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Isle of Man Douglas and Tynwald


In the C16th, Douglas was a tiny settlement of a few houses clustered around the mouth of the Douglas River. Castletown was the capital and power house of the island.

Douglas began to grow in the C18th as a result of the smuggling trade, a better harbour than at Castletown and good links to Liverpool. The harbour developed and merchant’s houses and warehouses were built along North Quay. St Matthew’s Church was built on the quayside as parishioners had to walk over a mile to attend services at Braddan Parish Church

Douglas didn’t really begin to develop as a port until the introduction of steamships at the start of the C19th which provided a much more reliable service than sail. The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company running the service is the oldest continuously operating passenger shipping company in the world.

A breakwater and piers were built to form an outer harbour. It is the only deep water harbour on the island and boats can dock at all stages of the tide. The harbour is now a popular mooring place for large cruise ships that call in for the day during the summer months.


The modern Sea Terminal is still the first sight for most visitors to the island. Seen from above, the terminal takes the shape of the three Legs of Man, with a central tower.


The inner harbour is now a marina, which is accessible for about 2.5 hours on each side of high tide.


Despite the breakwaters, the waters of the bay are still dangerous if there are easterly storms. After witnessing two shipwrecks, Sir William Hillary, a Douglas resident, drew up plans for a lifeboat service manned by trained crews, intended not only for the Isle of Man, but for all of the British coast. The first lifeboat station was built in Douglas in 1802 and by 1825 was the first station to have a purpose built lifeboat. The original lifeboat station closed in 1895 and the present station on south quay was established in 1874.

Sir William was also responsible for the building of the Tower of Refuge in Douglas Bay after Steam Packet St George foundered on Conister Rock in 1830. He realised it was too far to swim to the shore and the Tower of Refuge in Douglas Bay was built on 1832 to offer offer shelter and provisions for sailors awaiting rescue. The tower originally had a bell to summon help and a supply of bread and fresh water. It is possible to walk to the tower at very low spring tides, although the tide comes in very quickly and visitors can be stranded.


With the start of a regular and reliable service from Liverpool, wealthy holiday makers soon arrived in Douglas. 60.000 visitors in 1870 had grown to over 310,000 by 1887. Grand hotels grew up along the sea front to accommodate them and a promenade with gardens was built.


St Matthew’s Church on the quayside, was too small to accommodate the increasing population and a new church, St George’s, was built on a hill overlooking the town. This was patronised by the gentry who had found St Matthew’s smelly and unable to meet their spiritual and social needs.



It is the only church in Douglas to have a graveyard . Most parishioners had the right of burial at Braddan and it was mainly used by incomers to the island or bodies washed ashore after ship wrecks. Sir William Hillary is buried here.


Many of the narrow maze like older streets were demolished in slum clearances between 1870-1920 to be replaced by wider streets, lined with imposing buildings.



Railways were built to carry holiday makers to Peel on the west coast as well as Port St Mary and Port Erin at the southern end of the island. Douglas Station is a splendid red brick building.



Horse trams have been running along the Promenade since 1876 and is still using some of the original tram cars. It took holiday makers to the terminus of the Manx Electric Tramway at Derby Castle.



Derby Castle was the site of a castellated early C19th villa that later became a pleasure centre with theatre and ballroom. This was demolished in the 1960s to make way for a massive concrete entertainment centre, Summerland, the biggest and most innovative indoor entertainment centre in the world, This suffered a disastrous fire in 1973 when 50 people were killed and 80 injured. The site was rebuilt on a much smaller scale, it was demolished in 2005, leaving the concrete remains as an eye sore against the cliff face.

The lower slopes of Douglas Head became a favoured spot for ‘desirable’ residences of the wealthy. The grassy slopes of the headland became a place of entertainment and for picnics with a camera obscura. There was a even an open air theatre and hotel.


Little remains of the cliff railway built to carry visitors to top.

A Marine Drive opened as a toll road between Douglas Head and Port Soderick in 1891 and the Southern Electric Tramway soon followed. This was a dramatic run along the edge of the cliffs with viaducts and bridges. The tramway closed in 1939 and little is left of the line. One of the tramcars is preserved at the National Tramway museum in Crich.

Marine drive tramcar.png

Cars can still use the first part of the drive but the rest is now a popular walk. The splendid toll house gates are still there. Pedestrians used the small gate, road traffic the middle gate which had splendid wrought iron gates controlling entry. Charabancs and coaches were not allowed. The other gate was used by the tramway

Marine Drive .jpg

Douglas became the capital of the Isle of Man in 1865 when Tynwald, the Manx Parliament, moved here from Castletown.

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Douglas cont...

Douglas still has a busy working harbour and is a thriving finance centre. It is also the main shopping centre of the island.


The Manx Museum is in the old Noble’s Hospital, which has been extended over the years as more and more galleries have been added. It covers 10,000 years of Manx History from the stone age to the modern day. If you want to find out about the history and culture of the Isle of Man, this is the place to come to.



Douglas also manages to retain the feel of a Victorian seaside town with is wide sweeping bay with a sandy beach and promenade and Marine Gardens. The Victorian buildings lining the promenade survive, although many are now flats or holiday lets.


The splendid Jubilee Clock celebrating the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria still stands at the foot of Victoria Street and is still telling the time.


The Gaiety Theatre and Villa Marina along the Promenade, have both been restored to their Victorian splendour and still offer year round entertainment. The Gaiety Theatre is one of the few late Victorian theatres to survive with its original decoration, fittings furnishings and stage mechanisms.


The Villa Marina complex was built as a multi use entertainment complex following a visit by King Geoge V and Queen Mary in 1913. The colonnade and shopping arcade were added later. It underwent an extensive restoration programme in the early 2000s. It now houses an auditorium and conference rooms. Behind are attractive grassed gardens.



Only Castle Mona stands neglected and unloved. This was built in 1804 as the residence of the fourth Duke of Atholl, who was appointed Governor of the Isle of Man. When he arrived he complained that neither Peel Castle or Castle Rushen were suitable for him to live in and he was obliged to live in an ale house. Castle Mona was built from stone imported from Arran and was reached by a long driveway along what is now the Promenade which led to a magnificent gateway. After his death it became a hotel and the grounds were swallowed up by the Promenade and Villa Marina complex. The hotel closed in 2006 and this once splendid building is now empty and for sale.


The Grandstand on Glencutchery Road is nerve centre with the commentary box, race control room and offices for the for the start and finish of the famous TT races held in June. These have been run since 1907 and are the world’s most highly regarded motor cycling competition with competitors from all over the world reaching over 200 mph in places. The Manx Grand Prix in August is for amateur riders.



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The Vikings settled the island from the C9th and brought their system of government with them. Known as Tynwald, this is the oldest parliament in the World. The Isle of Man has no representation at Westminster.

Meetings were originally held in the open air to discuss matters affecting the community. Tynwald Hill at St Johns is of unknown date and has been the main site for Tynwald since 1417. Although Tynwald now meets regularly in Douglas, there is a ceremonial meeting of Tynwald every year on July 5th.

With the arrival of the Stanleys at the start of the C15th, Tynwald met irregularly at Castle Rushen, to help deal with taxation of legal matters. The Vikings had divided the Isle of Man into 12 ‘sheadings’ and each sent two men to Tynwald. Known as Members of the House of Keys, these were originally self elected land owners, who were carefully vetted by the Lord of Mann and usually there for life. In 1821, it moved in a new building in Castletown, Known as the House of Keys.

By 1874, the old House of Keys was in need of major repair with an overflowing cesspit behind it. The capital had moved from Castletown to Douglas in 1869, and it was decide to move Tynwald into the Splendid Bank of Mona building which had been taken over by the government when the bank collapsed in the 1850s. Tours of the building are held twice a week.


The tour begins in the Members Room which is used as a common room for tea and biscuits.


There are three chambers to the parliament
• House of Keys which is the popularly elected chamber and has 24 members
• Legislative Council (equivalent to the House of Lords), a mix of ex-officio and elected members. This has 11 members with 9 voting members.
• Joint Council when all the members meet on the third Tuesday of the month.

The electorate can vote from 16 and elections are held every five years. Members have to be over 18 and resident on the Isle of Man for at least five years. The twelve constituencies are similar to the original Viking ‘sheadings’ and each have two members.

After an election the Speaker and First Minister are elected. Other members are then selected for the eight ministerial positions which form the cabinet. Most members are attached to a department. There are no parties and it is very much a ‘consensus government’

Members of the House of Keys meet at 10am every Tuesday. Meetings are broadcast on Manx Radio and are open to the public.


This is a splendid room with wood panelling and ceiling and stained glass. The speaker sits in the carved chair overlooking the floor. Traditionally he wears a gown and wig, although many are not too keen on the wig. Round the walls are pictures of previous speakers. On his left is the Chaplain who reads out the prayers at the start of the meeting. The secretary acts as clerk and is a public servant with no political role or vote and recording the meeting.

Each session begins with one hour question time. All questions have to be tabled before hand although supplementary questions can be asked, but they do need to stay on topic. The speaker controls the debate.

The main business is primary legislation. A bill is introduced and members have two weeks to think about it before it comes back to House of Keys to debate the main principles and if major amendments are needed. Members then vote on it. Votes are heard verbally with Ayes or Noes, unless there is a challenge when members vote electronically and the result is displayed on a screen at the back of the chamber. The speaker has the casting vote and votes to keep the status quo.

After another two weeks it comes back to debate clauses in detail followed by another vote. It comes back for a third reading and final vote before going to the Legislative Council for further consideration.

The Legislative Council is on the floor above and is an equally impressive room, with pictures of past presidents lining the walls. Members sit at the semi circular table with the president at the centre flanked by the Lord Bishop and Attorney General. Members sit on either side in order of seniority.


Eight members are elected by the House of Keys on a rolling programme. Many are ex members of the House of Keys and elected for their expertise. They serve for five years and can stand for re-election. Ex officio members include the Bishop of Sodor and Man, the Attorney General who doesn’t have a vote and the Presiding Officer or President, who has the casting vote. The Lieutenant General used to be the head of Tynwald, and being head of both government and judiciary, was the most important Governor in the British Empire. Now he is replaced by the Presiding Office, who is the president of Tynwald and elected from the membership, holding the position for five years.

Meetings also include a question time, but the main purpose of the Legislative Council is to scrutinise bills from the House of Keys to make sure they are ‘fit for purpose’. Members cannot radically change anything or change policy. Once a bill is agreed, voted on and signed, it is given the Royal Assent by the Lieutenant General and will be read out at the next annual meeting on Tynwald Hill.

Meetings are not broadcast by Manx Radio as they take place at same time as the House of Keys, but they are streamed on the Isle of Man Government website.

Next to The Legislative Council is Tynwald Chamber, which is perhaps the most impressive of the three rooms with its domed glass ceiling.



Members of the House of Keys meet with the Legislative Council once a month. The Legislative Council members sit on the raised dais behind the table. The President sits in the centre with the Speaker below him. Members of the House of Keys sit on the floor. When in session, the Sword of State, representing the authority of the court, is place on the table with the point towards the bar.

The public gallery is at back of chamber and is separated from the main meeting by a ‘bar’ which is shut once Tynwald is assembled. The Lieutenant General has a seat in the back right hand corner, indicating that he is not part of the sitting. In the opposite corner is the press box and Manx Radio.

Meetings begin at 10.30 and continue until all business has been finished. They start with 2.5hrs question time and, again, questions have to be tabled in advance. After lunch ministers give prepared statements. This is followed by financial and policy discussions. The work of the government is scrutinised and government reports and any committee reports are discussed and approved. The meeting finally ends with private members motions.

Although the Legislative Council and Members of the House of Keys vote separately, if there is a tie, the president has to vote in accordance with the majority vote of the House of Keys.

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