or, as some would have it, by Hollar. The same under-drawings were used for at least three of the flanking images of the map.

The under-drawings, similarly, were probably used by an amateur as models for many of the ink and wash drawings in the album. The professionally produced prints, ff. 7r and 8r, covered much more of the island than the flanking images of the map, concentrating mainly on major fortifications, including three views of Bishopscourt which was provided with minor fortifications during the Commonwealth, when it was used as a residence by Fairfax’s representative as governor. One such representative, from 1658–1660, was James Chaloner, whose cousin, Ursula, was Fairfax’s wife, and who earlier had led Fairfax’s Commissioners in reporting on the state of the island in 1653. This commissioned report formed the basis for Chaloner’s Treatise

The most important of the fortifications was the Lord’s seat at Castle Rushen, which is shown in detail on ff. 10r-20r, as well as a more general view from Derbyhaven, across Castletown Bay. Another image of Castletown harbour is bound towards the end of the album, f. 44r.

Sketches in sepia of towns and buildings in the Isle of Man

Castle Rushen and Castletown.

Folio 12r: A pen and ink drawing showing Castle Rushen.

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The strength of the castle and the clutter of buildings, both within and outside the castle walls, is well indicated on f. 12r. The Lord’s house (E), which had been recently renovated by 7th Earl of Derby, is of domestic proportion and appears immediately behind the gatehouse, which is itself strengthened by a newly-built gun-platform (F).

Sketches in sepia of towns and buildings in the Isle of Man

Castle Rushen and Castletown.

Folio 20r: The market-place of Castletown.

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On f. 20r, the walled castle dominates the town market-place with a round tower and counter-scarp or glacis. In front of the main image are a number of figures and animals, with a wheeled stiff-cart: the earliest indication of wheeled transport on the island. The Governor’s house is opposite the castle (F) and other houses are shown around the square; parts of the house (G) at the end of the glacis probably survive today.  The elaborate market-cross, which was demolished in the late 18th century, is also shown, as are figures of a man carrying a sack greeting a woman with a barrel on her head, while to the left a man carries a pole of drying fish.

Sketches in sepia of towns and buildings in the Isle of Man

Castle Rushen and Castletown.

Folio 16r: A view of Castle Rushen from the south-east.

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On f. 16r a wheeled cart, drag-cart, whipping-post and possible gibbet are seen in front of a more accurate drawing of the glacis than that on f. 20r. Cannon are indicated on the upper battlements. Also shown to the right is a round tower, which must have been misplaced by the artist as it is otherwise unrecorded and does not appear on f. 20r.

Sketches in sepia of towns and buildings in the Isle of Man

Peel Castle.

Folio 28r: A drawing of Peel Castle, St. Patrick’s Isle.

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Other fortifications illustrated in the album are Peel Castle on St. Patrick’s Isle (f. 28r), a much enlarged version of that seen on f. 8r. An enlarged print, based on this drawing, as mentioned above, is signed DK, for Daniel King.  By the middle of the 17th century St Patrick’s Isle was the ecclesiastical centre of the island, with the cathedral dedicated to St German (F). Also shown is a parish church dedicated to St. Patrick, another possible church and a round tower of 12th-century Irish type (GG). The whole complex is enclosed by a curtain wall with interval towers, which were used as residences. It also had a massive fortified gatehouse. 

Another drawing of a fortification (f. 24r) depicts the battery on Fort Island. It shows the elaborate protection to the harbours on the west side of Langness (Ronaldsway and Derbyhaven). Originally built by the third Earl of Derby in the 1540s, the fort had been much improved by the seventh Earl in 1644, according to a stone over the entrance. He also presumably added the outer works (since destroyed) surrounding the original round fort.

Sketches in sepia of towns and buildings in the Isle of Man

Fortifications.

Folio 36r: A plan and elevation of the Kerroogarroo Fort.

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F. 36r demonstrates the emphasis placed by the compiler of the views on the fortifications on the island; an emphasis which would have been of professional interest to Lord Fairfax, the new Lord of Mann, who had been an important general in the Parliamentary army.  The caption to the plans on f. 36r describes ‘the new worke’, and must refer to the intended form of the bastioned earthwork in Andreas, now known as Kerroogarroo Fort  (formerly ‘Ballachurry Fort’ or ‘Fort Loyal’). Its construction was presumably ordered by the seventh Earl of Derby. The impressive remains of this earthwork survive, although it may never have been completed. This was a major undertaking, intended to prevent the advance of an invader, landing in the north of the Isle of Man and marching towards the centres of power in the south. The images here and on the following folio are idealistic drawings, presumably copying text-books of military fortification of the period, this example providing details which were used, or could have been suggested or even projected, for the Manx fort.

Sketches in sepia of towns and buildings in the Isle of Man

Bishopscourt.

Folio 34r: A drawing of the west side of Bishopscourt.

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After the Parliamentary takeover, there was no appointed bishop on the Isle of Man and his traditional residence, Bishopscourt, perhaps the grandest non-military building on the island, was used by the governor. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that three images of this site (ff. 30r, 32r and 34r) were illustrated as an accompaniment to Chaloner’s report. F. 34r, shows the main front of the house, which had developed from a late medieval tower house (labelled F), into a major dwelling, the chapel (H) at one end, and a building (described as the hall) at the other (E). The elaborate entrance (D), would suggest that the great hall was on the first floor. The residence was fortified during the Civil War, but there is no sign of this in this drawing, nor on the garden face of the house (shown on f. 32r). Another image of Bishopscourt is seen in its landscape as f. 30r.

Sketches in sepia of towns and buildings in the Isle of Man

Great Auk.

Folio 42r: The great auk, shown here, became extinct during the 19th century.

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Ff. 41r and 42r are strange, but important, additions to the album. The first is a picture of two gannets, one with wings displayed (their bills later embellished with a blue tint). The caption describes them as, ‘Like falcons i[n the] Ayre and when they see their Prey strike into the water’. F. 42r shows a great auk (garefowl), a bird which has been extinct since 1844. This is important because it is the earliest undoubted picture of such a bird, although it has been described as ‘somewhat misshapen’.[3] It is known that Chaloner was interested in ornithology and it is therefore possible that he either drew, or at least supervised the drawing of, the image.

Footnotes

[1] Eva Wilson, A book of prospects... : seventeenth-century prints and drawings of the Isle of Man (Castletown : Castletown Heritage, 2014)

[2] Simon Turner, Wenceslaus Hollar, in Giulia Bartrum (ed.) The new Hollstein German engravings, etchings and woodcuts 1400-1700 (Ouderkerk aan den Ijssel: Sound & Vision Publishers in co-operation with the British Museum, 2009-2010),  nos. 1442-1444

[3] Kenneth Williamson, ‘A Manx Record of the extinct Great Auk’ in Journal of the Manx Museum, 4:61 (December 1939), pp. 168–172

  • Eva Wilson

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